How to Do Lion's Breath (Simha Pranayama) in Yoga

Woman doing lion's breath
Ann Pizer

Lion's breath relieves tension and stress by stretching your entire face, including the jaw and tongue. Lion's breath will feel silly; it will introduce some ease and remind you not to take yoga too seriously. If you are getting overheated, try this breath to blow off some steam.

Pranayama is a yogic practice that revolves around different breathing exercises. For all the time we spend stretching every other part of the body in yoga, it's remarkably rare to spend much time on the face, as lion's breath does.

Also Known As: Simha pranayama, simhasana

Targets: Face, throat, jaw, lungs

Equipment Needed: None

Level: Beginner

Benefits of Lion's Breath

All pranayamas help to relieve stress; some help to energize or calm the body. Studies suggest that regular practice of pranayama can actually help to relieve some of the symptoms of asthma, depression, and anxiety. You can practice lion's breath first thing in the morning to warm you up and increase your energy.

This type of breathing can also stimulate your diaphragm and vocal cords, making it ideal for singers while warming up. It could potentially make you feel more empowered and strong.

Pranayama is a foundational aspect of yoga and should be a part of every yoga practice. While it's isn't exercise per se, it's an important component of yoga and shouldn't be neglected.

Step-By-Step Instructions

To practice lion's breath, come to kneel with your buttocks resting on your feet. Iyengar yoga instructs you to criss-cross your ankles under your seat; this is called lion pose (simhasana). Alternatively, use this breath while in any pose that you can hold for a period of time.

  1. Place your hands on your knees. Straighten your arms and extend your fingers. Extended fingers are meant to symbolize a lion’s claws.
  2. Inhale through your nose.
  3. Exhale strongly through the mouth, making a "ha" sound. As you exhale, open your mouth wide and stick your tongue as far out as possible towards your chin.
  4. Try bringing your drishti (internal focus) towards your third eye (center of your forehead) or the tip of your nose as you exhale.
  5. Inhale, returning to a neutral face.
  6. Repeat 4 to 6 times. If your ankles are crossed, halfway through your repetitions switch the feet, so the opposite one is on top. 

Modifications and Variations

As with every yoga pose, you can modify lion's breath pranayama to suit your needs. You can also try other types of breathing practices.

Need a Modification?

If lion pose is not accessible or comfortable, lion’s breath can be done in any kneeling or seated position, including while sitting on a chair or supporting the seat with a blanket or block. Making a vocal “ha” sound is not necessary if it doesn’t feel right.

Other Forms of Pranayama

Each pranayama has a different purpose. Try them and see how they feel to you.

  • Alternate nostril breathing (nadi sodhana): For energy and calm; improves your sense of well-being
  • Breath of fire: Strengthens the nervous system; creates calm
  • Cannon breath: Energizing, focusing, calming
  • Equal breaths (sama vittri): Stress-reducing
  • Ocean breath (ujjayi): Focusing, empowering
  • Sitali breath: Cooling, relaxing
  • Vatskar breath: Sipping the air for energy and calm

Safety and Precautions

Lion posture or kneeling may be uncomfortable for people with knee injuries or arthritis. If this is the case for you, modify to a seated position that works without pain or discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a breath cycle in yoga?

The breath cycle in yoga consists of an inhalation, holding the breath, exhaling, and holding the breath after exhaling. You may be directed to hold a pose for a few cycles of breath, for example, or coordinate your breaths with your movements (a hallmark of vinyasa flow yoga).

Why is breath so important in yoga?

Breath is important in yoga because it helps bring awareness to the movements and supports proper pacing. Breathing connects your mind and body and helps put you in the proper state for your practice.

How many types of pranayama are there?

There are at least eight main types of pranayama, including:

  • Nadi Sodhana
  • Shitali Pranayama
  • Ujjayi Pranayama
  • Kapalabhati Pranayama
  • Bhastrika Pranayama
  • Bhramari Pranayama
  • Anuloma and Viloma Pranayama
  • Sheetkari Pranayama
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  1. Sengupta P. Health impacts of yoga and pranayama: A state-of-the-art reviewInt J Prev Med. 2012;3(7):444–458.

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