Elementary school teachers call it “criss-cross applesauce.” Yoga teachers call it Sukhasana (Easy Pose). You know the one: sitting on the ground in a cross-legged position. While this may bring back memories of sitting on colorful carpet squares with your childhood classmates, Easy Pose requires a bit more attention when you practice it as an adult.
All the time we spend sitting in chairs—to eat, to work, to play games or watch movies—can weaken back and abdominal muscles, resulting in a tendency to slump or lean forward in Sukhasana. Tight hips, knee injuries, or lower back pain can make this pose can feel far from “easy.”
Sukhasana helps you to be aware of and gently address any tension or weaknesses in your body. This pose asks you to distribute your weight evenly over your sit bones, balance your shoulders over your hips, and align your head with the rest of your spine. It can be surprising just how much abdominal strength is required to properly align your body from top to bottom, front to back, and side to side.
When you’re trying to find a comfortable place in this position, you may feel a twinge here or there. Notice the discomfort but stick with the pose, making minor adjustments as you sit. You’ll eventually find your attention drawing inward, your breath getting more expansive, and a sense of freedom within your body.Section divider
Easy Pose basics
Sanskrit: Sukhasana (Soo-KAH-sah-nah)
sukha = ease
Pose type: Seated
Easy Pose can be calming and relaxing—if it’s a comfortable position for you. When done in a relaxed way, this pose activates the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and deactivates the stress response (sympathetic nervous system). In this way it can help manage stress.
Physically, Sukhasana improves postural awareness and creates a foundation for meditation practices. Holding the pose strengthens core muscles (including your abdominals and the muscles supporting your spine), and stretches your groin and inner thighs (adductors).
Other Easy Pose perks:
- Easy Pose may help lower or regulate blood pressure.
- It opens your hips and activates your knees, calves, and thighs.
- It opens the chest and can relieve tension in your shoulders.
- Begin seated in Dandasana (Staff Pose).
- Bend your knees and open them outward. Bring your feet toward your body and cross your right shin in front of your left. There should be a comfortable gap between your feet and pelvis.
- Stack your knees over your feet. Relax your feet so their outer edges rest comfortably on the floor and the inner arches settle just below the opposite shin.
- Sit up so that your torso is directly on top of your sitting bones and the pelvis is level, neither tilting forward nor backward. Center your head directly over your pelvis with your chin level to the floor.
- Place your hands on your knees, and gently press away with your arms to lengthen your spine. Press down firmly with your sitting bones to elongate your spine any amount more, while lifting and opening the chest.
- Release your hands to rest on your thighs. Draw your shoulders back until the heads of your upper arms are in line with your side body. Stack your hands in your lap—one inside the other, palms up—or place them on your knees or thighs, palms down.
- Maintain a soft and steady gaze straight ahead or slightly downward.
- Hold for anywhere from 10 breaths to several minutes, then switch the cross of your legs.
- Repeat on the other side.
Explore the pose
- You’ll know you have the basic leg fold of Sukhasana when you look down and see a triangle, its three sides formed by the two thighs and the crossed shins. This position is different from that other classic seated posture—Siddhasana—in which the ankles are tucked in close to the sitting bones. In Sukhasana, there should be a comfortable gap between your feet and the pelvis.
- Sit with your back to a wall, slightly closer than the length of a yoga block, and wedge the ends of the block between the wall and your lower shoulder blades.
- You may want to avoid or modify this pose if you have knee pain or a knee injury.
- Maintain an active and lifted spine. Make adjustments to keep the back straight and strong, but not rigid. Direct your tailbone toward the floor and firm your shoulder blades against your back. Draw your sacrum toward your navel and your thoracic spine toward your sternum, without overarching your lower back or poking your lower front ribs forward.
- Begin or end your practice in this posture to meditate, ground, and breathe before you begin to move.
- You can sit in this position for any length of time, but be sure to alternate the cross of the legs. If you sit in this position for daily meditation here’s a good rule of thumb: On even-numbered days, cross the right shin in front of the left. On odd-numbered days, do the opposite. Alternately, you can divide the practice time in half. Spend the first half with your right leg forward, and the second half with the left leg forward.
Easy Pose variations
Easy Pose with hip and knee support
Sit on the front edge of a bolster or folded blanket so that it creates a downward incline. Sitting forward on the prop can help tilt your pelvis forward and create a more neutral spine. If your knees are lifted, place blocks or folded blankets underneath them to alleviate pressure in your hips and knees.
Easy Pose with hip support
If you have tight hips, sit on the front edge of a bolster or folded blanket to give the pelvic bones some cushion and to help them tip forward. Fold forward if it feels good on your knees and lower back.
Seated meditation in a chair
Sukhasana is a position often used for meditation. If sitting on the floor isn’t accessible to you, sit in a chair. Find a comfortable seated position with your feet directly under your knees. If possible, sit forward in the chair. If you need back support, sit against a surface that helps you avoid slouching. Lengthen the crown of your head upward to achieve a long, but neutral spine.
Make adjustments so that you can sit at the right height to place your feet flat on the floor and maintain right angles with your knees and hips. If you are taller, consider sitting on a folded blanket. If you are shorter, try placing blocks under your feet to bring your knees in line with your hips.
If needed, place a pillow behind your low back for support.Section divider
Preparatory and counter poses
Since Sukhasana often serves as the initial pose during class, and also the last pose, almost any pose can come after it.Section divider
Your body in Easy Pose | Anatomy
Sukhasana is the cross-legged seated position most commonly used in meditation. The design of much of Hatha Yoga is toward making it easier and more comfortable to sit for long periods in this pose for the purpose of meditation. In fact, the Sanskrit word “asana” is often translated to mean “a comfortable and easy position.”
To sit with comfort in Sukhasana, you want to minimize the muscular effort required to be in the pose. Align the vertebral column over the pelvis so that the weight of the trunk is supported by the skeleton instead of primarily by muscular contraction. This makes it possible to hold the pose with less effort.
In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.
Another way to reduce effort is to bring your knees closer to the mat, thereby lowering the center of gravity. If you have tight hips, you can first stretch the muscles surrounding the hips, especially the adductors and internal rotators. This allows the femurs to abduct and externally rotate.
Place the hands on the knees and pronate the forearms to turn the palms down, engaging the pronators teres and quadratus. Contract the triceps to attempt to straighten the elbows. Engage the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles to externally rotate the shoulders. The posterior deltoids synergize this action. Then pull with the hands to draw the chest forward, activating the latissimus dorsi.
Draw the shoulder blades toward the midline by contracting the rhomboids. This opens the chest and stabilizes the scapulae in place. Draw the shoulder blades down the back by activating the lower third of the trapezius. Expand the chest further by engaging the serratus anterior. Note how this muscle also originates from the scapula and attaches to the ribs (like the pectoralis minor). Accordingly, when the scapulae are tethered in place by the rhomboids, engaging the serratus anterior lifts and expands the chest. The cue for contracting this muscle is to visualize pressing the hands outward against a door frame.Section divider
Put Easy Pose into practice
About our contributors
Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.