Sitting in lotus pose is a common image to denote meditation, pranayama and yoga in general. With the popularity of yoga this pose receives more attention than ever.
I see many students eager to ‘get’ this pose and I like to remind them that it is ‘just a pose’ and one can live a happy, healthy life and have a great yoga practice without ever doing this pose. So I would like to share a few thoughts about this pose, my experience with it and what I witness in students.
When I started yoga my hips, hamstrings and back were sooooo tight. I watched people do this pose and truly never believed I would be able to. I even hurt my knees trying to do it before my body was ready. That is the key… when your body is ready!
Some bodies can do this pose very easily – whether they are yogis or not. A yoga friend of mine told me that as a kid she would wrap her legs behind her head to drink tea! Sure, sitting in lotus for her was never an issue. For many of us that is simply not the case. Tightness in the external rotators of the hips, adductors, glutes, hamstrings, ankles and back muscles can all be limiting. If you are driven to do this pose the first question I would ask is why? If you have a good reason or just want to set it as a goal, that is great. But be smart about it and willing to do the work to prepare your body to do so safely.
What is the work. Well here is my experience. After practicing yoga for over 10 years, including lots of hip openers, I could occasionally get myself into the pose. Was it comfortable – NO! I felt so much tightness around my knees and my instincts were that I shouldn’t be doing it. So I let it go… lotus wasn’t for me and I practiced non-attachment.
There are many benefits to doing this pose. It is always good to remind ourselves that, according to the yoga sutras, the purpose of yoga asanas (poses) was to prepare the body to sit for extended periods of time in meditation. And sitting in lotus is the class sitting position. It is grounding and said to have a calming effect on the brain. It also keeps the spine straight and helps us develop good posture. When one can do this pose safely, it is great for the hips, ankles and knees. BUT these benefits are negated if the pose is not comfortable – more than that, it can put a lot of stress on the knee joints and be harmful.
It’s important to note that you can also train your body to sit upright for meditation and practice good postural alignment with your legs simply crossed and even sitting on a blanket or pillow. I did this for many years.
Lotus pose eventually became doable for me after a regular 6 day/week yoga practice about 6 years ago. Most days I can do it just fine but there are still days when it doesn’t feel right and on these days I leave it alone.
For those that want to work on their hips, my current social media challenge, Hip Hip Hooray, offers a series of poses, from basic to greater challenge. If you are keen to work on your hips I encourage you to practice these poses daily. Whether or not your goal is to ‘get lotus’ I guarantee that your hips will feel better – lighter, more energized, less painful and you will walk and run with greater ease. Always be mindful when moving to the more challenging pose – if your body is not ready, stay with the less demanding one. Remember to practice with persistence, patience and loving kindness.