What is Lion’s Breath?

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Siṁhāsana (Lion Pose/ Lion’s breath)

Lion’s Breath Definition

Simhasana translates to Lion Pose, which is also commonly referred to as Lion’s Breath.

This well-known posture embodies the fierce and majestic qualities of a lion, both in its physical form and its associated pranayama practice, the Lion’s Breath.

The Lion’s Breath is renowned for its therapeutic benefits and its ability to cultivate focus, courage, and self-expression.

This article will delve into what exactly the Lion’s Breath is, plus instructions on how to perform it. We will also explore its history, its numerous benefits, and how you can integrate it into your yoga routine.

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing lion pose

Lion’s Breath Deep Dive

The Lion’s Breath is a posture and pranayama technique originating from the hatha yoga tradition, which focuses on the combination of asana and regulating the breath in order to enhance physical and mental well-being.

To perform this practice, the yogi assumes a specific posture, mimicking a lion’s fierce expression and exerts a controlled exhalation while producing a distinctive “roaring” sound.

How to Practice Lion’s Breath

1. Find Your Seat: Begin by settling into a comfortable seated position, such as Sukhasana (Easy Pose) or Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose). Keep your spine erect, shoulders relaxed, and rest your hands on your knees or thighs.

2. Take a Deep Breath: Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, filling your lungs to their maximum capacity. Allow your chest and abdomen to expand as you inhale fully.

3. Open Your Mouth and Roar: As you exhale, open your mouth wide, extend your tongue out, and direct your gaze upwards towards the space between your eyebrows (the “third eye” position).

Simultaneously, contract your throat muscles, similarly to the sensation of fogging a mirror, and exhale forcefully. As you exhale, produce a powerful “haaa” or “raaah” sound, imitating the majestic roar of a lion.

4. Repeat and Release: After the roaring exhalation, close your mouth and return to the comfortable seated position. Take a few regular breaths, relaxing your facial muscles and noticing any sensations that arise.

5. Continue the Practice: Repeat the Lion’s Breath for at least 5 to 10 rounds, or as desired. Allow each repetition to release any tension, stress, or feelings of anxiety that may have accumulated within your body.

a yoga class practicing lion's breath

Benefits of the Lion’s Breath:

  1. Reduce Stress: The Lion’s Breath encourages the release of stored stress and anxiety, providing an instant sense of relief and relaxation.
  2. Throat and Neck Stretch: This posture and pranayama practice deeply stretches and tones the muscles in the throat and neck, potentially alleviating tension in these areas.
  3. Facial Muscles Relaxation: The exaggerated facial expressions involved in the Lion’s Breath help relax the facial muscles, reducing signs of facial tension.
  4. Energizing and Uplifting: The powerful exhalation and vocalization stimulates the vagus nerve, which can boost energy levels and elevate mood.
  5. Emotional Release: Through the vocalized and expressive ‘roar’, the Lion’s Breath can aid in the release of repressed emotions, promoting emotional balance.

Lion’s Breath in Ancient Texts

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, by Swami Svatmarama (c. 15th century) provides detailed descriptions of various yoga asanas, including Simhasana. In Chapter 1 of the text, Simhasana is explained as follows:

“Place the ankles on both sides of the perineum – the left ankle on the right, the right ankle on the left.”

“Place the hands on the knees. Spread the fingers. Open the mouth. Gaze steadily at the tip of the nose with a well-concentrated mind.”

“This is Simhasana. It is honoured by the best of yogis. This supreme asana connects the three bandhas.”

Chapter 1, verses 50-52. Translation by Brian Dana Akers

In these verses, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika emphasizes the seated position and alignment of the hands and gaze during the practice of Simhasana.

Other commentaries on the text highlight the symbolic significance of Simhasana, comparing the practitioner to a lion sitting confidently in the forest.

Swami Svatmarama also attributes several benefits to the practice, stating that it can cure throat-related ailments and lead to spiritual insights and clarity.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika highlights the roaring Lion’s Breath and associated facial expression as a method to cleanse and activate the throat chakra, promoting physical health and well-being.

a lion roaring

Joga Pradipaka

The Joga Pradipaka is an 18th century text by Jayatarama describing eighty-four asanas. In the 19th century an illustrated manual was produced.

Of the eighty-four illustrations, number sixty-six bares a strong resemblance to the Lion’s Breath pose. It depicts a yogi kneeling in vajrasana on a tiger skin, he is resting on his palms, lifting his chin with his chest pressed forward and his tongue outstretched.

The pose is named Narasimhasana. As the text is thought to depict Siddhas practicing asana, this may explain the variation of the name. Narasimha is a part-man, part-lion being. He is said to be the fourth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Lion’s Breath In Your Life

The Lion’s Breath can be practiced as a standalone exercise or integrated into various yoga sequences.

Here are come suggestions for how you can incorporate the Lion’s Breath into your yoga practice:

  1. Opening or Closing: Begin or end your yoga practice with a few rounds of the Lion’s Breath to prepare for, or seal your session with a sense of empowerment.
  2. During Forward Bends: Practice the Lion’s Breath when coming out of forward bending poses like Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) or Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) to release stagnation.
  3. Releasing Shoulder Tension: Combine the Lion’s Breath with shoulder stretches like Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) or Garudasana (Eagle Pose) for enhanced relaxation.
  4. Mindfulness and Meditation: Incorporate the Lion’s Breath into your meditation practice to invigorate your awareness and maintain focus.

As with any yoga practice, it is essential to approach the Lion’s Breath with mindfulness and respect for your body’s limitations. If you experience any discomfort or dizziness during the practice, return to normal breathing and consult a qualified yoga instructor for guidance.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Amy is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Brighton.

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