“Home is where one starts from. As we grow older / the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated” writes T.S. Eliot in “East Coker”. In our asana practice, we have a few “homes”: balasana (child’s pose) is one, sukhasana (easy cross-legged pose) another. These are poses from which we start, both literally in our yoga classes, and also more figuratively, in our lives. These are positions our bodies formed long before we knew to call them asanas. Indeed, as we grow older, the world becomes stranger and more complicated, but somehow, returning to child’s pose or easy pose, in class and in life, always feels a bit like coming home.
Beginners in yoga often begin with these poses because they are already part of our body’s muscle memory. We have been here before, our muscles say. There is the familiarity of home (even if our hips insist that it is a very distant familiarity!). Seasoned practitioners return again and again to these poses throughout our classes as a grounding point: a place, a position, a pose, in which to steady ourselves. A point of contrast with the more complicated asanas and patterns that precede or follow that moment of repose and return. But also, we return to these poses as a starting point: a place, a position, a pose, from which to begin again.
Claudia Cummins, writing for Yoga Journal, captures that duality of both grounding and beginning inherent in sukhasana and gives detailed instructions for the pose, worth reading even for those for whom sukhasana has become second nature:
“Ideally, yoga practice cultivates these dual qualities of steadiness and vitality, of both comfort in the here and now and openness to the transformation that lies ahead. The classic seated posture Sukhasana (Easy Pose, alternately referred to as Pose of Happiness) is a great starting place.
Whether or not you choose to start a meditation practice, simply coming into the shape of Sukhasana offers an introduction to states of mind that are quiet and more meditative. When the body feels balanced and the spine is aligned properly, prana (vital energy) flows freely, we breathe more easily, and our mind comes to rest. Sukhasana helps us settle with comfort and acceptance in the present moment while opening up with enthusiasm toward life around us.
Set Yourself Up With Care
To begin, fold a thick blanket or two into a firm and steady support about six inches high. Position yourself on the edge, with your sitting bones on the blanket and your legs outstretched in front of you on the floor. Fold the legs in toward your body, separating the knees, crossing the shins, and slipping each foot beneath the opposite knee.
Relax the feet so their outer edges rest comfortably on the floor and the inner arches settle just below the opposite shin. You’ll know you have the basic leg fold of Sukhasana when you look down and see a triangle—the two shins together form one side, and each thighbone creates another. Don’t confuse this position with that of other classic seated postures in which the ankles are tucked in close to the sitting bones. In Sukhasana, there should be a comfortable gap between the feet and the pelvis.
In the beginning, tight muscles and poor sitting habits may cause you to tuck your lower pelvis and rest your weight on your tailbone. This, in turn, causes the lower back to round, the heart to collapse, and the head to drop forward into a depressed, couch-potato slump. There’s nothing comfortable or uplifting about this position! So let’s build a steady, balanced foundation for the posture.
Create a Fine Throne
Instead of sitting like a sad dog with its tail tucked between its legs, roll the pelvis forward and rest on the sitting bones. To do this, place your hands on the blanket on either side of you, press firmly downward to straighten the arms, and lift the pelvis off the blanket. Gently untuck the base of your tailbone and lower yourself back down. Release your arms to settle down onto your sitting bones. Don’t overarch your back and poke your ribs forward like an enthusiastic gymnast, but do make sure you’re not letting the chest sag and the lower back round.
Notice how as you tilt the pelvis forward, the natural curve in your lower back is emphasized, your back waistband is drawn gently inward and upward, and your belly grows spacious. To be clear about this action of the pelvis, you might like to alternate a few times between the two ways of sitting—the slumped, tired, tailbone—tucked version and the lively, uplifted one. Do you notice how such a simple shift in your body can change your mood and your state of mind?
If your experience is anything like mine, when you tuck your tailbone and collapse your spine, a sense of dullness and inertia washes over you and the world begins to look a little gray. By comparison, when you situate yourself firmly on your base so the spine can assume a more neutral posture, the mind clears, the clouds part, and the sky returns to blue. Sitting this way demands a little more energy and enthusiasm, but the rewards are well worth the effort.
Now return to the legs, the foundation of Sukhasana. Shift the weight toward your right side and use your hands to externally rotate the left thigh, turning the inside seam of the top of your leg upward, toward the sky. Opening the thighs in this way will help release reluctant hip muscles and should relieve any strain on the knees. Repeat this action on the second side.
If after you make this adjustment, your knees remain higher than the top rim of your pelvis, come out of the posture, increase the height of your blankets to create a more elevated throne for your hips, and sit in Sukhasana again. If this still doesn’t remedy the problem, sit in a chair instead. In the beginning, finding stability and steadiness while seated is more important than forming the classic shape, and you will feel happier if you’re wise enough to use all the props you need.
Refine and Release Into the Pose
Once you’ve found your firm foundation, invite the lower half of your body from the pelvis downward to release into the ground with a big sigh of relief. Let gravity pull both the pubic bone (at the front of the pelvis) and the tailbone (at the back) gently toward the earth. At the same time, relax the hips, knees, and ankles.
Being able to manage all of these actions may take some time, but with practice, the pose will foster a delightful sense of presence and comfort in the world. And the more profoundly you are able to settle downward, the more you will invite a paradoxical buoyancy to emerge from within. Imagine raindrops falling downward from the brain into the pelvis, and then summer vines spiraling upward through the spine toward the sun. It’s as if the rooting action through the base invites a lightness to rebound up through you, creating spaciousness and joy in the upper half of the body.
Continue to feel a sense of fullness in your heart as you broaden across the top of the chest. Spread the collarbones as if you were sporting a medallion on your breastbone that you wanted to shine brightly toward those around you. At the same time, let the upper arm bones be heavy to help release the shoulders downward.
Rest your hands comfortably on the thighs and relax your fingers. Keep the elbows in line with the shoulders so the upper arm bones remain perpendicular to the floor. If you’re looking to feel a little more earthiness in the pose, turn your palms to face downward. If you’re seeking brightness, try turning the palms upward instead.
If your spine is in healthy alignment, with your weight balanced on the front edge of your sitting bones and your breastbone rising up, it is likely that your head will be positioned directly over the shoulders instead of slipping lazily forward. If this isn’t the case for you, reassess the situation and adjust your position.
Relax the shoulders toward the hips and imagine a magnet in the crown of your head being pulled upward toward a magnet in the sky. As you do this, the back of the neck will lengthen and the head will be pulled in line with the spine. Keep the head in a neutral position as you look forward with quiet and receptive eyes. Rest here for several breaths, enjoying the opportunity to be in the pose with a quiet body and easy heart.”
To read the rest of Cummins’ article, click here.
In the month ahead, we invite you to come home. Come home to sukhasana. Greet it with all the familiarity of home, and also all the promise of a new start. And then come back here, and share your experience of a daily focus on sukhasana. Does it help you find comfort in the present, enthusiasm for what lies ahead? Stability or vitality? Today one and yesterday another? Or, as Cummins and Eliot promise, the possibility of both at once? We’re eager to hear from you.