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How To Grow A Lotus: Learning The Lotus Posture

By Donna Farhi


If you are one of the many millions of Westerners who find the Lotus Pose difficult, take heart' Now you can ease your way into Padmasana.

Throughout childhood, and especially in the typical adult sedentary job, prolonged sitting on chairs has caused a shortening of the very muscles and ligaments that need to be flexible for Padmasana. To make matters worse, the hip is an extremely deep ball-and-socket joint with some of the strongest ligaments in the body which prevent the femur from becoming dislocated. With this stability comes a subsequent lack of mobility. To change the structure of the hip takes easeful, persistent practice over a long period of time.

Never force yourself into Padmasana or the other cross-legged poses. The knee joint is particularly susceptible to injury for a number of reasons. First, the knee is one of the most primitive joints in the body and is much weaker than the hip. If you have very tight hips, you may overstretch the knees without increasing your hip flexibility one iota. The hips, not the knees, must be flexible for the Lotus Pose.

Second, when fully extended, the knee joint will not rotate. When the joint is bent, however, a slight rotation does come into play and this rotation can be injurious to the knee, damaging ligaments, cartilage, and meniscus. The knee is an unforgiving joint, once injured, it may never be the same again. Therefore, if you feel a sharp pain in the knee, adjust your position or seek the help of a competent teacher.

The following series will help you prepare for Padmasana. The stretches are best done after practicing standing poses when the body is warmed up. Those who are tight should practice in the afternoon, when they have more flexibility. Begin by holding each position one minute, increasing to five minutes as the poses come with more ease. Use a watch or timer for consistency as one minute can rapidly become 15 seconds in the more intense stretches.

Those with knee or ankle injuries should be especially cautious here. If your discomfort cannot be alleviated by adjusting your position, you would be wise to seek the help of an experienced teacher. You might also try alternative sitting positions, such as the Hero Pose (Virasana) or the Sage Pose (Siddhasana) with the buttocks elevated on a firm blanket. These poses are excellent for both meditation and breath control.

In all the stretches, use deep abdominal breathing to open the body from the inside. Rather than "trying" to relax by pressing the muscles into the stretch, take your breath deep into the center of the pelvis. With each inhalation feel the hips expand, and with each exhalation allow the muscles to slip away from the bones. Working gently in this way the body will welcome the pose and progress quickly toward the achievement of Padmasana.

Lunge One.  This pose stretches the ligaments and muscles of the external rotators of the bent leg and the psoas and groin of the straight leg.   Sit with the heel of the right foot in line with the pubic bone Extending the other leg straight behind you, with the kneecap facing downward, sink the right hip into the floor. Keep the chest lifted to take the weight of the pelvis off the femur Repeat on the other side.

Lunge Two.  To make the lunge stretch more intense, move the foot away from the thigh until the upper and lower legs form a right angle. Keeping the knee on the floor to stabilize the joint, attempt to move the left hip toward the floor.

Reclining Hero Pose (Supta Virasana).  This pose lengthens the psoas and quadriceps muscles of the thigh, especially above the knee.  Sit in Virasana (Hero Pose) with the knees in line with the hips. Drawing the center of the pelvis into the center of the thighs, recline back onto the elbows. Depending on your flexibility, either support the back with a bolster or recline on the floor with the arms over the head. Do not attempt to recline if the knees splay out or come off the floor.

Through-the-Hole Stretch.  This pose stretches the external rotators. Lie on your back with both knees bent. Cross the left leg so that the outside of the calf is resting on the right thigh. Take the left arm through the gap of the left leg around the back of the right thigh. Clasp hands. As you draw the right thigh toward you turn the left hip out and move the left knee away from you to open the hip. Repeat on the other side.

Seated Angle Pose (Upavishtha Konasana II).  This pose stretches the hamstrings, adductors, and groin and the lateral hip and buttock area.   Sit with the legs spread wide apart. Turn the torso to face over the right thigh. Elongate and twist the spine as you bend over the extended leg. Press the opposite hip down to increase the stretch on the lateral side of that hip and buttock.

Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana), variation. This pose stretches the adductors and lateral hip.   Sit in Baddha Konasana with the hands clasped around your feet. Hold one minute. Now elevate the feet in front of you on a book or folded blanket. Use the arms to keep the spine in an upright position, moving the torso toward the feet. Hold for up to five minutes. Now try Baddha Konasana with the feet on the floor. You may he surprised at how much closer the knees are to the floor.

Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)  This pose increases elasticity in the hips, legs, and ankles.  Sit with the legs extended straight in front of you (i.e., in the Staff Pose, or Dandasana) raising your seat, bend the right knee back and sit on the right foot. If this is too difficult, place a folded blanket between the buttock and the heel. Now cross the left leg over the right so that the knees are resting on top of one another and the left foot is turned under. Place the hands on the thigh and press the knees firmly together. Repeat, changing the cross of the legs.

Reclining Leg Stretch (Supta Padangushthasana), variation. This pose stretches the lateral rotators and psoas of the extended leg.  Lie flat on the back with the legs extended straight. Bend the left knee and taking hold of the feet in both hands, draw the knee down and out toward the floor next to the right rib cage. Press the right thigh down as much as possible.

Head-to-Knee Pose (Janu Shirshasana)  This pose stretches the lateral rotators, hamstrings, and adductors.  Sit in the Staff Pose (Dandasana). Bend the left knee and draw the leg up and out to the side. Rotate the left thigh out as much as possible. Turn the torso to face toward the big toe of the extended leg, and pivot forward from the hips into a forward bend over the right leg

Tailor's Stretch. This pose stretches the lateral rotators.  Sit in a simple cross-legged position. Now move the feet away from the groin until both legs form right angles. Maintaining this position, tip forward with a straight spine until you feel a deep stretch in the outside of the hip. Repeat, changing the cross of the legs.

Cradle Stretch.  This pose stretches the lateral rotators and adductors.  Sit in the Staff Pose (Dandasana). Bend the left knee and turn the leg out. Place the sole of the foot in the crease of the right elbow and the thigh in the crease of the left elbow. Clasp hands. Gently move the hip back and forth, rotating the hip outward as you do so. To increase the intensity of the stretch, keep moving the left foot away from the floor until the leg forms a right angle. Go on to the next posture before practicing the Cradle Stretch on the right.

Seated Forward Bend in the Half Lotus Pose (Ardhabaddhapadma Pashchimottanasana).  From the Cradle Stretch, place the ankle on top of the right thigh so that the heel is pressing into the lower abdomen. If you are unable to bring the heel to the abdomen, place the ankle farther down the thigh. Support the knee with a folded blanket if it does not reach the floor. By supporting the knee in this way you make it possible for the muscles of the hip to gradually let go. Toward the end of your stay in the pose, remove the prop—you may be surprised to find that the knee moves with ease toward the floor.

When bringing the foot onto the top of the thigh for Padmasana, hold at the shin and ankle, not at the top of the foot. Keep the ankle flexed to prevent supination, or "sickling." Once the ankle is resting on the thigh, you may relax the foot "Sickling" can pull on the ligaments and cartilage of the lateral knee, causing potential injury to these delicate structures.

Sage Pose (Siddhasana). Siddhasana is relatively easy to practice and provides an excellent warm-up for Padmasana. It can also be used as an alternative to Padmasana in meditation. Bring the right heel in line with the pubic bone. Place the left ankle on top of the right, with the toes of the left foot between the thigh and calf of the right leg. Sit with the weight on the sitting bones (ischial tuberosities). If the lower back rounds, elevate the buttocks with the folded corner of a blanket. Sit for five minutes. Now change the cross of the legs.

Lotus Pose (Padmasana).  Sit in the Staff Pose (Dandasana), using a firmly folded mat to elevate the hips. Keeping the spine erect, bring the right leg into the Cradle Stretch position. Extend the inside of the right ankle as you externally rotate the right hip. With the foot flexed to prevent rotation at the knee and ankle joints, place the right foot on top of the left thigh.

The sole of the foot should be pointing to the side, rather than up at the ceiling, and should press gently into the lower abdomen. Once the ankle is resting on the thigh, you may relax it. Now bend the left knee and cross the leg in front of you. Grasp the lower shin of the left leg and gently lift up into the right thigh to complete the pose. The left knee will be slightly above the floor. If necessary, support it with a folded blanket.

Sit with the center of the diaphragm balanced over the center of the pelvis so that the breathing is free. Maintaining the lift and breadth of the sternum and chest, rest the hands on the knees with the palms facing up. Begin by staying in the pose for brief periods, increasing your stay as your hips become more flexible. Change the cross of the legs and practice on the other side.

Do not despair if you cannot lift the second leg up into the full position. Continue with the preparatory stretches and try practicing the Half Lotus Pose (one leg in Full Lotus, the other crossed tailor-style underneath). Gradually increase the length of stay in the Half Lotus as you feel the hips becoming more flexible. Like Siddhasana, the Half Lotus may be used as a meditation posture in its own right. Just be sure to alternate legs from session to session to correct the imbalance inherent in the pose.

In practicing Padmasana, remember that the body and the asana must meet on their own terms in their own time. If you inflict the asana on the body you may set up a dichotomous relationship between what you think the body "should" be and what the body is. The body then becomes an enemy to be conquered rather than a companion on the journey. By giving up your preconceived ideas and images of how far you think you should go, you free yourself to explore the asana in the present moment, just as a lover might give full attention to his beloved. Practicing with true affection, let the pose become a journey rather than a destination. Then even a difficult pose like Padmasana will become enjoyable.

RESOURCES

Cunningham, Annalisa Stretch and Surrender. Cambridge, MA: Rudra, 1992
Couch, Jean The Runner's Yoga Book. Berkeley CA: Rodmell Press, 1990 Mehta, Silva, et al Yoga: The lyengar Way. New York: Knopf, 1990
Scaravalli, Vanda Awakening the Spine. San Francisco: HarperSanFran-cisco, 1991
Tobias, Maxine, and John Patrick Sullivan Complete Stretching. New York: Knopf, 1992