Find a secluded and quiet space in which to set up your meditation space. Taoists traditionally meditate facing a wall because it reduces visual stimulation to help with clearing the mind.
You will need a meditation mat and either a cushion, chair, or bench, and maybe an altar with an incense burner if you choose. Keep the area simple and clean, as the mind will be less distracted when surrounded by only a few simple objects.
During meditation practice, wear clothes that are loose and comfortable, so the chest and abdomen can expand more fully.
*IMPORTANT* Before getting started in your practice, it’s important to know that meditation is not right for all people at all times, especially those who have or may have experienced trauma. Click here for more information about Trauma-Sensitive meditation.
Choosing What To Sit On
For seated meditation, you may choose to sit on a:
- Meditation cushion and mat
- Meditation bench
Meditation cushions come in many shapes, but Taoists traditionally used ones like the Japanese Zafu.
Cushions are traditionally filled with buckwheat and ideally have a zipper so that you can adjust the amount or add more buckwheat as needed. There are many other materials used as well, so you can experiment and see what works best for your body. Buckwheat is firm yet it conforms to your body so it’s comfortable to sit on.
You may also purchase thin extra cushions to make the cushion higher or to provide support under your knees.
The higher your cushion, the easier it is physically to sit. As you practice sitting longer, you may be able to sit on lower cushions, depending on your body’s musculoskeletal structure and any injuries.
See the Meditation Posture page to learn the traditional Taoist posture for sitting on a cushion.
Another alternative way to sit on a meditation cushion is to turn it on its side so it standing up vertically, as if it were a wheel and then straddle the “wheel,” this gives you a supported kneeling position. This is a great option for people who don’t feel comfortable sitting cross-legged. Or for when sitting cross-legged starts to bother you and you want an alternative option.
A meditation mat under your cushion gives cushioning to the knees, which is best for more people. If your knees don’t touch the floor, you may prop pillows under them so they have some support.
Meditation benches support you to sit in a kneeling position with your knees under the bench but without putting pressure on the joints with your body weight. Like using the cushion vertically, benches are a great alternative for people who don’t feel comfortable cross-legged or for days when you feel like having another option.
Kneeling meditation Benches also come in many different varieties.
Many have legs that fold in so they are easier to transport or stack. For longer meditation periods, it’s helpful to have a cushion for the meditation bench.
A chair is an equally effective way to meditate as any other option. One option is to use a chair that has an upright back so that you can use the back of the chair to support you.
Or the other option, move yourself to the front half of the seat, just enough so you are able to hold yourself upright and you don’t lean on the back of the chair. Just make sure the edge of the chair doesn’t dig into your thighs because that can put pressure on the nerves of that area and cause problems.
As with the benches, placing a cushion on the chair may make sitting for long periods easier.
The important thing to remember when choosing a chair is that you want your feet to be flat on the ground. You can also put something under your feet like a meditation cushion for this purpose (see Meditation Posture page for more information).
The reason we associate sitting in meditation with being cross-legged is because these meditation traditions come out of Asia where sitting cross-legged on the floor was the norm.
In Western culture where sitting on chairs is the norm, you might feel more comfortable sitting on a chair. There is not one particular correct meditation position or item to sit on, it’s all about finding what’s right for your body.
These days there are many options to fit every body, such as meditation chairs designed for people with knee and/or back problems.
Generally speaking, if possible, you want your hips higher than your knees because that will help provide a stable base that will support your back to remain upright without the muscles of the back overworking. You can achieve this positioning of the hips relative to the knees with a meditation cushion, bench, or chair.
But if it’s not possible for you on the floor and you don’t enjoy sitting in a regular chair, you can research and try other options such as these until you find something that works for your body. Overtime, your flexibility may change and you may be able to lower the knees below the hips.