Sitting Posture for Pranayama: How to Sit for Pranayama and Meditation?
People often ask what is the best sitting posture for pranayama and meditation. It sounds facetious, if not entirely dubious, that a hierarchy might exist among ways to sit for pranayama. After all, any meditative asana that is comfortable should suffice, right?
Yes and no. It is true that any sitting posture is acceptable for pranayama so long as the head, neck, and spine are erect and perpendicular to the floor.
That's what we are told as beginners for the sake of simplicity. The Easy Pose (pun intended) is not a well-defined sitting posture. It refers to any comfortable sitting position - supported or unsupported.
The general idea is that the novice should be comfortable so he/she can focus on learning the proper technique of pranayama. After all, sitting posture should not get in the way by adding undue strain or discomfort.
On the face of it, all sitting postures look similar. But as you learn about them, you realize they have their nuances. Let's borrow an example from postural yoga. There are several seated forward bends, but they are not interchangeable because the work on different zones.
The same goes for ways to sit for pranayama and meditation. Some sitting postures cater to comfort, others to hip stability or spinal elongation, and some facilitate the optimal expansion of the lungs. As a rule of thumb, you should select a seated pose based on the following -
Low body flexibility and range of motion
Level of skill and knowledge
Physical and spiritual goals
In this post, we will discuss five sitting postures – cross-legged and kneeling – that are ideal for pranayama. Each of these deserves to be addressed individually. Therefore, we will refrain from step-by-step instructions and leave that for a separate post.
The 5 Best Sitting Postures for Pranayama and Meditation:
1. Lotus Pose - Padmasana
Padmasana is called the 'King of Asanas' for a good reason. This specific arrangement of the body elongates the spine to facilitate the upward flow of prana. It results in higher levels of concentration and a drastic improvement in breath retention.
In the Lotus Pose, the feet have bare minimum contact with the ground/floor. The soles face upward – in a receiving position. These attributes ensure that there is no loss of pranic energy through dissipation.
Vedic literature and early yoga texts assert that Padmasana is the ideal sitting posture for pranayama. In Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad (The Doctrine of Kundalini Yoga), lists only two poses – Vajrasana and Padmasana – for all breath control practices and kumbhaka pranayama.
Tip: Prepare your lower body and hips for Padmasana with Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle) and Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Fish Pose).
Padmasana is contraindicated in hip, lower back, ankle, and knee injuries. The Lotus Posture may be the best posture for pranayama, but it also ranks among the most difficult ones. Approach it cautiously once you develop lower body flexibility. That too, only after general asana practice. Learn the posture and its nuances from an experienced yoga teacher.
Also Read: Padmasana - The Lotus Pose: What makes it the King of Yoga Asanas? (Coming Soon)
2. Accomplished Pose – Siddhasana
After Padmasana, Siddhasana is the most commonplace sitting posture used for pranayama. Siddha, the Sanskrit term for adept, is a title given to a yogi who has attained mastery over the mind and body through the practice of yoga techniques.
Siddhasana allows the spine to remain fluid during breathing exercises. It’s an excellent seated pose to improve hip and inner-thigh flexibility. The real draw, however, is its ability to activate the Muladhara (Root) Chakra, which directs prana up the spine and calms the nervous system. It's no wonder it is called the Accomplished or Perfect Pose.
If you are just starting out, some pelvic discomfort is to be expected at first. Use supportive props to maintain proper form and get used to the sitting posture before you wean off. Alternatively, start with Muktasana (Liberated Pose), which is considered to be an easier version of the Accomplished Pose.
Tip: This pose differes for men (Siddhasana) and women (Siddha Yoni Asana). Either leg can be crossed on top. Increase the flexibility of both sides by alternating it on odd and even-numbered days.
Despite being a straightforward meditative asana, the Accomplished Pose can be challenging. More so if you suffer from sciatica issues or a leg injury of any kind. It is also contraindicated in stomach infections and pain/injury related to the lower back, hip, groin, and ankles. Insert a sponge or folded yoga blanket to shield your ankles for additional comfort.
3. Svastikasana – The Auspicious Pose
Swastikasana is named so because the posture represents a swastika, which is a Hindu symbol for the four ends of the universe intersecting at the point of consciousness. Sitting cross-legged in the Auspicious pose is favored by yogis because it is associated with good fortune.
In the Auspicious Pose, one crosses the legs with the left toe touching the fold of the right knee and the right toe touching the fold of the left knee. It promotes stimulates the nervous system, strengthens the back, amplifies concentration, and improves flexibility of the hips and knees.
Swastikasana is one of the most eminent asanas traditionally used with pranayama and meditation. It can be the ideal alternative for those who struggle with Padmasana and Siddhasana. It stabilizes the body, keeps the back upright, and is the same for men and women.
Tip: Start with some knee flexing and hips opening poses to prepare for the internal hip rotation required for the Auspicious Pose.
Swastikasana is hard on the hips but it can be practiced by those with varicose veins. It is contraindicated if you suffering from sciatica, leg injury, or knee/ankle pain. Initially, one may sit on a bolster or a folded yoga blanket for support. It will ease the pressure on the hips and lower back, more so for longer sessions of pranayama or meditation.
Also Read: Svastikasana - Auspicious pose - What's so auspicious about it?
4. Hero Pose - Virasana
Virasana is a kneeling pose, that is relatively easier than Vajrasana and the seated yoga pose Padmasana. The easiest way to sit in Virasana is to start in Child’s Pose (Balansana) and then sit upright.
Kneel down with your thighs perpendicular to the yoga mat and feet slightly wider than the hips. The feet (below the knees) are not under, but besides the thigh, with the feet flat on the floor and big toes pointing inwards (towards each other).
A yogi needs flexible thighs, knees, and ankles to sit in Virasana for the entire duration of pranayama. On the plus side, it strengthens the arches of the feet while building up lung capacity. It also helps in indigestion, hypertension, and relieving the symptoms of menopause.
Tip: Don't stay in this pose for more then a few minutes, Gradually build the duration using rolled yoga blankets to support your ankles.
Hero Pose is not advisable if you have knee, ankle, or leg injuries. It is contraindicated for people suffering from cardiovascular problems. Learn the correct method to get into the Hero Pose from a reliable yoga resource. Stop using Virasana if you experience ankle pain or numbness/tingling in the legs.
Also Read: Hero Pose Yoga: Virasana Steps, Purpose, and Benefits
5. Easy Pose – Sukhasana
Sukhasana is the simplest seated yoga pose there is. It is so commonplace that it has become synonymous with the term ‘yogasana.’ The Easy Pose, as the name suggests, is a simple cross-legged meditative asana used for meditation and pranayama.
It is easier than the other poses mentioned in this roundup but equally capable of bringing awareness to the breath and body. Beginners should start in Sukhasana as it is easy to maintain good posture and sit for longer without slumping forward.
If you support your body with the hips and buttocks, you may experience some discomfort in the lower back. Keep your knees close to the ground and distribute your weight evenly on the sitting bones to ensure that your base remains steady.
Sukhasana calms the mind, elongates the back, and gives your legs a good stretch. It isn’t overly stressful on the leg joints and muscles. It allows you to practice pranayama for extended periods without causing strain.
Tip: A yoga bolster or folded yoga blankets under the buttocks can be beneficial for beginners who lack steadiness.
The easy pose is easy, but not ‘easy enough’ if you have a knee injury. Moreover, beginners tend to slouch or slump when they stay seated in the Easy Pose for too long. You can use a yoga block or folded yoga blankets to support yourself.
Also Read: Sukhasana - Easy Pose - The most beginner-friendly meditative asana.
Related Questions: Pranayama Posture FAQ
How should you sit for pranayama?
Always sit in a meditative asana to practice pranayama. Keep the head (chin), neck, and spine in a straight line. Yoga postures such as Easy Pose, Lotus Pose, Accomplished Pose, and cross-legged meditative asanas are ideal. It is permissible to sit on a chair due to debility or injury while following the same guidelines as above.
Can you do pranayama while lying down or standing?
Pranayama cannot be done while standing, walking, or lying down. Yogic breathing, which is different from classical pranayamas, can be done in non-seated positions. This includes basic breathing exercises such as even breathing, deep breathing, three-part breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing. Preparatory, relaxation or meditative breathing techniques can be practiced in supine or prone positions.
What is the best sitting posture for pranayama?
All the classical texts of yoga assert that Padmasana (Lotus Pose) is the best posture for pranayama. Vajrasana is the second-best posture for pranayama followed by other seated yoga poses such as Sukhasana, Bhadrasana, and Siddhasana. Select a pose based on your physical fitness as staying seated for extended periods is demanding on the body.
Can pranayama be done in Vajrasana?
Vajrasana is an excellent yoga asana for pranayama if you have the lower body strength and flexibility to support yourself for an entire session. It's recommended by several classical yoga texts as the ‘ideal’ sitting posture for pranayama. That said, Vajrasana is rough on the knees and ankles. Avoid it if you had a recent leg injury or have poor flexibility in the lower body.
Padmasana is the best pose for pranayama if you have the fitness and flexibility to sustain it. Beginners are advised to start in Sukhasana, which is easier on the lower body. Yoga aspirants who are learning pranayama can choose Accomplished Pose and Easy Pose.
Attempt these poses prudently and within your physical limits. Don’t try to sit in Padmasana for an hour right away. You don’t want to do that to your knees. Like pranayama, mastering the Lotus Pose can takes months if not years of practice.
It may be tempting to start with the Lotus Pose, but I highly recommend learning these poses in the reverse order: Sukhasana, Virasana, Swastikasana, Siddhasana, and Padmasana. It is an easy-to-difficult order that eliminates any chances of injury.