There are two modes of Son Buddhist meditation: “Son in the midst of stillness” and “Son in the midst of commotion.” I simply call them the “quiet” and “active” modes of meditation. Quiet meditation commonly refers to traditional seated meditation but includes any meditative form where you’re not moving. Active meditation refers to meditating while in motion in the midst of daily life.
Active meditation is considered more advanced and confers the advantage of not having to set aside a special time and place to meditate. Practically speaking, however, in order to get to this level we first have to learn how to meditate in a variety of physical postures. Recently, I’ve shared with you “How to Meditate Sitting in a Chair, Part 1 and Part 2” and “How to Meditate Standing Up.” Today I would like to present a method for meditating while lying down.
We will then have mastered meditation in the three primary postures that most people assume in daily life when they’re not moving: sitting, standing, and lying down. This means that you will now be able to perform meditation whenever and wherever you have an opportunity to stay still — whether that be sitting in front of your computer, standing on line, or when you’re about to take a power nap.
Traditionally, in a Son Buddhist monastery, we are taught to meditate lying down when we’re about to go to sleep. It is said that this is the best way to enter sleep, and I personally have found this to be absolutely true. Entering mindfully into a relaxed physical state — free of unnecessary muscular tension — while engaging diaphragmatic breathing and the “Yi-mwot-go?” (“This. What is this?”) hwadu ensures a deeper, much more restful and satisfying sleep. The next morning you wake up feeling physically replenished and emotionally vital and optimistic. There is a feeling of abundance, an overflow of energy and hopefulness, and the day just starts on a better note literally as soon as you open your eyes.
I also believe, however, that meditation lying down is helpful for beginners when they feel overwhelmed, when they feel truly emotionally stricken and depleted of energy by some difficult turn of events. When you’re in a state of emotional disarray, it can be hard even to hold yourself upright in a chair. At these times, it’s good to know that you can meditate lying down. So here’s how to do it.
Lying Down Correctly: The Corpse Position
Historically, the ancient Son masters were quite terse and told us only to practice meditation when “walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.” They never actually described a procedure for meditation lying down. Personally, I have found that the so-called corpse position (savasana) in yoga seems to be the most natural and effective way to meditate lying down. If you’ve done yoga before, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and for this meditation you can assume the posture as you’ve been taught. If you don’t know what the corpse position is, that’s okay, you can just follow along below.
1. If possible, especially when you feel overwhelmed, it’s best to choose a broad surface, one much longer and wider than your own body. This provides the feeling that you’re lying on an ocean, upheld in your time of weakness by the world, the earth itself. A broad surface also allows your body to extend and lengthen as much as it wants without worrying about bumping into something or flopping a limb off an edge. When your heart is aching, spread a blanket on the floor.
2. Whether you’re on a giant bed, mattress, or a blanket, lie down on your back so that your spine is in a straight line, parallel to the sides of the bed or blanket. Imagine that your spine is a chain that’s been put on the floor and pulled straight so that all of the links are aligned and disentangled from one another.
3. Your legs should be about hip distance apart.
4. Your hands should be spread out about a foot away from each hip with your palms up to the sky.
5. In this position, the left and right sides of your body are perfectly symmetrical, perfectly balanced.
6. Keep your eyes open and look straight up, but don’t stare at anything on the ceiling or above you. Again, allow your field of vision to present itself evenly. (If, however, you’re meditating in preparation for sleep, it’s okay to close your eyes.)
7. Place the tip of your tongue lightly against the roof of your mouth just behind your upper row of teeth.
8. Now, flex the muscles of both legs very strongly and raise them a few inches into the air in a brief, powerful leg lift. For a moment, your legs are two pillars of steel suspended low in the air.
9. Then, drop them and let them lie where they land. Your legs will probably land in roughly the same position, and your feet may tilt out to the sides. That’s okay. Relax your legs completely and leave them alone. You’re through with them for now.
10. Now arch your lower back and raise your hips up a couple of inches off the mattress or floor. Tense the muscles in your lower back and buttocks.
11. Then, drop your hips back down again and relax them. You’re through with them now, too.
12. Now arch your upper back so that your spine rises in a bow while your buttocks and shoulders remain anchored on your sleeping surface.
13. Then, drop your back down again.
14. Now clench your fists powerfully. Straighten your arms and raise them a few inches as you flex all of your arm muscles as strongly as you can for a few seconds.
15. Then, drop your arms again.
16. Finally, shake your head from left to right like you’re gently refusing something. Imagine that your face is swinging from left to right, back and forth like a metronome, slowly losing momentum until your chin comes to a stand-still perpendicular to the floor.