Easy pose, known as sukhasana in Sanskrit, is a restorative hip opener that increases flexibility in the hips and range of motion in the legs. While the pose stretches the lower back and buttocks as well, its benefits are mostly concentrated to the hip flexor and rotator muscles, where the pose adds length and suppleness.
This most basic seated posture is a meditative pose that gently releases muscle tension from the hips. Women, especially, tend to store the body’s stress and muscle tension in the hips. Hip openers like easy pose combat this tendency by externally rotating the hip joints and building long, lean flexor and rotator muscles.
In the words of the legendary yogi Swami Satyananda Saraswati, easy pose is “the easiest and most comfortable of the meditative asanas.” Hence its name. There are few contraindications to practicing easy pose, meaning that easy pose is an accessible pose in which to practice breathing or meditation, even for those in poor health.
As a restorative pose, easy pose has the mental benefits of relaxation and stress release. The posture includes a simultaneous external rotation of the hips, which releases muscle tension. When paired with meditation, the pose has a wide range of well documented benefits including increased focus, decreased anxiety, increased immunity to disease, an increased sense of well being, better memory, reduced blood pressure, and a longer life.
Easy pose lengthens the external hip rotators and the hip flexors for flexible, open hips. It is a gentler way to access the benefits of more intense hip openers like bound angle pose (baddha konasana) and pigeon pose (eka pada rajakapotasana). If practiced consistently, the pose will improve your pelvic alignment and seated posture.
Do not attempt easy pose if you:
- have a knee injury.
Because easy pose is an intense external rotation of the hips, you may wish to balance the pose with an internal rotation of the hips. Consider pairing easy pose with lion pose (simhasana). Lion pose is a double internal rotation of the hips, so the exact opposite of easy pose. Pairing these two lengthens the hip rotators in both directions.
Easy pose is the basis for different breathing practices including yogic breathing (ujjayi pranayama) and breath of fire (bhastrika pranayama). To practice ujjayi breath, first take easy pose. Close your eyes and relax your face. Then, let your breathing become rhythmic. Imagine you are breathing with your throat – drawing the breath in and out not with your nostrils, but with the back of your throat. Contract your throat gently so that you produce a light snoring sound in the back of your throat, like the sound of a sleeping baby.
To practice breath of fire, first take easy pose. Close your eyes and relax your face. Breath in, through your nose, rapidly (like you are sniffling). The, immediately exhale just as rapidly. Imagine you are breathing with your abdomen. Expand the abdomen to inhale, contract it to exhale. Repeat. Practice several rounds of ten breaths.
Easy pose is also the basis for a wide range of mudra practices beyond chin mudra and jnana mudra including the “invocation of energy” (prana mudra), “closing the seven gates” (shanmuki mudra), “awareness of inner space” (akashi mudra), and many others.
How to do the Sukhasana Yoga Pose
- Begin seated on the mat with your legs extended in front of you in staff pose (dandasana).
- Cross your legs. Tuck your feet under your knees, so that there is ample room between your lower legs and your buttocks. Ideally, arrange your legs so that your thighs and crossed shins form a triangle shape.
- Shift your weight so that both your seat bones are planted firmly on the mat. Alternatively, adjust your pelvic alignment by planting your hands on either side of your body and lifting up for several seconds before lowering down deliberately onto both seat bones.
- Balance your weight in the other direction by keeping your pubis and your tailbone equal distance from the mat. If you have a tendency to over arch your back, tilt your pelvis slightly backwards by drawing your tailbone toward your pubis.
- Exhale. Let your thighs drop closer to the mat.
- Inhale. Straighten and lengthen your spine to extend your back upward. Press the bottom corners of your shoulder blades toward your heart center to bring your shoulders down and back.
- Place your hands on your knees. Relax your arms.
- Close your eyes, tuck your chin slightly, and bring your lips together. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth to constrict breath through the mouth. Instead, breath through your nose as you inhale and exhale.
- Breath and hold the pose. Occasionally, when you practice easy pose, switch the legs so that the opposite shin is crossed on top.
Modifications and Props
For a gentler pose, elevate the pelvis. In step one (above), place a folded blanket under your buttocks. Elevating the pelvis will increase mobility in the groin, making it easier to extend the back and drop the knees toward the mat. Especially if you tend to round your back in the pose, or if your knees hover high above the mat, try elevating your pelvis.
Support your knees with folded blankets. If your knees hover high above the mat, the pose can cause backache. Place two folded blankets under your knees in step two (above), to protect your back.
For stiff joints, bind the legs. If sitting cross legged is a struggle, wrap a strap or, better, a scarf around the outside of your knees and your lower back to hold your legs in place in step one (above). In the pose, focus on relaxing your legs outwards into the cloth bind.
Rest your hands in chin mudra. You can position your hands in one of several mudras – literally “gestures” – instead of simply resting them on your knees in step seven (above). For chin mudra, turn your palms upward. Bring your thumb and pointer fingers together. Extend your pinky, ring, and middle fingers. This mudra is open to the world and energetic.
Rest your hands in jnana mudra. For jnana mudra, turn your palms downward. Bring your thumb and pointer fingers together. Wrap your pinky, ring, and middle fingers around your knees. This mudra is closed to the world and self-reflective.
According to traditional yogic texts, the hands are vehicles by which the body’s energy – or prana – enters the world. Placing the thumb and pointer finger together in chin mudra or jnana mudra creates a circuit of energy between these two fingers that cuts off some of the energy exchange between the practitioner and the outside world. It, therefore, aids meditation. Swami Satyananda Saraswati, for example, insists that no one should attempt meditation without using one of these two mudras.
Hip rotators. The hip rotator, or lateral rotator, muscle group includes six small muscles in the hip that control external rotation of the legs. Short hip rotator muscles contribute to poor pelvic alignment. In easy pose, both legs are externally rotated. This rotation stretches the hip rotators to align the pelvis and improve range of motion for kicks, jumps, and splits.
Hip flexors. The hip flexors are a large group of muscles located deep in the thighs, hips, and buttocks. They connect the leg, pelvis, and abdomen and allow you to lift your upper leg towards your body or to bend your body over your upper leg. Sitting for long periods of time weakens the hip flexors, making it difficult to lift the upper legs and to bend over. In easy pose, tight hip flexors lengthen when the spine is extended vertically.
Gluteals. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The gluteal muscles are some of the body’s strongest and are the primary movers of the hips and thighs. Easy pose stretches the glutes.
Erector spinae muscles. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles is closely linked with posture. Easy pose gently strengthens your erector spinae as you extend your back upward.
Abdominals. The abdominal muscles are located in the lower belly, between the ribs and the pelvis. They control the tilt of the pelvis and the curve of the lower spine. Easy pose gently strengthens your muscles as you extend your back upward.