Last updated on November 13th, 2023.
If you have heard that you can meditate while lying down, it comes with at least two qualifications. The first was a subtle way for a beginner to get started. The second was that sleep meditation is done lying down. These things may be true enough, but you must advance to a seated position to get serious about meditation.
There are several reasons why meditating and lying down in bed is a bad idea. The overarching reason is that your mind and body are not as active while lying in bed. Perhaps you’re wondering why that would be an issue, given that meditation is about relaxation. Au contraire is about learning to calm an active mind and body—which is challenging if you are already relaxed.
1. Sitting is the Optimal Position
The first reason not to lay down while meditating is that it is not the most optimal position for meditation. Sitting provides the proper balance of relaxation and focus. As opposed to lying down, the mind is alert and attentive in a seated position. This provides the right amount of focus.
Another popular meditation position is standing, but, standing is sub-optimal as well. Sitting allows you to relax enough to achieve your goals. Standing meditations are too active. Lying down meditations are too passive.
Of course, there are many ways to sit for meditation:
- The Burmese Position
- The Lotus Position
- Sitting on a chair
- The Seiza Position
There are different ways to stand. There are even different ways to lie down. For instance, you might lie down on a mat or a blanket on the floor.
It would be preferable for you to lie down on the floor if, for some reason, you strongly preferred lying down to sitting. Your mind and body would be slightly more active while lying down on a mat than in bed. If you must lie down, you should do so on a mat or only a blanket.
Sitting, however, remains the optimal position. Therefore, if it does not cause you pain to sit for your meditation, you should do so. There are many different seated positions for you to choose from, including sitting in a chair. If you must lay down, use no more than a thin pillow to provide comfort so that your mind may stay more alert.
2. Meditating Lying Down Doesn’t Improve Posture
There is a reason iconography of Buddha portrays him in a seated meditation position. Tibetan Buddhist meditation involves several points of posture. The first point of posture is sitting. Whether you’re sitting in a chair or on the floor in Quarter Lotus, Half Lotus, or Full Lotus, you are achieving the first point of posture. Once you are in a seated position, you can begin to work on the other points of posture, which are:
- Elongating the spine
- Resting your hands
- Relaxing your shoulders
- Tucking in your chin
- Opening your jaw
- Resting your gaze
Consider how much more actively you must participate in achieving these points of posture from a seated position. Lying down in bed does not offer the same opportunity.
It is possible to make a single adjustment to elongate your spine at the beginning of your practice while lying down. After that, you will not have to think about it or adjust much at all. On the other hand, in a seated position, you will have to be actively engaging your body to maintain spinal elongation for the entire duration of your practice.
If you work in a seated position, you might suffer from upper back issues due to your posture. You could see an immense improvement in your seated posture when you practice the Tibetan Buddhist points of posture in your meditation practice. You will be actively training your body to elongate your spine in a seated position. This is not a benefit you can gain from meditating lying down in bed.
The same is true for the rest of the points of posture. You will not have to be as actively engaged in the activity for those points if you are lying down. You will probably need to be active about achieving them once, but you will not have to be as diligent about maintaining them. The reason for this is simply that these points are more natural for a body lying down than for a body in the seated position, and therefore they require less attention.
In a seated position, these points of posture require attentiveness throughout your practice. You will need to remind yourself to open your jaw. You will need to remind yourself to elongate your spine. You will need to actively focus on every single point of posture, including the way you have chosen to sit, such as the position of your legs in Half Lotus.
Active attention to these points of posture results in the improvement of your posture during your practice as well as while you’re sitting in front of your computer. You can achieve a better understanding of your body and the way it adjusts to each breath you take. Lying down in bed will simply not give you ample practice on these points of posture. Therefore, you will not see any improvements of this kind.
3. Meditating Lying Down Doesn’t Improve Mindfulness
Mindfulness is one of the primary goals of meditation. Mindfulness meditation begins with you taking a seat. You can sit anywhere you would like, as long as your seat is stable and not reclined. The reason you do not want a reclined seat is essentially the same reason you do not want to meditate lying down in bed.
You need a level of alertness, in addition to a level of relaxation, to achieve mindfulness. These are the kinds of things you need to think about when you sit for a mindful meditation:
- Your leg placement
- Your upper body/posture
- Your arm placement
- Your chin placement
- Your gaze
- Your breath
- All physical adjustments you make
Much like Tibetan Buddhist points of meditation posture, mindfulness meditation begins with the proper positioning of your body and then proceeds with active maintenance of the position. Sitting presents challenges for being mindful of your body that are not as apparent while lying down in bed. You may make adjustments while lying down, but not to the same degree.
The point of mindfulness meditation is to practice paying attention to your body and the surrounding space that it is in at the same time. Lying down in bed does not give you the same kind of practice because there is not as much happening with your body or the space it is in. Sitting at a park bench is more true to life, so it is a better way for you to practice being mindful in everyday life.
(Still wondering exactly what is mindfulness? Check out that article to find out more on the topic!)
4. Meditating Lying Down Doesn’t Improve Your Focus
There is a difference between mindfulness and focusing, and both are obvious goals of meditation. The difference lies within the objectives for each. The aim of mindfulness is simple observation. The aim of focus is to achieve something beyond mere observation.
Mindfulness meditation, as discussed previously, begins and ends with you practicing awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Focused meditation, on the other hand, requires the added step of focusing on a single thing deeply. Mindfulness is not absent in focused meditation. However, that focus may be absent in mindfulness meditation.
Your goal, during a focused meditation, is to continue to be mindfully aware of yourself and your surroundings while focusing intently on one thing. That one thing can be a simple sensory stimulus, like a sound. It could be that you focus intently on one of the various points of focus in mindfulness meditation, such as your breath or your palms on your thighs. Or, it could be more abstract, like a mental or emotional intention.
If you are lying down in bed and attempting to practice focused meditation, you are probably just going to find a good way to fall asleep. That might be a helpful discovery, but it isn’t going to achieve the goal of remaining present while focused. You will simply learn to fall absent after focusing temporarily. It is better to sit for a focused meditation so that your mind remains alert and you do not fall asleep.
5. Meditation and Sleep Should Stay Separate
One reason you should not meditate while lying down in bed is wrapped up within all of the others—because you do not want to fall asleep. But why? Well, the reasons that have already been mentioned have to do with the goals of meditation that require mental and physical alertness. Another reason is that sleep and meditation should remain separate parts of your routine.
The optimal times to meditate are:
- After you awake
- When you are stressed/as-needed
- After work
Too soon before bed is not recommended because meditation is supposed to be the opposite of falling asleep. It is supposed to awaken the mind and body. That is why the times listed above are optimal. You want to meditate when you need to be awakened or enlivened.
Meditating in the morning achieves the goal of becoming fully awake. And, though meditating when you are stressed involves the goal of relaxation, it is also aimed at allowing you to calm down just enough to see the next course of action you should take. Meditation is generally meant to enliven your senses or to transition you to a different state of being awake. If you mix it in with your sleep pattern too much, achieving these goals becomes far more challenging.
There are several reasons not to meditate while lying down in bed. Sitting is generally understood to be the optimal meditation position. On the other hand, lying down in bed is not an optimal way to achieve common meditation goals.
Typically, the goal of meditation is to become more aware of yourself and your surroundings. Starting your practice always involves posture. Posture practice is a main way you can become more attuned to your body. Lying down in bed simply does not allow you to achieve such a goal. Ultimately, you also want to avoid falling asleep during your meditation practice (unless you are specifically interested in sleep meditation). Otherwise, find a better meditation position.