Yoga to Help You Sit

By Martha Whitney and Trina Magi

The purpose of meditation is to study and train our minds. But what if we’re not physically comfortable when we sit? Sometimes our minds create the urge to move or fidget or scratch, and it’s interesting to note the mind’s ability to do that. Other discomforts truly may be the result of weak or tight muscles, a cushion that’s too low, or improper posture. Because there’s no benefit to making the meditation practice more difficult, it makes sense to address these issues so we can be more comfortable.

Yoga instructor and Burlington Shambhala Center member Martha Whitney generously agreed to share some tips over the next few months. In this first article, we’ll focus on the sitting posture and the use of props. (You might also consider consulting the book The Posture of Meditation by Will Johnson.)

What should you sit on? You have many options—the rectangular gomden, the round zafu, the kneeling (seiza) bench, the cloud bench, and a chair. Experiment to see what’s best for you, and feel free to make a change during walking meditation.


Where are your knees? When you sit, your knees should be below your waist or hips, and there should be a small curve in your lower back. This allows your belly to be soft and reduces strain on your back. When the breath moves freely, the mind can settle. If your knees are above your waist, you should sit on something higher.

Do your knees hurt, or do your feet fall asleep? Try sitting on something higher, or use cushions or small bolsters to support your knees. Tuck a rolled hand towel or washcloth between your ankles to reduce pressure on the ankle bones.


Are you uncomfortable sitting with your ankles crossed? Try sitting “seiza” style, using a kneeling bench, or straddling a gomden.