Lying down and meditating: Is it okay?

Lying down and meditating can be helpful, but it can come with some negatives too. Lying down is really comfortable. We don’t have to think about our position when we’re lying down. Practically speaking, though, there are also some downsides to lying down when you meditate.

Meditating lying down is certainly okay sometimes. It’s really useful for people with bad knees or a sore back, or people who aren’t very flexible. But, if you can, sitting tends to be better over the long term, because it’s easier to stay focused and awake while you meditate. Falling asleep and developing other bad habits are a real risk if you are serious about meditation, so keep lying meditation to a minimum.

Let’s go a little more in depth on the advantages and disadvantages of lying meditation and how to incorporate this tool into your meditation practice.

Benefits: What’s good about lying down to meditate?

Lying meditation is very useful for people who have problems with knee or back pain, joint mobility, and flexibility.

There’s nothing useful about forcing yourself to sit and meditate through pain. Work with your body, not against it, and have some compassion for yourself — if your body is telling you that a seated position hurts, it’s important to listen. Don’t aggravate injuries further.

Lying down to meditate allows you to relax your muscles and joints rather than holding them in a painful or uncomfortable position. It’s quite relaxing and comfortable.

Plus, lying down isn’t really a position that needs to be ‘held’. You just lay down, and there you are — as opposed to seated meditation, in which I often have to remind myself of certain cues. ‘Don’t slouch!’ ‘Hold your head up!’ and so on.

Plus, I often find my arm or hand position is kind of uncomfortable or awkward. Sometimes you feel like you don’t really know what to do with your hands.

When you lie down and meditate, you remove all these positional readjustments and don’t have to monitor your body as much. You can just relax.

That leaves you free to simply focus on meditating rather than the position you meditate in. Not only is this easier, it removes a source of distractions, as you won’t be pulling your attention away from meditating to checking in on your hands, shoulders, back or legs.

Downsides: Is it bad to meditate lying down?

The problem with lying meditation is that there’s usually only one other time that we lie down: When we’re about to sleep.

If you’ve been conditioning your brain to get ready to sleep every time you lay down, every day, for most of your life — and then you close your eyes and try to relax, you’re going to get sleepy.

Of course, that might be the goal, since some people usually meditate before bed. (I’m one of them)

However, it’s not ideal to mix up your mental ‘meditation mode’ with ‘sleep mode’. Meditation, at least as a disciplined practice, requires some amount of focus as well as relaxation. You have to find a balance between the two.

Lying down can make it too easy to slip further towards relaxation without really realizing it. It’s even pretty easy to fall asleep in the middle of your session!

Again, this might be exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re meditating due to insomnia or sleeplessness, lying down and using some of the techniques used in more typical meditation can be really helpful, since what usually keeps us awake are our racing thoughts. Slowing them down with meditation can provide the mental relaxation we need to drift off to sleep, and if you’re laying down with your eyes closed you’re already halfway there.

But be warned: If you’re serious about meditation and want more out of it than simply to fall asleep, this can be harmful. Being mindful and simply relaxing peacefully are meaningfully different things. If you replace all of your mindfulness practice with relaxation practice, you’re not going to experience the benefits of mindfulness, because you’re just practicing relaxation.

And, as before, we also have to consider our brain’s ability to make connections between experiences. If you are lying down to meditate until you fall asleep every night, it might be hard to transition back to sitting meditation without your brain sending the same ‘time to sleep!’ signal. Even if you don’t regularly meditate now, this might be worth keeping in mind.

Finally, think about situations in which you may want to meditate in the future. If you want to attend a class or retreat, the instructors may discourage lying meditation, or it may make meditating over longer time periods more difficult. Some teachers don’t appreciate the idea of people dozing off in their class!

How to choose: Seated or lying meditation?

With these benefits and disadvantages before us, what can we say about the role of lying meditation?

Lying meditation is, much like sitting meditation, simply a tool we can use depending on the situation and our goals as meditators.

If you don’t really care about meditation as anything other than a relaxation tool, lying meditation can help you, especially if you’re trying to get to sleep. Meditation can provide a useful way to slow down our racing thoughts, alleviate anxiety, and dispel that feeling of alertness you feel when you’re frustrated with your sleeplessness.

If you have problems with your joints, or find sitting painful or distractingly uncomfortable, lying meditation can help. Without having to hold a position, there’s less stress on the back and knees — common problem sites for meditators who are older, have injuries, or don’t exercise much.

But, beware of lying down simply to take the easier route – if you can reasonably sit and meditate, you should try to sit, even if it’s not for long. This will help you build up your flexibility and stability when sitting and eventually let you sit for longer periods of time. Remember, meditation is a journey all about doing what is difficult and simply sitting with the difficulty! You can build your ability just like getting stronger at the gym.

It almost goes without saying, but if you’re falling asleep while meditating, you should try not to meditate in a lying position. Instead, meditate in a seated position, focus on keeping an upright posture, and get some more sleep!

Perhaps most importantly, if you’re pursuing meditation as a means of practicing mindfulness, lying meditation is probably not something you should do too often. In my opinion, it’s important to ‘practice how you play’ — meaning if you ever intend on attending a retreat or being able to sit for long periods of time, you are probably better off by practicing for those situations in your normal mediation sessions.

Personally, even though I know lying meditation is comfortable and, in some ways, easier than seated meditation, I almost never do it.

I recently hurt my ankle, making sitting cross-legged painful, so I tried it again for my last few sessions. I actually fell asleep in one (and I have never had problems falling asleep during meditation). Granted, I slept very well, but that’s not the ‘point’ of meditation for me. For me, meditation is a matter of practice — practicing noticing and observing my thoughts and feelings. Each time I catch my mind wandering, it’s like completing one rep of a mental exercise. When I lie down to meditate, I’m simply too relaxed to focus properly on these things, and my mind slows down because it’s preparing for sleep. This makes my ‘reps’ easier and less frequent.

Of course, it’s up to you to try these things out for yourself! If you find lying meditation works better for you, that’s great. As I mentioned, just take care that you are not making the choice based on what is simply the route of least resistance. Find the appropriate balance of focus and relaxation where you are not tense, but not so relaxed that you’re not doing those reps.

How to meditate lying down: Posture and place

Coming back to one of the great things about meditating lying down — there’s really nothing to it!

Sometimes, to dissociate your meditation practice from sleepy time, it’s a good idea to do this somewhere other than your bed. For example, a yoga mat works, or the floor of a carpeted room, or a couch.

Just lie down as you normally would on your back, or on your side if it’s uncomfortable to lie on your back. Depending on your body, it might be more comfortable to place some kind of support under your knees, like a rolled up blanket, a pillow, or a foam roller if you have one.

Placing a support under your knees in these kind of positions helps flatten out your lower back, so if you’re feeling pain or discomfort then when lying down flat on your back, you might like to try one of those out. If you have something like a yoga support or meditation cushion handy, these can be ideal for this — but you really don’t need them. Anything comfortable but stable will do.

Another surprisingly comfortable position that I’ve tried before is to lay on the ground with your legs on a couch or chair, bending at the knees. Ok, you might look like kind of a weirdo, but it really is comfortable! I always used to do this as a bored little kid. This will flatten out your lower back, too.

Next, just meditate as you normally would. For me, that means simply focusing on my breath going in and out, trying to be aware of when I’ve mentally wandered off into worrying about my grocery list or something that happened earlier.

When you’re finished, I find it’s nice to stretch out a bit or even get up and walk around as kind of a cooldown — bringing you back to full awareness.

Next time you are in the mood for changing up your practice a little, try out lying meditation. It changes the experience of meditation more than you might think. It’s a great tool if you suffer from insomnia or joint problems, too.

 

Hope this helps!

Lewis

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