Sitting Meditation

painting by Min Jae Hong

Close your eyes, lean back in your chair, and relax your muscles. Completely relax your eyes. It is very important that your eyelids be relaxed. There should be no tension around your eyeballs. Do not apply any force or tension anywhere. Relax your facial muscles, shoulders, and arms. Relax your abdomen and put your hands in your lap. If you feel the weight of your body, bring that sensation down to your seat. Do not think of anything. If thoughts come, recognize them for what they are and bring your attention to the inhaling and exhaling of your breath through your nostrils. Ignore everything. Just concentrate on your practice. Forget about your body and relax. Do not entertain doubts about whether what you are doing is useful.

The principles of this method are to relax, to be natural, and to be clear. Keep each session short, but practice frequently; each session should be no longer than three to ten minutes. If you do it longer, you will probably feel restless or fall asleep. You can use this method a few times a day; it will refresh your body and mind and eliminate some of the confusion in your daily life. Gradually you will gain the stability of body and mind that makes it possible to, eventually, enter the gate of Chan.

If sitting on the floor, sit on a round meditation cushion or an improvised cushion, several inches thick. This is partly for comfort, but also because it is easier to maintain an erect spine if the buttocks are slightly raised. Place a larger, square mat underneath the cushion. Sit with the buttocks towards the front half of the cushion, the knees resting on the mat. If physical problems prevent sitting on a cushion, then sit on a chair.

In sitting meditation, one should observe the seven points of the correct sitting posture. Each of these criteria has been used unchanged since ancient days. The purpose of these postures below is to stabilize the body so one can focus the mind.

1. The Legs

Sit on the floor with legs folded either in the full lotus or half lotus position. To make the full lotus, put the right foot on the left thigh, then put the left foot crossed over the right leg onto the right thigh. To reverse the direction of the feet is also acceptable.

full lotus
half lotus
loose sitting

The half lotus position requires that one foot be crossed over onto the thigh of the other. The other foot will be placed underneath the raised leg. The full or half lotus are the traditional seated meditation postures according to the seven-point method. However, we will describe some alternative postures since people may not always be able to sit in the full or half lotus.

There is a position called the loose sitting, in which the legs are crossed and both feet rest flat on the floor, one leg in front of the other.

using a chair

Photos: DDM Meditation Activity Department

Another position consists in kneeling. In this position, kneel with the legs together. The upper part of the body can be erect from knee to head, or the buttocks can be resting on the heels.

If physical problems prevent sitting in any of the above positions, then sitting on a chair is also possible, but as a last resort to the above postures. Even sitting on a chair, the spine must be erect and the body comfortable.

When you begin practising, choose a posture that will be comfortable and stable for twenty minutes.

2. The Spine

The spine must be upright. This does not mean to thrust your chest forward, but rather to make sure that your lower back is erect, not slumped, and that your chin is tucked in. Both of these points help you to maintain a naturally upright spine. An upright spine also means a vertical spine, leaning neither forward nor backward, right or left.

3. The Hands

In seated meditation, our hands form a posture called “Dharma Realm Samadhi Mudra,” which translates as: the posture or gesture (mudra) of oneness (samadhi) with reality (Dharma realm). This hand posture helps the smooth circulation of internal energies and helps harmonise the body with the external world. The open right palm is underneath, and the open left palm rests in the right palm. The thumbs lightly touch to form a closed circle or oval. The hands are placed in front of the abdomen, and rest on the legs.

samadhi mudra

4. The Shoulders

Relax the shoulders. Be natural. And let your arms hang loose. If you feel any tension in these areas, just relax them.

5. The Tongue

The tip of the tongue should be lightly touching the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. This prevents your mouth from being dry. If you have too much saliva, you can let go of this connection. If you have no saliva at all, you can apply a little bit of pressure with the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth.

6. The Mouth

The mouth should be closed. Breathe through the nose, not through the mouth.

7. The Eyes

The eyes should be slightly open and gazing downward at a forty-five degree angle. Rest the eyes in that direction, but do not look at anything. Closing the eyes may cause drowsiness, or visual illusions. However, if your eyes feel very tired you can close them for a short while.

Breathe naturally, do not try to control your breathing. The breath is used as a way to focus, to concentrate the mind. In other words, we bring the two things together – regulating the breathing and regulating the mind.

Regulating the mind means to stabilise and concentrate the mind. The basic method of regulating the mind is to count one’s breath in a repeating cycle of ten breaths. Starting with one, mentally (not vocally) count each exhalation until you reach ten, keeping the attention on the counting. After reaching ten, start the cycle over again, starting with one. Do not count during the inhalation, but just keep the mind on the intake of air through the nose. If wandering thoughts occur while counting, just ignore them and continue counting. If wandering thoughts cause you to lose count, or go beyond ten, as soon as you become aware of it, start all over again at one.

If you have so many wandering thoughts that keeping count is difficult or impossible, you can vary the method, such as counting backwards from ten to one, or counting by twos from two to twenty. By giving yourself the additional effort, you can increase your concentration on the method, and reduce wandering thoughts.

If your wandering thoughts are minimal, and you can maintain the count without losing it, you can drop counting and just observe your breath going in and out. Keep your intention at the tip of your nose. If, without any conscious effort, your breathing naturally descends to the lower abdomen, allow your attention to follow your breathing there. Do not try to control the tempo of your breathing, just watch and follow it naturally. A less strenuous method, also conducive to a peaceful mind, is to just keep your attention on the breath going in and out of your nostrils. Again, ignore wandering thoughts. When you become aware that you have been interrupted by thoughts, just return to the method.