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What are Some Common Prayer Postures?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Feb 13, 2024
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Common prayer postures are diverse and much depend upon what religion you practice. They can be very simple or extremely intricate, and what posture you’re in can sometimes depend on exactly what you’re praying or the particular point in a religious service. Common prayer postures can also vary from church to church within a religion, and even where certain postures are fairly normal, exception is usually made for those too young to understand the correct postures, and also for those who cannot get into a particular position for physical reasons.

Sitting, standing, and kneeling are some of the most common prayer postures, and they may be adopted to small or large degree by a variety of churches, temples and mosques, and also for home use. Kneeling shows devotion to God and it’s especially used in Roman Catholic churches, where people will kneel during the reading of certain prayers, such as right after receiving communion. Many Christians also kneel beside their beds to pray at night or when they receive blessings from a spiritual leader in their church.

Many religions adopt similar hand positions when praying. Clasping the hands in front of the chest with the palms together is not unique to Christianity. The same position is used in various yoga asanas, which depending upon the type of yoga you’re practicing may be a legitimate form of prayer. Similarly, praying with the arms wide, and the palms turned upward is not an uncommon posture in multiple religions.

In Islam, as in many other religions, common prayer postures may depend upon the type of prayer you’re saying. Most people are familiar with the various times that Muslims will pray while kneeling on their heels with the forehead touching the ground. This pose bears a great deal of resemblance to the child’s pose asana in yoga.

Another of the common prayer postures is bowing the head, again a symbol of respect for gods worshipped. Many people also pray or meditate with the legs crossed, or in a semi-kneeling position where you sit on your heels. Arm and hand positions may be specific or nonspecific depending upon where and how your worship. One posture that is adopted in many churches is the holding of hands during prayers. This reinforces the idea of church community and fellowship.

There are often jokes about common prayer postures, particularly when it comes to the Roman Catholic church, since in a single mass, you may be required to sit, stand, kneel, and genuflect (bow), in addition to walking up to receive communion if you are a practicing Catholic. This has led to the long-standing joke among Catholics that you really ought to stretch and warm up before heading to mass. It certainly can be a little confusing for visitors to churches that employ a lot of different prayer positions. If you are visiting such a church, consider having a friend tell you which way to move next, or simply watch other congregants for directions on what to do.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By fify — On Mar 12, 2011

I don't do this on purpose but when I pray, I tend to combine some of these postures from different religions. I usually sit down on my legs and hold out my hands in whichever way I feel like doing and pray. Sometimes I use the Christian prayer pose, sometimes I am in "namaste" pose and sometimes I keep my hands open like Muslims do. I think that intention is most important when reaching out to the divine. I like to think of religions as all one and the same. I do whatever I feel like doing at that moment.

I think postures are a uniting factor within religions. People feel good about themselves when they follow the same customs. I think traditions are very nice but I truly feel that these customs cannot be a barrier between beliefs or people.

I have visited temples, mosques and churches with my friends, even though I was not born into that tradition. Whichever house of prayer I am in, I like to learn about the prayer postures and customs there to show my respect to that belief, not to simply fit in.

By burcinc — On Mar 12, 2011

The prayer which Muslims are required to do five times a day are made up of a series of postures. I've read in hadith (customs of the Prophet Mohammad) that this prayer is similar to the prayer done by Abraham and the following prophets. Prophet Mohammad perfected the prayer for Muslims to follow during his lifetime. Muslims all over the world pray in the same manner and at the same times, towards the same direction, Mecca.

First we start by standing straight, keeping our hands together on our chest and reciting a prayer from the Qur'an and then bending down while saying "God is Great." Then we stand straight again and this time kneel onto the floor and place our forehead on the ground, while again saying "God is Great." You repeat this second step again. Different segments and prayers from the Qur'an are said before kneeling.

When one does these positions once, it is called a "rak'aat." The five prayers of the day have different number of rak'aats. The morning prayer has 2, noon has 4, around 2'o'clock there is 4, evening is 3 and the night prayer is 4.

At the very end of the rak'aats, we remain in sitting position and add any personal prayers to God while holding hands out and together.

If we want to pray aside from the five time prayers, or if young children want to pray, we simply hold our hands together in an open position in front of us and say our prayers.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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