Lotus Pose – What’s the big deal?

DSCN0523Sitting 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.

DSCN0530It’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.Lotus Pose

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4 comments on “Lotus Pose – What’s the big deal?

  1. I appreciate the need for the lotus posture for yoga and wished I could adopt this posture.
    I have tried over several years to even to sit upright on the floor. I can only do this in a tripod manner. This is sitting on the floor with my two hands behind me or support my back with the wall.
    My question is- is the lotus the only posture for yoga or meditation exercise?
    I will appreciate an answer
    Thank you

    1. HI James

      Actually lotus pose is not needed for yoga. We must remember that yoga was not initially designed for people that sit many hours of the day or that do athletics so we need to adapt both the practice and our expectations accordingly. I started yoga after 20 yrs of running and it took me about 13 years before it was accessible and even now on certain days I skip it. I like to remind my students that it JUST a pose and can easily be worked around. I suggest doing some concentrated hip work to regain some range of motion. If sitting upright on the floor is challenging, sit up on a bolster or a few blocks. It is important that your spine is erect.

      Absolutely NOT – you do not need to sit in lotus in order to meditate. Sitting in any manner, propped up for comfort is the most important thing. In fact it can even be done sitting in a chair – but I suggest spending some time on the floor with legs crossed every day to see some changes. If you follow my Instagram (Yogaforrunners), I posted a number of hip poses some time ago and lotus was the last one. Take a look. I can also recommend my book, Yoga for Runners, for greater detail.

      Good luck – lmk if I can help with anything else.

  2. I really appreciate you, sharing your precious experiments . My knees have some orthopedic problem and I was wandering if lotus pose is good for me to try or not. your article helped me , TNX

    1. Thanks for your comment. It’s difficult for me to say whether lotus pose is good for you to try without seeing the range of motion in your hips. The pose requires a good dose of external hip rotation. Alone it will not restore your knees to health. To improve the health of your knees I suggest adding some strengthening exercises, in particular the glutes, hamstrings and core. Additionally there are isolation exercises to stabilize and strengthen the joint. A short time ago I posted a number of these on instagram @yogaforrunners Take a look. Best of luck

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