Sitting well is crucial to get the most out of yogic breathing exercises, or pranayama. The question is, what poses should you choose? In this post I explain why some poses are better than others and I reveal the best ones.
As a general rule, you should sit in a meditation pose when you do pranayama. Good options are the lotus pose, half lotus or the perfect pose. For beginners, the best option is the easy pose. If these poses are too strenuous, you could sit on your knees using a meditation bench.
Read the full post below to get all the details and find out what is best for you and your practice.
What does your pose need to accomplish?
When you do pranayama, you need a pose that can accomplish the following:
1. Your pose has to be stable and comfortable. Your knees should be on the ground.
2. It must allow you to keep your back straight and vertical.
3. It should be comfortable to do the chin-lock.
4. Your pose should allow for a harmonious flow of released energy.
5. Your ideal pranayama pose should keep your chest fully open and allow you to use total lung capacity.
Best poses for pranayama
Now you know what you need. The next question is, what poses fulfil the above criteria? The answer is that most classical meditation poses are good options for pranayama.
Padmasana (lotus pose)
Padamana (the lotus pose) is excellent since it is super stable and concentrates your energy in the torso and head. Two yoga teachers and elite-level pranayama practitioners I know says they sit in padmasana for challenging practices because of the calm it induces. One of them say he can hold his breath longer in the lotus pose than in other poses.
However, for many people, the lotus pose is challenging. Never force yourself to get into it. You could ruin your knees if you are reckless. Unless the lotus is comfortable for you, it will be of limited value despite its potential. Accept that it might take years of adaptation before you can use it.
In addition, for some people, there is another issue with the lotus pose. The issue relates to the chin-lock.
The chin-lock, jalandhara bandha is a common component in pranayama. You do it sitting in your meditation pose, leaning forward on your arms and pressing your chin against your chest.
You get the ideal chin-lock in a pose in which your pelvis is higher than your knees. In the lotus, your knees and pelvis are on the same level. Therefore yogis with long arms could find that the chin-lock isn’t as relaxing in the lotus pose as in some other meditation poses.
Ardha padmasana (half lotus)
As long as you are comfortable with it, you can’t go wrong with the half lotus. It is an excellent option for pranayama since it is stable and relatively accessible. In addition, it is suitable for chin-lock since you can easily elevate your pelvis with a high sitting cushion.
It isn’t as stable and calm-inducing as the full lotus, but you do get much of the same benefits.
Siddhasana (perfect pose)
The perfect pose is another excellent option for pranayama. Swami Satyananda writes that it opens up the chest more than other poses. It is his top recommendation for pranayama.
One advantage with this asana is that your heels press against your perineum, applying a slight root-lock without any muscular effort. The root lock helps push energy upwards from your body’s lower part.
Another advantage of siddhasana is that you can easily raise you pelvis by adding a sitting cushion.
Sukhasana (easy pose)
Not yet comfortable in any of the above three poses? Then go for sukhasana, the easy pose. Though it lacks the bells and whistles of the more advanced poses, it is still a great option.
The easy pose is gentle on your knees, which is a critical advantage. In addition, blood circulates more freely in your thighs, making your legs less prone to going numb.
Sukhasana is accessible, and most people can learn to sit comfortably in it. Being gentle and comfortable is a factor when you sit for long pranayama sequences. Even though you can sit in an advanced pose for a short while, you might want to opt for the easy pose if you sit for longer periods.
For your information, here on Forceful Tranquility, foundation level pranayama lasts around 20-25 minutes. More advanced sessions can last 45 minutes or more.
For some practitioners a big cushion is essential. Otherwise it might look like the man sitting in the tailor pose on the image below. Sitting like him won’t be comfortable for long, it is hard to keep the back straight and impossible to do the chin-lock.
Vajrasana (the diamond pose)
Vajrasana is a well known and widely used meditation pose. Truth seekers in some traditions use it extensively for awareness-based meditations such as vipassana and antar mauna. However, this pose is not suitable for pranayama.
One reason is that vajrasana is less stable since you don’t have a triangle-shaped footprint. Another is that it is much less suitable for the chin-lock. Some yogis also argue that vajrasana doesn’t give equally good energy distribution.
Pranayama sitting on a meditation bench
All of the poses I recommend above might be too challenging for you. You might have knee problems or just tight thigh muscles.
If that is the case, you can do pranayama sitting on a meditation bench or a very thick cushion. However, that is a less than optimal compromise. If possible, work yourself towards a more suitable pose.
The drawbacks of this way of sitting are the same as for vajrasana, but more pronounced. The biggest issue is that you won’t be able to do the chin-lock very well. On a bench, you will also be less stable.
Sitting on a meditation bench can be a way to get you started. Thanks to the benefits from assiduous asana and pranayama practice, you could see rapid improvements.
Can you do pranayama sitting on a chair?
You should avoid sitting on a chair for pranayama for the most part. However, if a meditation pose isn’t an option, you can do pranayama seated on a chair as a last resort. However, it will be more challenging to grasp the subtleties of breathwork and in addition, some practices may be tricky to do seated on a chair.
Most yoga centres don’t offer chairs for pranayama. But practising on your own at home, you can use this as a starting point. During my 20 years career as a teacher, I have only recommended sitting on a chair a couple of times for elderly students.
Can you do pranayama lying down?
Most classical pranayamas are not suitable for a lying down position. There are several reasons:
1. You can’t do the chin-lock.
2. Lying down won’t help to push energy upwards.
3. Lying down can make you prone to falling asleep.
The last point is a significant obstacle. You are sometimes so relaxed when you do pranayama that sleep may be just around the corner.
However, some preliminary breathing exercises are great for lying down. The wave breath and the complete breath (some teachers call it dirga pranayama) are two such practices.
You can also practice awareness of the spontaneous breath in a lying down position. Nevertheless, as you get better at it, you will probably find that your alertness improves if you practice in a sitting pose.