Trying Out Yoga's Sitting Postures

Some contemporary Hatha Yoga manuals feature more than 50 sitting postures, which demonstrate not only the inventiveness of Yoga practitioners, but also the body's amazing versatility. Still, all you may ever need are perhaps half a dozen yogic sitting postures.

Chair-sitting posture

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If you, like most Westerners, are accustomed to sitting on furniture rather than the floor, you may find that holding a floor position for an extended period of time is something you have to work up to. Try a chair-sitting position first.

1. Use a sturdy armless chair and sit near the front edge of the seat, without leaning against the chair back.

Make sure that your feet are flat on the floor. If they don't quite reach, support them with a phone book.

2. Rest your hands on your knees; palms down, and then close your eyes.

3. Rock your spine a few times, alternately slumping forward and arching back, to explore its full range of motion.

Settle into a comfortable upright position, midway between the two extremes.

4. Lift your chest, without exaggerating the gentle inward curve in your lower back, and balance your head over the torso.

The easy posture

Posture should be steady, easy, and comfortable. The basic Yoga sitting position is called, appropriately, the easy posture (Westerners sometimes call it the tailor's seat). Beginners should start their floor sitting practice with this posture.

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This is a comfortable sitting position for meditation and breathing exercises. The posture also helps you become more aware of, and actually increase, the flexibility in your hips and spine. Therefore, it's a good preparation for more advanced postures.

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In this posture, and the ones that follow, raising the buttocks off the floor on a firm cushion or thickly folded blanket is helpful, as it allows you to sit comfortably and stably.

1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.

Place your hands on the floor beside your hips, palms down and fingers pointing forward; shake your legs up and down a few times to get the kinks out.

2. Cross your legs at the ankles with the left leg on top, the right leg below.

3. Now press your palms on the floor and slide each foot toward the opposite knee, until the right foot is underneath the left knee and the left foot is underneath the right knee.

4. Lengthen the spine by stretching your back in an upward motion and balance your head over the torso.

Note: In the classic posture, you drop your chin to your chest and extend your arms and lock your elbows. But to start, rest your hands on your knees, palms down and elbows bent, and keep the head upright. This is more relaxing for beginners.

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Be sure to alternate the cross of the legs from day to day when practicing any of the sitting postures because you don't want to become lopsided.

The thunderbolt posture

This is one of the safer sitting postures for students with back problems, increasing flexibility of the ankles, knees and thighs, improving circulation to the abdomen, and aiding digestion.

1. Kneel on the floor and sit back on your heels.

Position each heel under the buttock on the same side and rest your hands on the tops of your knees, elbows bent, palms down.

2. Lengthen your spine by stretching your back upwards, balance your head over your torso, and look straight ahead.

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This classic posture isn't recommended for beginners.

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If you have trouble sitting on your heels because of tight thigh muscles or pain in your knees, put a cushion between your thighs and calves. Increase the thickness of your lift until you can sit down comfortably. If you feel discomfort in the fronts of your ankles, put a rolled-up towel or blanket underneath them.

The auspicious posture

This posture improves the flexibility of the hips, knees and ankles, and strengthens the back.

1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you; place your hands on the floor beside your hips, palms down and fingers pointing forward.

2. Bend your left knee and place the left foot sole against the inside of your right thigh with the left heel close to the groin. (If this step is difficult, don't use this pose.)

3. Bend your right knee toward you and take hold of the right foot with both hands.

4. Grip the front of the ankle with your right hand and the ball of the big toe with your left.

Now slide the little-toe side of the foot between the left thigh and calf until only the big toe is visible. If you can, wiggle the big-toe side of the left foot up between the right thigh and calf.

5. Rest your hands on your knees, arms relaxed, palms down.

6. Stretch your back in an upward motion, balance your head over your torso and look straight ahead.

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