As with most topics there are extreme points of view on both ends of the spectrum on posture in prayer. The one extreme among some who call themselves Catholic, and those who do not, is putting to much focus, attention and importance to posture, having courses on the "proper techniques" in comfort and the clearing of the mind.
The danger here lies in the excessive concentration on the externals and not enough attention to the substance and putting too much significance on our own efforts and techniques and not enough significance on our purity of heart, motive, intentions and good will. Another possibly less frequent danger would be the idea of attaining some sort of nirvana rather than union with God.
Now do not get me wrong, posture is important and can be beneficial in many different ways for many different reasons which would answer the other extreme way of thinking that claims that posture should not be considered in regards to prayer whatsoever.
Various circumstances can affect prudentially the idea of posture during prayer from the most superficial yet somewhat significant of reasons to the more vital reasons which lead to prayers efficacy.
For instance in public prayer you can have both a positive or negative effect on others and yourself depending on your posture.
Consider the parent with children during Mass participating with arms folded, or worse, their hands on their hips constantly moving and fidgeting and how this may negatively impress their children and anyone else in close proximity. Here we have postures neither conducive to your own prayer nor helpful to those looking up to you.
Then there are postures in various circumstances that can either be laudable or derogatory in the eyes of God depending in great part on your motives and intentions.
For example, weigh the effect of one praying with excellent posture, hands together and fingers pointing Heavenward in the classic prayer position while in a group setting that is advertised as a "Catholic" prayer gathering where everyone else is either sitting or standing around with their arms folded or flapping around or whatever the case might be. Remember you are there to set an example for the sensus Catholicus, but not to seem 'better than the rest' like the Pharisee and the Publican.
Keeping that in mind, such a posture under these circumstances could be considered brazen in that this can cause scandal to those around you because it makes them feel or appear to be less holy than you or can give you a holier than thou appearance. Yet the same posture under the same circumstances can be admired and inspiring and can lead others to engaging in a more prayerful attitude and disposition.
Likewise during a weekly group Rosary or Block Rosary where several new people have shown up that day and you want them to keep coming back so they will benefit from the graces they receive and add weight to your weekly prayer group or Block Rosary group, you decide to sit down halfway through the Rosary with the intent to make those who continue to kneel feel good about themselves and somewhat comfortable with prayer, as well as to inspire them to come back more often so they can see themselves in a favorable light in the future. If this is truly your motive this can be good. Many people that pray often are truly beginners in the spiritual life and anything that makes them feel good or devout will encourage them to come back. Another thing you can do in a such a situation is sit and wait for one of the new people to kneel and then "copy" them and they will feel proud in a virtuous sort of way and will want to inspire others to kneel in the future.
In such a case and dare I say in any situation, related or not, one should check their motive and intent when deciding what to do in any given situation. In addition to motive and how this might affect others you should check how this will affect your own prayer. For your own prayer is the primary objective of the event. If you find yourself in a "Catholic" prayer group that turns out to be "Charismatic" should you avoid giving scandal and going through the wasted artificial motion of prayer by leaving when you probably would not benefit or benefit others when staying to "pray" in such a situation? Or should you stay and pray as you normally would, kneeling and hands folded while everyone is dancing and blabbering or whatever it is that they do? The answers to these questions are somewhat subjective in that the goodness of your conclusion depends on your motive and intent. The right answer for one person could be the wrong answer for another. Are you prone to pride and to looking down on others? Perhaps in this case you should leave. Do you think you may inspire others by your posture and do you wish to offer the potential humiliation of others looking down on you or envying you to God in reparation for your sins and the sins of others? Will you be able to talk some sense into some of them after the blabber meeting and perhaps lead them down the path of authentic Catholicism? Then by all means stay and pray as you see fit. Say the Rosary while they are doing their funny stuff, if you made a long trip to get there, pray the Joyful mysteries while in route to the event, the Sorrowful at the event and the Glories during the ride home. But at all times, do not compromise to make others feel good or comfortable if their way is not conducive to the Catholic way to pray. Charismatics can indeed get carried away and detract from sincerity of prayer. After all, to communicate with the Holy Ghost takes a whisper, not shouting.
Let us now consider postures in a little more detail. Kneeling, apart from reminding me of that old adage that states "The Devil has no knees." is the most reverential and appropriate form of prayer in the West and is highly encouraged to all that can do so. Postures do in fact affect your state of mind and dispose you to the task at hand. When you kneel you put yourself in a position that speaks of humility, devotion, sincerity and makes you more aware of your littleness and God's BIGNESS. Kneeling is also penitential adding valuable weight to our prayer and as we have said can inspire others to do likewise showing due reverence to our Lord. If in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling would almost be considered mandatory, if you are able, at least during some part of your visit with the Lord. Remember the Apostle Saint Paul's words in Romans 14: 11, "For it is written: As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me: and every tongue shall confess to God" and Philippians 2: 10, "That in the name of Jesus, every knee should bow of those that are in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth."
But comfort is also important - for discomfort can be as distracting as the person whispering and making funny mouth noises behind you and extreme discomfort can take your focus of our Lord putting the focus on your pain. Though a little discomfort can help you focus, and as I say, is beneficial (as is much discomfort) in its penitential aspect.
Lastly I would like to emphasize that if you have a bad knee or back that you should not force yourself to kneel when it might do lasting damage. As we have said, posture, depending on the circumstances can be somewhat subjective and is not the substantive part of your prayer and God knows our inner motives and intent.
Prayer - What it is and How We Might Benefit from It
Generally speaking there are two types of prayer – vocal and mental - this is meant in the broad sense - for there are a few classifications of prayer that fall under the category of mental prayer. From what I remember there is the meditative form of prayer which can be done by praying the Rosary silently while meditating on the mysteries. Though the Rosary said out loud this prayer is both vocal and meditative for obvious reasons, the saying it out loud being vocal and the meditation on the mysteries being meditative. Meditative prayer can also be done through reading Scripture or some other holy writings and meditating on its meaning and or applying it to your life or by putting yourself in the place of a character you are reading about and so on.
Then there is contemplative prayer which is attained through meditative prayer. One must keep in mind here that even to efficaciously pray vocally one must be in a state of grace and it helps to frequent the sacraments and to fast regularly. In mental prayer we start out doing most of the work and contemplation is attained when God takes over whereby we merely have to be present to Him and He infuses us with knowledge and at times gives us consolations as well. A third type of mental prayer is called "unitive" (sometimes called "transforming union") where the soul is fortunate enough always to be in Divine Union with little or no effort. This is a kind of Heaven on earth (on a much lower scale than Heaven in Heaven) that various saints have attained throughout the millennia though not to great a number seem to admit to this. I'm sure you have read some of them; they are such awesome experts on Divine Union but never claim to have attained it themselves. Some of the great Carmelite Saints come to mind here such as Saint John of the Cross whose feast we celebrated yesterday, and Saint Teresa of Avila to mention just a few. It is obvious that they attained Divine Union but they were too humble to admit it or perhaps too humble to even believe it themselves.
The degree of perfection achieved in the prayer life depends on several things, the most important of which we have mentioned already is the detachment from sin. Next in precedence along with frequenting the sacraments and fasting is the detachment from everything else. By detachment from everything else I mean first and foremost detachment from your own will to the extent that your own will is not God's will.
A prime example of an authentic and much needed detachment among those who are single is the willful resignation to the fact that God's will for us may be for us not to have a spouse. There are many people resigned to God's will so long as He will just let them get married. The reasons for this can vary or be a combination of several explanations such as the pressure of society and our concupiscence. In this way our will becomes our god and God gives us what we want by allowing our passions to be our god (the false god of our own selfish will) which is the result of motives that are not entirely pure. If we don't want God we will not get Him.
As a consolation to those who cannot bear the thought of being single for the rest of our pilgrimage here is that often as our wills become truly resigned to God's will, our selfish desires gradually, practically imperceptibly, become not so important to us anymore and God will quite often give us what we wanted anyway at the best possible time so long as it is conducive to the salvation of both parties involved.
Detachment from our own wills, whether it is our state in life, material possessions, prestige etc. would also include detachment from entertainment, specifically television. I believe we could count the number of saints on less than one hand who have attained Transforming Union during a period in their lives when at the same time they were in the habit of watching an excessive amount of television. We need to empty our mind of all else before it can be filled with God. Television, generally speaking, fills our mind with godlessness, makes us lazy and can subtly warp our moral integrity. Various forms of entertainment can be an occasion of sin but even when it is not an occasion of sin, oftentimes at the very best it is a mere waste of time.
Though, personally I don't have a problem with an hour or two of mindlessness after a hard day of work because I have convinced myself that I need to recharge my batteries so to speak I must say that I hope to have this imperfection of mine curbed in the future. Though, one may rightfully think we need some relaxation in order to work and pray more effectively I cannot help but think of a quote from Saint Augustine when I make excuses for my own imperfections. Saint Augustine before during the time of his conversion from intellectual Catholicism to Catholicism in action was still not entirely chaste and would pray to God; "Lord give me chastity, but not yet." My prayer would be; "Lord help me eliminate TV but not yet." Of course I need to excuse myself because I have been known to watch it for 6 hours in a day on a football Sunday. But I pray a real, real lot that whole morning. See how we make excuses and rationalize our shortcomings?
Anyway, for one to have an effective prayer life one's mind must be cleared of the trivial. One must be in the habit of praying. To get in the habit of praying one should set times each day to do so. One must not stop praying when it seems boring, repetitive or if one is lacking consolations. True devotion consists in doing things because it is God's will and not because we expect to get something out of it so to speak. But of course whenever we do God's will we are sure to be rewarded, that is just how it goes. We have a good God.
For me the best time to pray is in the morning. Saint Thomas More used to wake up at 2:00 am so he could get four hours in before he started the day and he was a family man with much responsibility. But even 15 minutes a day will be beneficial if it is done consistently over a period of time and that 15 minutes will eventually grow so long as we are in a state of grace. Eventually it will become a great sacrifice not to pray. This will be the case even if we are not receiving consolations. The lover cannot stand to be away from the beloved. So stay in the state of grace, detach yourself from worldly goods and get in the habit of praying and then thank God for giving you the opportunity and the grace to do so.
Lastly, I would like to address certain traps I have fallen into in my prayer life in the hopes that I am not the only one that has experienced these dilemma's and that I can benefit others or at least reinforce what others already know through the sharing of my experiences.
Sometimes when assisting at the Latin Mass, I pray the Mass in English to better understand what is being said in Latin. Sometimes I finish ahead of the priest who offers it in Latin, so I fill the gap with ejaculations.
Here is an amusing quandary I recently got myself into. During the gaps I was deciding whether I should pray "Jesus, Mary, I love Thee, save souls" over and over again or if I should pray "Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love thee save souls" over and over again.
I began thinking to myself the following:
"Hmm. If I pray 'Jesus, Mary, I love Thee, save souls" I will be able to offer more ejaculations for poor souls but I will be neglecting Saint Joseph and this is one of the few times I can include him in my prayers and I will be adding more weight to my prayer by including his intercession, but I want to offer as many ejaculations as possible for the poor souls. What do I do?"
We know that either way these repetitions are not vain, so what to do?
It finally dawned on me, thanks be to God, that the time I had to pray was the same length regardless of the prayer I choose to say and that I just needed to utilize that time in the most beneficial way possible.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love Thee, save souls.
But now we move on to a different and more important dilemma related to the above.
What is my motive for saying these prayers? I’m a bottom line kind of guy and quite frankly, I say these prayers so that the souls that benefit from my prayers will promptly pray harder for me when they are in Heaven.
Now are my motives entirely pure here? No. Does that mean the souls in Purgatory I pray for will not pray all the more for me when they get to Heaven? No, it does not. They will pray for me despite my selfish motives. But will their prayers for me be as beneficial for me before the Throne of God as they would have been had my prayers been completely without thought of myself. Why no, they most certainly would not. Not because the souls I prayed out of Purgatory will pray less fervently on my behalf but because the efficaciousness of my prayers will be lessened to due to the partial selfishness of my intent when praying for those souls. You cannot hide your motives from God. Notice, how the prayers without 100% pure motives are not wasted by any stretch, they are just not as beneficial as they could have been.
Let my try to explain briefly, even if not to your complete satisfaction try to explain.
We have already established the fact that prayer is more beneficial to the degree that we are detached from sin and from the world and its allurements and how fasting and the intercession of the Saints can add valuable weight to our prayer but we also unequivocally stated how the purity of our intent and motive adds to the efficacy of our prayer.
So how can I purify this prayer that can be so beneficial to the souls of countless others as well as my own?
By more perfectly obeying the Commandments. That's right, if I love God above all things and love my neighbor as myself FOR GOD'S SAKE. Then my prayers will be less selfish and more efficacious.
I must love God above all things and my neighbor as myself not because of the reward I hope for but because I owe my every breath, my very existence to Him and Him alone.
Our Lord left His Eternal Throne and His State of perfection as Pure Spirit to become a little zygote and eventually a small child who willingly chose for His surroundings, hey and dung. Not only that but He chose to exist in this manner for 33 years. He chose to work by the sweet of His brow, to endure the hardships of life. He endured people's jealousy, people misunderstanding Him, people judging Him, people treating Him unjustly. He willingly obeyed His Mother and foster-father, the very people He created and owe complete obedience to Him.
He followed the Mosiac law as a common sinner in need of Redemption, though He knew not sin and was the author of the very law He submitted to.
But if that was not enough, He allowed Himself to be falsely accused and judged to death, death on a cross. He took on the burden of our sins in the Garden sweating drops of blood. He allowed Himself to be scourged to a bloody pulp and if that were not enough He allowed that to be capped off with a crown of thorns that penetrated His scull through to His brain while being mocked and spat upon by the very people He created and was redeeming through this suffering.
This, is why we should pray for His mystical body on earth and the faithful departed, because and only because of the love we will inevitably have for Him when we are detached from sin, fast and frequent the Sacraments. And our love for Him will mean that we love our neighbor as ourselves due to our love for God.