To practice well, one should be able to find calm and concentration in the midst of activity, as well as be active while remaining calm. This process involves proper integration of the body and the mind. This means harmonizing the body, harmonizing the breath, and harmonizing the mind.
To become calm and focused, your body should be still and relaxed and your mind should be alert. The seated position is accepted as the best blend of relaxation and alertness; it allows the body to progressively relax and settle into optimum balance. Different positions for the legs may be used but the principle is the same: legs and buttocks should provide a stable base that allows the pelvis to tilt slightly forward and upward. This will bring the lower back and torso into comfortable alignment.
The most effective and time-honored posture is the full-lotus, which the Buddha used when he sat under the Bodhi Tree. In the full-lotus, place the right foot over the upper thigh of the left leg, and the left foot over the thigh of the right, or vice versa. Either way, the soles should point upward. The legs are thereby locked into place, with the two knees and buttocks planted firmly on the mat or ground. When done correctly, the feet should be tucked snugly into the space between pelvis and thighs.
To use the half-lotus, place one foot (either left or right) on the thigh of the opposite leg. The other foot rests on the ground and is tucked under the opposite thigh. If this proves difficult, the raised foot may be placed on the calf of the opposite leg rather than the thigh.
A popular position among Japanese is the kneeling posture known as seiza. The knees are placed on the floor next to each other, and the forelegs are tucked under the buttocks so that the buttocks and torso actually sit on the heels. The tops of the feet will be resting on the floor, while the toes should be relaxed. A cushion may be placed between the heels and buttocks for comfort.
If one’s legs are stiff, a simple cross-legged posture is all right. But this position is generally not recommended as it is unstable and tends to tilt the body’s weight toward the buttocks, straining the lower back. This is more tiring to the sitter. The full and half-lotus are better because the pelvis and spine align with minimal effort, and distribute the upper body’s weight evenly between knees and buttocks.
If physical problems make it hard to sit in any of these positions, then sitting on a chair is also possible. Plant the feet firmly on the floor; keep the back upright and relaxed but do not lean on the back of the chair. Whatever position you use, sit on a firm round cushion to raise the buttocks off the ground. The sitting cushion should rest on a flat, square cushion large enough to protect the knees. In cooler weather, you may drape a towel over the legs to protect against the chill.
After assuming the proper posture, rest the hands lightly in the space between lap and thighs, just below the abdomen. The palms should face up, with the back of the left hand resting on the palm of the right. The thumbs should be raised so that the tips touch, thus forming an oval with the palms. The hands should be drawn snug against the lower abdomen, the arms and shoulders relaxed in an even position with the torso.
Keep your head erect with the chin tucked slightly. Your mouth should be closed with the teeth slightly parted, and your tongue should just touch the front of the upper palate. Keep your eyes partly open and relaxed, gazing at an area a few feet in front of you.