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Should You Meditate Sitting or Lying Down?
Sit or Lie Down While Meditating? A Traditional Perspective on the Ideal Meditation Position

Our article on the purpose of meditation provides a comprehensive discussion about the “goal” of meditation in traditional yoga, including its “worldly” and spiritual benefits.

Meditation While Sitting vs. Meditation While Lying Down: The Ideal Position for Meditating

Generally speaking, unless you’re meditating for relaxation (or trying a sleep meditation), meditating in a seated position might be the best way one can/should practice (especially for the beginner).

Is it okay to meditate while lying down? Should you meditate sitting or lying down?

Ultimately, either is fine.

Different meditation traditions have recommended that students not lie down for various reasons. For our purposes the most important such reason is the possibility that you’ll fall asleep. If this is the case, however, the fix is simple: if you feel sleepy or find that you fall asleep when meditating while lying down, stop meditating while lying down (unless, of course, you’re meditating for the purpose of falling asleep).

 

From a traditional perspective, however, meditation wasn’t pursued in order to solve any particular material problem, including the problem of insomnia. From a traditional perspective, the purpose of meditation was to become directly aware of how your habitual self—your habitual perception, thinking, feeling, acting—is always already pre-occupied. 

 

Becoming aware of the ways in which your awareness is always already pre-occupied requires maintaining a certain receptivity to what is always already happening. And this is more easily accomplished by cultivating a kind of inner stability, which will allow you to notice your perceptual habits without becoming consumed by them. In other words, inner stability will allow you to notice the myriad ways in which you become “distracted” (that you probably had never realized). As your inner stability grows, you can then meditate in different situations—including while lying down—in order to learn the habitual ways in which your attention occupies itself these different situations.

 

In our formal meditation practice, we try to limit as many obstacles as possible to the cultivation of focus and inner stability. One such obstacle is, of course, falling asleep. Another “distraction” is muscle fatigue, which can more readily accompany meditations done in uncomfortable positions. As such, sitting is generally regarded as the “best” position in the sense that it’s a position that can be held for a long time while allowing for remaining aware/alert.

 

As focused attention becomes more accessible—as you become better able to notice the ways in which your awareness is pre-occupied—you can then change your circumstances/environment so that you can notice how your habitual self is taken in/up in said circumstances. In other words, there are good reasons to do forms of meditation that actually encourage “distractions” (including standing and walking meditations, but also situational meditations), but these types of meditation are typically more fruitful for those who are further along their journey—i.e., who have developed the capacity to remain in themselves, so to speak, without being swept up/away by what appears. Eventually, this habit—of noticing how your awareness habitually becomes absorbedwill become second nature.

 

In noticing that your awareness is pre-occupied, you become “free” of said pre-occupation. For example, noticing that you were just thinking creates a moment of “space” in which you are no longer unconsciously thinking. You experience something like being in the present moment. Eventually, you begin to notice themes in the way that your attention is pre-occupied, and eventually start noticing how these various thematic pre-occupations determine your experience outside of formal meditation.

 

When you can do this without trying to fix any of it, the object of meditation moves beyond the terms of your own idiosyncratic inner life towards noticing the ways that individual existence is determined by forces that are not subject to your will: embodiment, language, culture, et cetera. In yoga, you discover your “freedom” in becoming aware of the ways in which you are determined in and by both personal and universal contexts. And while this discovery has much to do with your [existential] positionality, it has nothing to do with your meditation position.

A Buddha image's head covered with plants

Further Reading

This article is intended as a short response to a single question about meditation. Similar such articles address the questions of whether one can/should meditate with eyes open and the “best” time to meditate.

Our article on the purpose (and benefits) of meditation offers a more comprehensive discussion of the role of meditation in traditional yoga philosophy and practice.

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