When we think of meditation, we usually think of someone sitting cross-legged on a zafu or other type of meditation cushion. Indeed, sitting meditation is the cornerstone of meditation practice. In a proper, supported sitting position, there’s a balance of both energy and ease that helps our minds to stay both alert and calm.
But there are other traditional meditation poses as well. In Insight meditation, we practice sitting, standing, walking and lying-down meditation. These alternative meditation poses help us integrate our practice more easily into the rest of our lives.
When sitting is the only position for practice, it’s easy to segregate meditation practice from life practice. When we’re sitting, we’re meditating; when we’re not sitting, we’re on to the next thing.
I first learned this on long, silent meditation retreats. Alternating between sitting and walking meditation all day long began creating a sense of continuity in the practice. Suddenly, I was not only sitting and walking more mindfully, but I was also eating, showering and brushing my teeth more mindfully as well.
Alternative Meditation Poses
- Standing Meditation: In standing meditation, we practice Tadasana (Mountain Pose), often beginning with awareness of the feet and legs, and then spreading awareness through the entire body. It’s not important to focus on every minute detail of Tadasana alignment, although it is important to make sure that the tops of the thighs are drawing back so that our pelvis tilts forward and our spine can rest in its natural curves. Standing meditation is a great practice on its own, but it is also a way to lift our energies when we feel sleepy in sitting meditation. It can also be helpful to pause and practice standing meditation in the midst of walking meditation practice when our energies feel scattered.
- Walking Meditation: Walking meditation is a wonderful grounding, and often energizing, practice. In walking meditation, we walk slowly—usually from one point to another, maybe a path of 10 to 20 feet or so. The focus is on the sensations in the feet and legs, although other senses—especially seeing, hearing and smelling—often come into play as well. Walking meditation helps us shake off the effects of sitting, but more important is its role in providing a bridge to the rest of our lives.
- Lying-Down Meditation: Oddly, lying-down meditation is the most challenging—at least for me. The position itself, usually a comfy Savasana (Relaxation Pose), is not so hard. It’s the tendency to drift away that makes it most challenging. When we’re lying down, our minds are accustomed to moving toward sleep, so often we end up lying in a sort of spaced-out, sleepy state. It takes some energy to employ the tools of mindfulness to lying down, but it can be done. We rest our focus on the contact points in our bodies, including the surface we’re lying on, the clothing on our skin, even the contact of the space around our bodies with our skin. As with sitting meditation, we also bring the breath into focus.
Feel free to be creative with these alternative meditation poses. For example, you can practice walking meditation next time you spend time in the outdoors. Practice lying-down meditation before you go to bed, or if you wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to get back to sleep. Practice walking or standing meditation when you need grounding.
Practicing alternative meditation poses, along with your sitting practice, can help you find creative ways to integrate mindfulness into your life.