On the Four Postures

The purpose of meditating in four postures is simply to provide rest and relief for the body. The actual meditation exercise is always kept the same. No matter what the posture, don’t let go of your original theme. Keep watch over your mind at all times.

Beginners, though, should devote most of their time to two postures: sitting and walking. Meditate in these two postures as much and as often as possible, and concentration will come easily. As for the other two postures, they aren’t very conducive to collecting the mind. When you lie down, concentration can easily turn into sleep. When you stand, the mind has trouble settling snugly down. But once you’re skilled and find that the posture is no obstacle in reaching concentration, there’s nothing against your dividing your time in a balanced way among all four postures. And if you can meditate with every breath, so much the better.

Lying on the right side is called sīha-sayāsa, the position of a reclining lion. Lying on the left side is called kāma-bhogin, the position of a person intent on sensual pleasure. To lie on one’s stomach is called tiracchāna-sayāsa, the posture of dogs and other common animals. It’s also called moha-kiriyā, an attitude expressing dullness and delusion. To lie on one’s back is called peta-sayāsa, the posture of hungry shades, the posture of the dead, the attitude of a loser, of one who has let all his defenses down. A person who falls asleep in this position tends to let his mouth fall open, to breathe heavily, and to snore. Strictly speaking, though, none of these postures is ruled out. You can shift around as you like, to relieve feelings of weariness. But when you decide to meditate in earnest, you should return to the correct posture, establish mindfulness and then watch over the mind to keep it firm and uncompromising until it reaches concentration.

The techniques mentioned so far can lead the mind to any of the three levels of concentration: momentary, threshold, or fixed penetration. Concentration is a tool for overcoming the defilements termed the five hindrances (nīvaraṇa). The hindrances are the true enemies of concentration. They keep blocking the mind, preventing it from settling down and getting firmly established. When any one of them arises, the mind is unable to see the Dhamma. The fact that they act as obstacles, obstructing the mind from attaining the good, is why they are called the enemies of concentration.