Sitting Pretty—and Comfortably—in Yoga Class

Whenever I see students struggling to sit comfortably in yoga class, I’m reminded of that old Alanis Morissette song—isn’t it ironic that we come to yoga class to decrease pain, then sit uncomfortably on the floor with our backs screaming in agony.

Sitting is notoriously painful for people with back pain; sitting on the floor, crossed legged, without back support, is even worse.  Of course, that’s what most of us tend to do in every yoga class.  There are many better alternatives. A few of my favorites are below.

First, if you do choose to sit cross-legged, look down at your knees.  If your knees are above your hips, then your spine is not in neutral alignment, which will lead to back discomfort.  This problem can easily be fixed by elevating your hips.  Fold a blanket or two and place them under your sitz bones (or ischial tuberosities, for you anatomy geeks.) These are the bony prominences between the tops of your thighs and the bottoms of your hips.  Add blankets until your knees are below your hips, as in the photo below.

For people without knee issues, the sitting posture below is my favorite.  This is how I sit when I teach.  In the first photo, the student is sitting on a block, which elevates her hips to put less pressure on her knees.  In the second, she is sitting on a meditation bench.  My favorite benches are sold at East West Bookshop.  They can be a little pricey, but they last forever.  I’ve had the one in the photo for over 11 years.

We have plenty of blocks and blankets at the studio, and we also have four meditation benches.  So feel free to experiment and find what is most comfortable for you.

Finally, you can always lie down.  There’s nothing magic at all about achieving that perfect lotus pose.  Our goal is to connect the body, breath, and mind. To do that, the spine should be neutral. A neutral spine can be found sitting, kneeling, lying, or standing for that matter. While it’s true that the breath is subtly blocked in a lying position, for most people the effect is minor. If lying gets you out of pain, I say go for it!

Generally, the most neutral supine position lying with the knees bent, feet on the floor, as in the photo below.

The biggest risk in this position is falling asleep.  So try to keep your mind alert, and if you come with a friend, tell them to nudge you if you start snoring!

I look forward to seeing you at the studio soon!



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

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