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(5 pages total)

Page 2 - Journey To Stillness

Correct Alignment

Three Basic Chair-Sitting Postures

As noted, to meditate the Taoist way, you do not have to sit on the floor in a full or half lotus position.2 In the West, many people suffer from back problems or an injured or stiff hip, knee, or ankle, any of which can prevent them from attaining the full or half lotus. These conditions are so prevalent in the West that ergonomic chairs are designed for desk-bound workers to accommodate or avoid such physical problems. The critical goal for anyone practicing meditation is the freeing of the spirit, not sitting on the floor with your legs twisted beyond your capacity. The chair-sitting meditation posture described herein has been used by Taoist meditators and in times past by many Chinese emperors, members of the Imperial Court, and senior Chinese officials and magistrates.


Thoughts on Sitting Positions for Meditation

Before my back was severely damaged in a car accident, I had no trouble sitting in the half or full lotus position for hours on end. Over a twenty-year span I had practiced stretching my body doing martial arts, Taoist yoga, and hatha yoga. For two years in India, like the Indian population in general, I sat on the floor, not in a chair, and I squatted to go to the toilet. But after my car accident, I found that owing to the shifting realities of body pain I could progress further in meditation by sitting in a chair rather than on the floor. Liu Hung Chieh, who was trained in the classic Chinese tradition, also practiced sitting in a chair as well as sitting on the floor. You do not have to sit like a yogi to be able to meditate.


Correct Alignment

Three Ways to Sit and Meditate in a Chair

There are three ways you can meditate while sitting in a chair.3 These same chair-sitting techniques can be adapted to any type of office work, especially to work involving computers.

1. When sitting in a chair, keep both feet flat on the floor, with the outsides of your feet being no wider than your shoulders (Figs. 5H and 5.1N). If you can, rest the palms of your hands on your kneecaps (Fig. 5G), your fingertips -ideally pointing straight ahead. Your elbows should be bent and loose, not stiff-armed (Fig. 5D); keep your elbow tips gently moving downward toward your thighs. If you raise your elbows your shoulders will raise, and your spine will then tire more rapidly. Move your elbows gently to the sides. This move will create space inside your body where your spine can move easily and be more easily held straight. In an alternative method, place your palms along the bodys -center line, directly in front of your lower tantien. Your palms may be touching surface to surface with hands lightly clasped (Fig. 5.2), or the back of one hand may rest on the palm of the other (Fig. 5M), palms facing up (which hand is on top may be alternated over time). If at all possible, do not touch the backrest of the chair with your spine (Fig. 5 and 5.1). Your body should be at ease, and your spine in particular should remain relaxed and straight(Fig. 5B).

2. You may find that all of these unsupported back positions are too straining or painful for your back or neck. If so, sit back in the chair as you slide down the backrest (Fig. 7a), and press your upper buttock muscles backward and upward to lift against the back of the chair (Fig. 7b). This motion allows your buttock and back muscles to connect without gaps. The motion pushes your lower back muscles up against the back of the chair (Fig. 7c), thereby stabilizing support of your lower back, just as a flying buttress in a gothic cathedral supports a wall. In contrast, if your buttock muscles push downward into the seat of the chair, the muscles of your lower back can also be pulled down. A downward muscle movement increases the arch of your lower back, compressing your vertebrae and straining your lower back muscles. This progression can then pull the vertebrae of your lower back out of alignment. So keep your spine straight, without any rounding or slumping. Keep your spine away from making contact with the middle and upper part of your chairs backrest (Fig. 7c-1). Only your rear end touches the back of the chair to push your lower back muscles upwards, adding back support.

Correct Alignment

3. If you still experience too much physical pain, then allow your back to be fully supported by the back of the chair. This is best done in two stages. First, as you sit consciously use the pressure of the chair against your back (Fig 8a) to keep as much space as possible between each of your vertebrae along the whole length of your spine. You can use the adhesive quality and friction of the fasciae of your back to stick to the chairs backrest, similar to the way a wet T-shirt sticks to your skin. Second, when being fully supported by a backrest pay attention, at regular intervals, to equally lifting and lengthening all parts of the spine (Fig 8b), with the idea of keeping the spinal cord lightly stretched and not compressed. Uneven compression of the spinal cord will eventually result in the back collapsing somewhere, straining muscles or causing vertebrae to misalign. Sitting correctly relieves these problems. Your sitting time should be spent working on your internal meditation techniques, rather than squirming or being distracted by physical discomfort. 


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