We sit down to meditate in order to help us tame the
mind and find inner peace, but how should we best go about it?
First of all, the environment is important. For beginners
especially it is best to try and find a quiet place, free of
distracting noises like talking or laughter, but natural
noises like running water or birdsong are alright; especially
if they give a relaxed feeling.
If we are sitting outdoors, then the countryside and
other quiet places are good. It is especially good to sit at
the top of a hill from which we can see a long way.
Alternatively, to be by the calm ocean with no visual
distractions is also very good. Often we do not have the
opportunity to be in such places, but then we must try and
find the quietest surroundings that we can.
If we are sitting indoors, the room should be as free
as possible from distractions, and well-ventilated, not
stuffy. The temperature should not be so cold that we shiver,
nor so warm that we feel sleepy and dull. Generally, it is
better for it to be a little cold rather than too warm, so
that the mind is clear.
Once we have found the best environment for our
practice, it is important to learn how to sit properly. The
postures we use can affect how we feel in our meditation and
our day-to-day life. If we look at it from a medical
viewpoint, we can see that the body has arteries, veins and
muscles, each connected to the organs. In the Tibetan and
Chinese systems of healing these organs can be diagnosed and
treated by putting pressure on particular parts of the hands,
neck or feet. This is because of the meridians, the channels
by which energies flow throughout the body.
When sitting, if we are careful not to block the flow
of these energies, then they can flow freely without our
becoming too uncomfortable or doing any harm to our body. We
can see how, if an artery in one leg is blocked, then that leg
will go to sleep. Similarly, a blockage in the flow of energy
through the body while sitting will produce unhappy,
unbalanced feelings. For example, some bad positions will feel
good to begin with but after a few days may well produce
feelings of depression. Other wrong positions, like having our
head sunk down between our shoulders, might bring depression
to begin with but later, after the session is over, an
uncontrollable excitement may arise. Further, if we use angry
words to our relatives and friends after doing the exercises,
then our posture could be responsible.
However, some might disagree and prefer their own way
of sitting because of the powerful experiences and emotions
which arise, such as joy or anger. But we have enough of these
kinds of extreme feelings already without needing to cultivate
them further. So in doing these exercises we try to sit in a
neutral, balanced way.
First of all. it is important, if possible, to sit in a
cross-legged posture. The Lotus and Semi-Lotus postures are
best. This is because they help one to sit for long periods
with the spine erect and also help keep energies flowing
self-containedly in the body. However, if we are not able to
sit in them due, for example, to leg trouble or the stiffness
of growing older, there is no need to try and break our legs.
Sitting cross-legged is comfortable for most people and is
quite acceptable. Otherwise, we can just sit in a chair. If we
are young, however, and have no physical disability then it is
useful to learn how to sit in the different versions of the
Either in the Lotus or Semi-Lotus position, we always
put the left leg inside and the right leg outside. The left is
folded first, followed by the right leg. With the full Lotus
posture, one puts the left foot and ankle up on the right
thigh and then puts the right foot and ankle up on the left
thigh. In the Semi-Lotus position, the left foot is drawn in
with the heel pointing towards the base of the spine and then
the right leg is drawn in with the heel placed above the other
one. Remember, however, to go cautiously if there is any
difficulty with these.
Then we should try to straighten our backbone as much
as possible up to our neck. This is partly because each organ
in the body is connected through the nervous system to the
spine. So if the spine is bent or out of place, then it can
cause pain or discomfort in other parts of the body. When we
straighten our backbone, our energies can flow freely. Our
bodies should feel balanced, with the shoulders straight but
relaxed, not forced back, and not higher on one side than the
In order to straighten the spine and keep it erect, we
should use a small, hard cushion two to four inches in
thickness and about twelve to fourteen inches square,
depending on what is a comfortable position for us. If we are
sitting in a Lotus position we should use a higher cushion
(about four inches) as necessary. If crossing one or two legs
over is too uncomfortable, then we may sit in the same way,
but with the legs loosely crossed. Another possibility, which
is comfortable for some, is kneeling supported by a low stool
(sometimes called the Burmese posture with the legs tucked
underneath the torso) or supported by cushions either way so
that the back is balanced and straight.
There are two positions for the hands. We may rest the
hands palms down on the knees with the elbows straightened;
alternatively, we can rest the open right hand on top of the
open left hand with the thumbs touching, but not pressing, and
have the hands one and a half inches below the navel. In this
second position, we should try not to have the hands resting
too low or too high. The neck should be very slightly
inclined, with the chin tucked inwards. The mouth should be
slightly open with the tongue touching the roof of the mouth.
In this way we can breathe through the mouth and the nostrils
together in whatever position is comfortable.
Our eyes should be looking forward beyond the top of
our nostrils, about one and a half to two yards in front of
us. For beginners it is probably wiser not to close the eyes.
However the eyes maybe closed if we are visualising something.
We should remove glasses and not focus the eyes in an
The position of the body is important. The idea is not
to hold our body inside a rigid frame or chain it with pieces
of iron like a prisoner. A relaxed way is better. For example,
we can think of cotton wool. It is very loose and relaxed,
while at the same time all the fibres are separate. They are
together but in a loose way. Similarly, our posture should be
balanced: neither too loose nor too tight. With practice, this
will help our minds to be balanced also.
Question: Why is the cross-legged posture preferable to
kneeling with the support of a bench or a cushion?
Rinpoche: In general, sitting cross-legged is more
beneficial for the mind; but for those unable to sit that way
then kneeling would certainly not be harmful.
Question: So if the legs are very tight and the knees
stick up in the air when sitting cross-legged, should we
persist in trying to sit this way? And if so, what advice can
you give which will make it easier to do so
Rinpoche: Yes, it would be useful to
try a little physical training in order to achieve the ideal
position. Different people have different problems in this
respect, but in general regular exercises - stretching and so
on - should be helpful, as well as regular massage. The
important thing is not to try too hard, not to force
Question: Rinpoche, do you feel it's significant that,
as Westerners, over many generations we've become so used to
Rinpoche: I wouldn't know exactly.
Maybe it's a sign of restlessness, of being ready at any time
to get up and move to somewhere else. Or it could be laziness
- when you're halfway up and halfway down you don't need so
much energy to go either more up or more down. But I'm only
Question: I find it easier to sit cross-legged when my
right leg is tucked under the left one, rather than the other
way round. Is this okay?
Rinpoche: It very much depends how far your therapy
goes: if it's purely physical then it may not be so important;
but if the aim is to practise meditation, too, then it would
probably be more useful to try and learn the way that is
suggested. So although in the beginning it may not really
matter, a little courage now could be more beneficial in the
Question: Why can't we have our palms facing upwards on
our knees when we meditate?
Rinpoche: When you sit with your hands in that
position, you are inviting energies and forces from outside
(and hence distractions).
Question: I'm keen to sit in a full Lotus - how should
Rinpoche: You can use various exercises to make your
body more supple. However, the most important thing is to go
gradually. If the postures do not come easily at the
beginning, then only sit in them for a short time at the
beginning in order not to strain the body. Otherwise the
possibility of sitting in the Lotus posture will be