You don’t have to sit yoga style to meditate!

January 15, 2009

I just spent at least an hour on the web searching for the right picture for our Online Meditation Course. Currently we have an image of someone sitting in lotus. That picture made someone wonder if she had to sit in yoga posture to meditate. The answer is absolutely not! You can have deep, relaxing meditations and even very profound experiences sitting comfortably in a chair (or on the floor or a bed or sometimes even lying down…). Seemed like it would help to find an image that sends that message.

Searching the web, I hoped to find a picture with someone just sitting comfortably meditating. I went to all my favorite photo sites and it seemed like every single image of a person meditating was always in lotus, or at least cross-legged, and often with the hands held in some sort of special way. While different postures and hand positions do have different effects, they are not really important for most aspiring meditators. Many people can’t even sit cross-legged comfortably for any length of time, and even fewer can sit in lotus.

As for what we recommend about posture — usually meditation is best sitting up with the spine fairly erect. I say “fairly” because the most important thing is to be comfortable. When you are comfortable, you can relax completely. Sitting up fairly straight helps the mind to be alert. If you lie down (which you can do for some kinds of meditations) your mind will not be as alert and you may tend to fall asleep. Most meditation styles are not suited to the lying down position, although many guided meditations will be. But if you can’t sit up for some reason, better to meditate lying down than not at all.

We hear from people who are using our podcast meditations in all sorts of ways — sitting, lying down, walking, exercising, gazing at a lake — and people are getting benefits and having profound experiences in all these ways. Ultimately posture is up to you and will depend on what you are using the meditations for and how you are using them. So often when I hear from someone about their experiences, I remember that these meditations are your meditations. It’s your journey and your process and your truth that counts.

We do recommend sitting up to meditate for our Online Course. The course is a more structured, systematic process aimed at helping people learn to meditate on their own. The sitting posture helps facilitate mastering the fundamentals of meditation. But it is not necessary to be able to assume a pretzel like position to do it. Like our podcast meditations, ease and naturalness are essential. After all, meditation is all about being natural and being at ease!


19 Responses to “You don’t have to sit yoga style to meditate!”

  1. maggie madison on January 18th, 2009 10:06 am

    I’m glad you wrote this. I feel I have been “sneaking” it for awhile. I have a massage chair that I sometimes meditate in while listening to your podcast with headphones. Now, I can tell my meditation group the truth: Mary Maddux said it is ok!

  2. Mary on January 18th, 2009 3:43 pm


  3. Ellen Brown on January 19th, 2009 9:13 am

    Your post touches on something that I think many people find daunting about meditation: the idea of sitting in lotus position, or any position that they don’t currently find comfortable. It truly is difficult to meditate if our body isn’t comfortable. Talk about distracting! In any case, thanks for sharing this perspective.

  4. Mary on January 19th, 2009 9:58 am

    You’re welcome, Ellen. It wasn’t until someone asked if she had to sit in lotus posture and I did that search for a meditation photo that I realized how pervasive the idea is that you have to sit in lotus (or at least cross-legged). It’s a shame for people to be discouraged from meditation because of this idea!

  5. jh on January 21st, 2009 4:34 pm

    My mother refused to meditate and when I asked her why she said it was because the posture was too difficult for her–she has a brain tumor and suffers from epilepsy. I told her that it was okay to lie down and meditate or to sit comfortably in a chair. Sometimes we lose the message because of the ‘rules’. Thanks for the reminder.


  6. Mary on January 21st, 2009 5:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing about your mother, jh. I’ve found that rules can sometimes provide very valuable guidance when they help us to tune it to what works for us. Sometimes the rules don’t work, though, and we have to use common sense and trust in ourselves. There are always exceptions to the rules. And, of course, not all rules are useful rules — we have to be discriminating about the source of the rules and always test them for ourselves.

  7. jh on January 22nd, 2009 10:25 am

    Hi, just wanted to let you know that I am so psyched by your guided meditation podcasts that I featured them in an article on my nutrition and wellness blog. Thanks so much! To check out the article go here–


  8. Mary on January 22nd, 2009 11:34 am

    Glad you are enjoying the podcast, Jen!

  9. Edward Crivello on February 15th, 2009 4:03 pm

    When I meditate what works best for me is laying flat on my back when my mind is already at a relaxed alpha level (such as right after I awaken in the morning), and then putting on stereo headphones and listening to soothing brainwave mp3s or cds embedded with binaural beats or isochronic tones as well as nature sounds, ambient soundscapes, or new age music that is geared for relaxation and meditation. Meditation music may not be for everyone but it seems to help motivate me.

  10. Mary on February 16th, 2009 10:25 am

    Edward — Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I learned to meditate long before there were CDs with binaural beats, isochronic tones, etc. and discovered how easy it can be to slip into a meditative state naturally. My personal preference is always to go with what’s “natural”.

  11. Erwin List on October 31st, 2010 12:25 pm

    Can i do meditation lying in flat on my bed ?
    Or do i have to be sitting?

  12. Mary on October 31st, 2010 1:32 pm

    Erwin, this really depends on the style of meditation you are doing. If you want to use the guided meditations on our website (on the Listen to Our Podcast page), it’s fine to be lying down.

  13. Matt on December 27th, 2010 5:58 am

    Is it still okay to do meditation with music? Or is that just a waste of money buying songs. I do find medition with music helpful. Im on the bening stage of my medition and someday will learn to do it without music. I was just wondering if should do meditation without music?

  14. Mary on December 28th, 2010 10:04 am

    Hi Matt, There are no hard and fast rules about music. If music helps you meditate, why not use it? There are, of course, different kinds of meditation and some kinds may be better without music, but there’s no rule about this that applies to all situations.

  15. Dorthe on April 11th, 2011 12:54 pm

    I’m 51 years old and new to meditation. I’ve given birth to 5 children, and theres no way I can meditate without leaning my back slightly on some pillows. I’m sitting crosslegged, which works fine for me when sitting on my bed – and a pillow in my back. I think my spine is hold just fine.
    Is it okay to lean my back up a pillow, not to sit extremely uncomfortable?
    Btw – I began meditating because I found your awesome podcasts

  16. Mary on April 11th, 2011 1:05 pm

    Dorthe, here’s a blog post all about this — You Don’t Have to Sit Yoga Style to Meditate. Think that will answer your question!

  17. Antique Buddhas on May 21st, 2015 4:14 am

    I think sittinp up with your body fairly straight is the best way for one to meditate.

  18. Jesse Deggan on July 15th, 2015 7:12 pm

    Hi Mary,

    I have been very involved in yoga and meditation but I have developed a very painful condition in which anytime I bend my knees they hurt and had to give almost everything up. I used to meditate in half lotus but that become too painful so I moved to crossed legs which became unmanageable so I moved to a chair but even sitting in a chair became too painful so I moved to the corner of a room with lots of cushions for support and my legs out straight but after a while of that I started experiencing pain in my lower back! I then very briefly tried meditating lying down but I would just fall asleep every time. I had to give meditation up (and yoga and many other of my favourite activities for that matter) It is a year later my knees arent better and my mind is out of control. I really feel like I need to be meditating again but I dont know how to go about it. Do you have any suggestions?

  19. Mary on July 16th, 2015 9:08 am

    Jesse, I am so sorry to hear about your knees. I assume you are getting help from health care providers to find a solution to the problem. If your knees don’t hurt when you walk, you could try walking meditation. Otherwise, you could continue with meditating lying down. If you are always falling asleep, it could be that you need more sleep at night. If you get enough rest at night, perhaps that won’t happen. But even if it does, you will have had some meditation time before you fall asleep and the sleep should be deep from the relaxation of meditation. I’d also suggest trying our Beyond Pain meditation in our podcast. Best wishes with all of this.

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