How to Sit in Ardha Padmasana
Goal: Your sitting must be as comfortable as possible involving no muscle tension whatsoever. The body must be biomechanically balanced in such a way that it stays erect without applying any (or absolutely minimal for that matter) muscle tension. Be fully relaxed head to toe while sitting.
Test: If your mind-body balance is proper you should be able to sit without moving a single muscle for hours. At present I often sit still in Ardha Padmasana for good 2:30 hours and only the pain in the skin on my sit bones would make me move by the end of that period. Eventually you should be able to sleep or even die sitting without change in the posture. The moment you'll be getting up you should be able to raise from your seat without pain, without adjusting nor releasing asleep legs etc.
Mistakes: Although Ardha Padmasana is easier on the knees and ankles for beginners please keep in mind that Ardha Padmasana is technically more difficult to perform correctly and more error-prone than Padmasana (full-lotus). Do not try to sit too low as you have seen on the movies or posters. If fact, many people who sit too low do not sit properly, even in India and throughout Asia. To get it right for yourself, use the test above. In the beginning do not play ego games and do not be ashamed to sit high. Men, do not sit on your testicles! There is such a risk when sitting high. They will hurt if you do so. Adjust them at sitting time if needed.
Physical conditioning: Sitting requires flexibility in the lower back, hips, thighs and ankles. Muscle tension, especially in the back, shoulders and legs, is extremely unfavourable for proper sitting. If you find out that you cannot sit properly it's quite feasible that it's not only your lack of flexibility but the tension in your muscles caused by thoughts and emotions too. To gain flexibility practice Yin Yoga. If you don't have good flexibility in the hips you'll hurt yourself sooner or later so you'd want to invest time and effort in preparation through the Yin Yoga. To gain relaxation in mind and body practice mindfulness meditation -- which is best developed through sitting anyway.
Cushion: For Ardha Padmasana (half-lotus) posture it's better to use a half-moon cushion which allows room for the lower foot and support for the thighs. A round, thin cushion (classic zafu) is better used for Padmasana (full-lotus). You sit on the edge of the cushion so that it pushes your back at 45 degree angle up and forward but not flat on the top of the cusion. There are a few appropriate fillings for a sitting cushion: kapok, spelta hulls, buckwheat hulls, quallofil; read Kapok vs Buckwheat article. You may put a hard piece of material under the back of the cushion to "harden" it a bit and give additional tilt. Keep in mind that cushions compress with time so check it every couple of weeks or whenever you feel mysterious changes in your otherwise perfected sitting.
Mat: Use a sitting mat about 1 x 1 meter in size and 5-7 cm thick. The mat should be filled with soft but thick matter like wool. You may use a folded blanket as well.
Props: If you feel pain in the lower ankle you may like to use a little soft padding 30 x 15 cm and 1-2 cm high to ease the tension by putting it in front of the cushion (forming a T-shape). You may put the same piece under the knee of the upper leg if required.
Dress: Wear loose pants that allow for making a good base for the hands. Feet should be bare. You may cover with a blanket.
Other: Use a mosquito net if needed. If you want to make one, use a ring 1m in diameter to put the net around and hang if from the ceiling like they do in Southeast Asia.
- Sit bones: You sit on your sit bones but not on your soft buttocks. You may feel the hardness of your sharp sit bones as you grab your buttocks with your hands. ALL the weight of the torso and upper body is applied to the sit bones via the spine. The legs bear ONLY their own weight and NO weight of the body. The moment you put weight on your bent knees you hurt them! You sit on the sit bones and the point between the anus and the genitals where the Muladhara chakra is. Perform some Mulabandha to develop the feeling.
- Left/right leg: The left leg being up is more calming as it activates the Ida nadi and the left, passive part of the body. The right leg being up is more energizing as it stimulates the Pingala nadi and the right, active part of the body. Yet some people cannot tell the difference so give it a try yourself.
- Back: The back is straight! This means the back is visually straight however if the sitting posture is correct you will internally perceive the infamous anatomical S-shape. I like to refer to it as the "cobra" shape. It is when the weight of the breast cage rests on the lower spine at the point at the level of the solar plexis (this is where the upper part of the erect cobra slightly bends back). The feeling of the lower back is straight in any case (this is the lower part of the erect cobra).
To check how straight your position is sit back towards a door edge, a pillar or a stick. A mirror or a photo camera might be useful too. There must be a S-shape or a straight line but not a forward bent of the back. Another easy check-up is whether you are able to fill your belly with air -- if you can the back is not straight; if you can't inflate your belly then your position is correct.
- Shoulders: Pull the shoulders back and then release to get a naturally open and relaxed position of the chest. Check the position by pushing the elbows down: if the shoulders go vertically down or slightly back rather than forward thus closing the chest, then your position should be alright.
- Neck: The neck is straight. The chin is slightly in and down allowing for the back side of the head to be a straight extension of the spine. This way the spine naturally extends towards the Sahasrara chakra. This position of the chin allows for natural tensionless opening of the throat for seamless breathing and release of the jaw and neck muscles. This is where the cobra looks down.
An easy check-up is whether you can easily perform Ujjayi breathing (the "Darth Vader" sound) -- if you can then the position of the chin is correct.
- Mouth: The mouth is closed, the lips are closed but the teeth do not touch. The tongue is glued to the palate towards khechari mudra but no need to put it there forcefully -- it will assume the position naturally with attaining a meditative state. Do not sit with chin up, back side of the head bumping back and sight pointing at the horizon.
- Sight: The sight falls about 2 meters in front of you on the floor. When open, the eyes are half-closed which is natural to meditation states. Close your eyes according to the requirements of your meditation technique.
- Hands: The palms are placed in Dhyana mudra, the first joint of the lower palm placed under the fistbones of the upper palm. Thumbs are slightly and effortlessly touching. The level of the palms is somewhere near the middle between the navel and the genitals but may be lower if you place them on the feet. Shoulders, arms and palms must be fully relaxed and without any tension, elbows weight down. I find it crusial to wear proper pants like Thai fishermen's pants or kimono that allow for forming a good base for placing the hands, in case that your palms do not rest on your feet. Sorry, it seems not to work with t-shirts nor with sweaters nor with other upper body dress but a towel or a blanket folded along the long edge may do the job. You can play with the position of your hands on the pants to adjust the tilt of the torso, if needed. You can play with the position of the fingers (how much they overlap) to open and close the chest and shoulders. You may use other mudras too, like Chin or Jnana mudra, but remember to keep the palms relaxed. Eventually all these would be behind you after a certain point in time but then you shouldn't be reading these instructions anyway.
- Face: Smile and then relax the face muscles. This will leave your internal and external face expression in a neutral-positive state which is very beneficial.
- Attention to the body: Keeping or regularly turning attention to the back and especialy to the lower back between the waist and the tail bone helps reducing tensions in the posture. If you find that your body twists and turns during sitting, relax fully, center the body and keep on holding this position consciously throughout stting.
Sitting movement: Pat the cushion first so that if becomes fluffy. Sitting movement unfolds through squat posture towards the back edge of the cushion. The moment your buttock touches the cushion the horns of the half-moon come up from the ground to a horizontal position. Bend the left leg so that it almost touches the cushion. It's better not to touch the cushion with the heel because the skin may hurt after a while. Put the right foot on the lower left leg so that the big and second toe will stick out in the air. It is not recommended that you put the foot on the thigh because this way the position becomes even more disbalanced on the left/right and the knee tends to lift from the ground; the lower leg is just fine. Place carefully the ankle of the upper leg outside the bone so that it doesn't cause pain on the bone/skin of the lower leg. While bending the legs hold the pants loose at the knees so that when bent the pressure of the cloth won't produce pain in the course of a log sit. Bend forward to bring more buttock flesh backwards. You may go down to the ground in a bow. Now grab the knees with hands or just raise them slightly to make sure they bear only their own weight but not the weight of the hips nor the body. Both knees should be on the ground but use them only for balance! Contract the anus slightly (Ashvini mudra) to restore the forward/backward balance. Once sitting push down to the floor to facilitate muscle release.
Scope: Most of the principles above can be applied to other meditation postures like Padmasana, Siddhasana, Vajrasana, Swastikasana, Bhadrasana, Gomukhasana.
Extras: Sitting on sand is absolutely great because sand both takes the exact shape of your body and sustains it firmly during sitting. Go to the beach and enjoy natural sitting!
Integrate crossleged sitting into your daily life. Make your daily sitting place suitable for proper sitting. For example, if you work on a computer put it on a low table and sit on the ground to use it. It's best to keep the monitor on a level to match your slightly downward pointing sight while the keyboard is placed in such a way that your elbows are at 90 degree angle. Unfortunately to achieve this setup you'll need to use an external monitor and keyboard for your laptop. This is an invaluable sitting exercise.
The same goes for the eating place -- sit properly on the ground, keep the back erect throughout the process while putting the plate on a low bench or table.
Final remarks: Play with it. Sit a lot -- without moving. The instructions above are just one of the many available around. You will develop your own posture. However, whatever your personal posture is, use the long sitting test because it is the only criteria that matters in regard to formal sitting meditation posture.
Taking it further: The purpose of a proper sitting posture is to fascilitate (formal) meditation practice. Yet this is a whole new topic to even breefly touch on herein. Other factors that greatly affect spiritual development are, in no particular order:
- daily schedule
- diet and food intake
- quality -- live/pranic eventually raw food
- quantity -- little, at 1000-1500 kcal/day or less
- mode -- meditation and proper posture during eating
- approach -- food separation
- timing -- no food for at least 4 hours before and after sleep
- daily fasting helps
- general and particular body condition (overall health and working on problem/blind areas)
- sleeping schedule (getting up early, going to bed early)
- emptying bowels and cleansing mouth, nose, and sinuses before sitting
- meditation timings (first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening -- at least)
- informal/constant meditation practice throughout the day in every ordinary activity
- meditation in motion (walking, washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc)
- eating meditation (ask)
- meditation in the body
- witnessing, observation of natural breathing
- breathing exercises are helpful
- realization/access/perception of energy centers (chakras) and channels (nadis) in the body
- developing the ability to perceive and direct the prana flows in the body (subtle pranayama)
- minimizing or keeping under control bodily movement in terms of:
- pace -- naturally relaxed
- quality -- continuous mindfulness
- amount -- less movement is generally better
- refraining from or minimizing action in both physical and inner realms (footprint of personality on reality)
- intensity and content of thoughts and emotions (less is better)
- reading/reciting/listening to spiritual texts or guidance (no more than 10% of silent meditation time)
- minimizing exposure of the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste to external (physical) and internal (memories) objects
- no TV, radio, news, mainstream movies and music (the brainwashers)
- ceasing, or minimizing the usage of a phone, computer, and internet
- solitude, or minimal human presence as of advanced spiritual seekers
- silence, or keeping speech to absolute minimum about practical daily matters only
- slowing down
- quiet and natural surroundings; nature
- warm climate is favorable if food is to be reduced
- being in "lands of dharma", i.e. spiritual Asian countries
- living out of a backpack
- fasting and detoxing
- places charged with spiritual energy help -- see the Travel and Retreats section
- attending serious meditation retreats and staying at practicing monasteries -- see the Travel and Retreats section
- knowing the broader spiritual landscape: who is who and what is what -- explore this website
- sitting sessions as long as possible (without moving)
- accumulation of meditation hours on daily, weekly, and longer term basis
- continuity and uninterruptability of practice
- observation of the Yamas and Niyamas, Seven factors of enlightenment, Five hindrances, Eight precepts
- deeper changes take time -- meditation is more of a life-long marathon and less of a sprint; however from time to time openings present themselves and we would like to push through and go deeper, just like the Buddha did for example.
- general intensity of inner search and effort applied