Updated: Dec 19, 2020
We have all seen those beautiful images of someone sitting in a gorgeous setting in full lotus, serene and composed with their eyes gently closed. If you are just beginning your exploration of meditation, it can be a little intimidating. After all, the reality for most of us is that we're meditating on the floor of the living room after moving aside the dogs bed or the kids toys and adopting the full lotus pose is either unattainable or uncomfortable. Meditation asks us to adopt a posture that we can hold for an extended period of time while our focus shifts within and without. Quieting the mind is difficult enough without also having the physical body distract us with discomfort or worse, pain.
Full lotus (pictured on the left) may not be the place to start. Notice the figure to the right (that's Chris). Hunched forward, knees high, arms held extended; he's not going to be able to sit in this position for long before it's just too uncomfortable.
So, what to do? Step one: listen to your body! If it is telling you that a position isn't working, move out of it. Remember some practitioners you see in photos have likely been practicing for years and have gradually moved into more physically intense postures. Step two: adapt. Adding some simple props can make a world of difference.
In the first image all we have added is a cushion. Sitting at the edge while keeping his feet on the floor allows a much more relaxed posture. The second, third and fourth images show the use of my personal favorite prop: a cork yoga block. In picture #2 you can see that by sitting on the block with his legs crossed in front on the floor, Chris has a lot more space to let his legs drop down into. Notice his nice long spine here; the block is encouraging a slight pelvic tilt that helps bring the spine into alignment. Now that his knees are lower, he is able to place his arms in a more comfortable position as well. A note about arms: Chris is over 6.0' tall, so his arm length allows him to rest the backs of his hands on his knees and stay relaxed. I am 5'3" and for me to rest the backs of my hands on my knees I have to stretch my arms out. It's just not comfortable. So back to steps one and two: listen to your body and adapt. I rest my hands in my lap, on my thighs or on a pillow that I place in my lap.
While I am able to sit in full lotus most days, I am also a runner in my 40s and that means that other days, my knees are just not going to go for it (especially in the winter months). In picture #3 I am demonstrating my favorite alternative; seated on a block I allow my knees to rest comfortably on the floor, ankles uncrossed. Keeping my shoulders relaxed (not held tensely up near my ears) I rest my hands on my legs for support. Picture #4 is another posture variation for those that like to sit on their knees, but find compression on the knees and/or ankles uncomfortable. Not pictured: all the other ways you can listen to your body and adapt. You can try sitting with your back against a wall, legs bent, legs straight, in a chair with your legs folded in lotus, in a chair with your feet on the floor... The important elements are a stable base, a long, aligned spine (imagine you had a string attached to the crown of your head and you reached up, took hold of the string and gently pulled upwards) and ease in the posture, whatever posture that may be.