Is meditation lying down effective? [+howto video]
When you see all the images of monks and buddhas and gurus, one thing stands out, and that is that most of them are sitting cross-legged. So one might wonder if this is the only way to do meditation.
In this post, I want to talk about an alternative: lying down to meditate.
Meditation while lying is just as effective as when sitting. The great advantage of the supine position is that is far more relaxing and so more easy to enter a meditative state. The only drawback is that falling asleep becomes a problem you need to manage.
The Buddha said that meditation can be done in all four postures; sitting, walking, standing, and lying down. Furthermore, he said you should continue meditation when transitioning from one posture to the other.
The sage Patanjali defined good meditation posture as the position in which you can be relatively still and steady.
Given these votes for using any position to meditate, let’s examine the lying down position a bit further.
Is meditation lying down effective?
The short answer the one I have already given in the introduction, but I’d like to repeat and expand a bit here.
So, yes, lying down is just as effective as sitting or walking. Most meditation traditions advocate a few different positions in order to not get into a rut. Always doing sitting meditation can become boring in the long run.
Many traditions also have a practice lying down. In the modern mindfulness tradition, this is called the body scan. But the body scan is also present in the yoga tradition for instance.
Now, the yogic tradition uses the body scan as a relaxation technique, so technically, this is more a preparation than a full meditation. This is not so in mindfulness, where is used to learn the important skill of moving your awareness deliberately.
Also, when you go to the Tibetan tradition, and practice shamata, you need to do so much meditation that only doing seated exercises is not enough. So they do advocate lying down also.
Further reading: the body scan meditation.
Pro’s and contra’s of lying down to meditate
Why and when you should definitely meditate lying down
As you know, lying is most relaxing. It brings a connotation with sleep and dozing off.
The relaxing part is actually a very important factor in meditation. Modern-day mindfulness does not emphasize it, but most other traditions start the practice by relaxing body and mind for a few minutes at least.
This gives this meditation an immediate edge. You gain the relaxation of the body almost for free. And a relaxed body tends to also promote a relaxed mind (not always, but the two often are interlinked).
That means that it is recommended doing lying down meditation as often as you can.
Personally, I always start my day with mindfulness of breathing and I end it with plain mindfulness meditation. Both these practices are done lying down in bed.
It is the perfect starting and ending of the day!
But there are other reasons for meditating like this.
Some people have a hard time sitting with a straight back for a long time. Either because their muscles are not strong enough or they have some back injury. In bot case, do not strain yourself and take on the supine position!
I myself am in this category when I go on a retreat that lasts several days. In the afternoon of the second day, I’m very glad to be able to stretch out on the ground!
Sometimes the pain is so intense that even mindfulness meditation is not an option anymore. You need to do something then.
Why and when you should definitely not meditate lying down
I’d advise against practicing this way when you are too tired. honestly, you will only fall asleep and lose the benefit of the meditation
Almost every time I do the body scan with my students somebody falls asleep. And often somebody starts snoring. Always funny when this happens, but it is also a good lesson in letting go.
People fall asleep during meditation because of two reasons.
First, many people are sleep-deprived and do not know it themselves. Our hectic lifestyle often has us sleeping far less than we ought to. So, if you want to become good at meditation, or just a little happier in general, make sure you sleep the right amount for you! Nobody can tell you how much this is, only you can feel this.
The second reason is that we are not accustomed to go into such relaxed states consciously. We have been habituated to relaxing and then falling asleep. Now we have to unlearn this to go deeper into the meditation.
This is especially true when you do concentration meditation. Here we gain access to more and more rarefied parts of our mind. In the beginning, this is uncomfortable and we tend to blank out.
Just keep going at it, and you will be able to see more and more background thoughts and emotions and let them go.
Here is a short table that summarizes these points.
|Easy to fall asleep
|Excellent for people
with back injuries
|Do not try when you are
|Ideal morning and evening
|Perfect for falling
As you can see from the table, there are almost no downsides! Just give it a try!
How to meditate lying down
Possible postures lying down
When you lie down, you can obviously lie on your back, your side, or on your stomach.
Either one is fine!
You just need to find what works best for you. All will depend on how you normally fall asleep.
In my case, I usually fall asleep on my side. So this posture is more difficult for me to meditate. I do use it when I decide to call it a day and head to the dream world.
Savasana, the supine position, is the one I use most. This is a most relaxing posture that is also highly regarded in the yoga tradition. There is used as the last pose in which you do the final relaxation.
In meditation you can benefit from this feature and use it to relax into the practice.
Experiment with these poses and find what is best for you. You might find the exact opposite of me.
If you want to get started right away, here is a guided meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of modern western mindfulness tradition. As you will discover in this meditation, he is also loves this posture!
Hi, I’m Olivier Devroede and I have been meditating seriously since 2009.
Due to the great benefits I have seen in meditating, I decided to become an MBSR trainer myself and start a blog.