Sitting is one basis of meditation practice.
We find a comfortable and stable sitting position so that we can breathe well and free our minds. This usually turns out to be the “Burmese position” (legs crossed next to each other) or half-lotus position (one foot on top of the other leg). For some the full lotus may be great. Other possibilities are using a meditation bench with feet tucked under, or a chair.
In the back of the meditation hall are mats, various sizes of cushions, meditation benches (also known as Zen kneeling bench or Seiza (say-ZA) bench), and also nice solid wooden chairs.
While listening to teachings
The traditional sitting posture in Thailand for listening to teachings is the “mermaid pose”, with both legs bent to one side or another. It may look awkward, but actually you may find you get used to it fairly quickly and it can be quite comfortable. If you wish you can get into some other attentive but more relaxed position. When you do, you want to mindfully shift position slowly and softly. You would not be in a slouching position, even if you need to lean against a wall or pillar. And never of course lie down, or point your feet towards the teacher or the Buddha image.
We never lie down in meditation hall or temple. Lying down has many drawbacks: It doesn’t help your mind to stay alert and focused; it shows disrespect to the Buddha, the teacher, and your companions; and finally, by their vows a teacher is not allowed to teach anyone who is lying down!
We never point our feet at anyone, most especially never at any Buddha image or at the teacher. Of course you may need to stretch your legs, just be mindful of the direction.
Separation of genders
Men and women sit separately in the Meditation and Dining Halls. It is respectful for any non-binary or other-identified person to choose one and keep to it for the duration of the retreat.
This may seem like a rather arbitrary and unnecessary restriction, but you can also find a lot of respect and meaning in it.
First, it is one of the aspects of honoring the traditional Thai culture of which we are a part, and from which our practice is drawn.
It shows respect for our teachers. They are traditional Thai monks and would not expect any other way.
You can see this separation as forming a symbol in physical space of the power of elemental forces in our human lives. It then can become a great honor — we are forming a spiritual pattern in the arrangement of our bodies on our meditation cushions!
You can think of it as just one more exercise in mindfulness — and also use it for contemplation on which of the traditions of your own culture are really any less arbitrary 🙂