Ahh, the lotus pose – many yogi's nemesis. In this article, I’m simplifying this I share the ins and outs of this famous yoga pose, including how to prepare for it, step-by-step instructions, and different modifications to try.
This seemingly serene seated position is much more challenging than it looks.
Still, because of its popularity, I commonly see my students trying to accomplish it without understanding the proper alignment and safety considerations.
Either they hurt themselves, or they claim it's impossible to do.
So why is lotus pose so tricky, and can anyone achieve it? Find out below!
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The Sanskrit name for lotus pose
The Sanskrit word for the lotus pose is Padmasana.
Padmasana is pronounced “pɑd-mɑ-sɑ-nɑ” and is a combination of two words. Padma means “lotus,” while asana means “pose.”
The lotus pose is an advanced seated position specifically intended for meditation but commonly practiced in yoga classes.
The lotus flower has a highly spiritual meaning in many traditions. In various Asian cultures, including Hinduism and Buddhism, the lotus flower is a sacred symbol representing growth towards enlightenment.
In nature, the lotus flower roots firmly into the mud at the bottom of the pond while growing above the water. It highlights the possibility of miraculously blooming even in the murkiest of conditions.
Many yogis see the lotus flower as a reminder that they, too, can advance along their spiritual path, regardless of their past, life circumstances, or challenges.
How to prep for lotus pose
When I teach this asana, I sequence it as the peak pose, teaching many other hip openers before it. I include preparatory poses that externally rotate, internally rotate, flex, and extend the hip joint to warm this body part thoroughly.
I recommend these poses to prepare the body for lotus pose:
- Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
- Hero Pose (Virasana)
- Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
- Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
It is also essential to warm up the spine with gentle backbends, forward folds, side bends, and twists.
And don't forget the ankles and knees, as this pose requires flexible ankle and knee joints. Warm-up exercises include:
- Ankle circles
- Ankle stretch
- Toe stretch
- Knee circles in Apanasana (knees to chest pose)
Importance of a gradual approach
In most cases, coming into the lotus position is challenging because of tight hip flexors or external hip rotators. This is common with people who have an office job and sit on a chair most of the day.
The lotus pose was likely much more accessible for ancient yogis than it is for us in the 21st century. Of course, the most common seated position back then was cross-legged on the floor.
This was before chairs and sofas became popular.
Nowadays, most of us only sit in a crossed-legged position during yoga classes, which has resulted in reduced hip mobility.
But this doesn't mean you can't improve your flexibility enough to reach full lotus pose. You just need to take a gradual approach.
Slowly add more hip openers to your yoga practice, holding them for extended periods.
I particularly recommend practicing yin yoga a couple of times a week for two reasons:
- Most yin yoga poses target the lower body
- Yin yoga stretches not only the muscles but all connective tissues
Beginner Lotus Pose variations + 7 tips
If you're new to yoga or have tight hips, focus on gentler variations of the pose padmasana before attempting the full version.
First, start with the Easy pose (Sukhasana), which involves the legs simply crossed in front of the body.
- Sit comfortably with the legs extended. Cross your legs at the shins, bringing your right leg in front of the left one.
- Allow your knees to fall naturally to the sides, placing props underneath them if needed.
If the Easy pose feels, well, easy, try the Half lotus pose (Ardha Padmasana).
- Extend your legs in front of you.
- Bend your right knee and bring the foot toward your left hip.
- Gently lift your right foot and place it on your left thigh. The sole of your right foot should be facing upward, and the heel should be close to your left hip crease.
- Either keep your left leg extended with the foot flexed. Or bend the left knee, bringing the left foot under the right shin.
- If your right knee is far from the ground, place a block underneath to support the joint.
7 tips for safe and effective practice
- Use a prop to keep a straight spine – Sitting on a pillow or folded blanket is an easy way to keep your spine long and straight and prevent slouching.
- Listen to your body – Don't try to hold the pose if you experience hip or knee pain. Look out for sharp, shooting pains – if you feel these, come out and practice half lotus instead.
- Breathe into discomfort – With each exhale, imagine the breath moving towards the hips and breaking up any tension or tightness here.
- Sit tall – To keep your spine straight, imagine the crown of your head extending upward while engaging your core slightly to support your lower back.
- Relax your shoulders – When we feel discomfort in our bodies or are trying to create length in the spine, we often unconsciously draw the shoulders up to the ears. So remember to mentally cue yourself to relax your shoulders while holding a full or half lotus.
- Protect your knees – If you feel discomfort in your knee, place a block or bolster under it. Never force your knees into position or press them closer to the ground.
- Be patient – Like many advanced yoga poses, achieving Lotus Pose takes time and consistent practice. So practice it regularly, but don't beat yourself up if you feel you're not making progress quickly enough.
How to get into full lotus pose
- Sit on the floor and extend both legs.
- Bend your right knee and bring the heel toward your left hip.
- Lift your right foot and place it on your left thigh with the sole facing up, as close to the hip crease as possible.
- Bend your left knee and bring the heel toward your right hip. Lift the left foot and place it on your right thigh with the sole facing up.
- As you bend your knees, ensure the rotation comes from the hip, not the knee joint.
- With both legs crossed, rest your hands on your knees in chin mudra. You can have the palms facing down (for grounding) or facing up (for receptivity).
- Take a few minutes in meditation or pranayama practice. Hold for as long as comfortable before releasing.
If you want to go further, you can try the Bound lotus pose variation.
This is how you get into bound lotus:
- From full lotus, reach your right arm behind your back and clasp the right big toe.
- Once you have the clasp, reach your left arm behind your back, crossing the right arm.
- Try to clasp the left big toe while keeping a straight spine.
Once you've come out of the lotus pose, extend both legs and fold forward in Paschimottanasana. This will help to relax the spine and hips.
Overcoming common challenges
- If you experience hip tightness in the lotus pose, work on lengthening your quads (thigh muscles) by practicing the Hero pose (Virasana). This will allow you to find more mobility in the hips without over-rotating the knee joint.
- To protect the knee joint, bend your knee and bring the foot as close to your body as possible before opening the knee out to the side. Avoid compensating for tight hips by over-rotating the knee joint, as the knees are only designed to rotate 5 to 40 degrees.
What you should know about lotus pose
Lotus pose is a seated yoga posture often practiced after a series of hip opening poses or in the final meditation part of a yoga class. Aside from being a popular pose when practicing yoga, it serves as a standalone posture for meditation.
Lotus pose is highly beneficial and good for spinal health and hip mobility. It promotes better posture and reduces the tendency to slouch while strengthening the back muscles.
It also stretches and strengthens the hip and pelvic muscles and, with regular practice, helps to open the hips. In addition, the flexion of the knees helps strengthen the knee joints and reduce knee pain.
Mental and spiritual benefits
While the lotus pose may look simple, it has powerful benefits for the mind and soul, and there is even some research to back this up.
For example, a study published in the International Journal Of Yoga examined the effect of lotus pose on the meridian channels.
Researchers found that when participants sat in a lotus position for 30 minutes, there was a noticeable increase in the energy levels in the acupuncture meridians. This suggests that practicing the lotus pose can balance the subtle body (energetic body) and improve the flow of prana (life force).
Other benefits of practicing lotus pose include:
- Increases mental focus and concentration
- Helps to reduce mental activity and calm the mind
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Improves energy flow in the root and sacral chakras
- It can facilitate an emotional release
A common misconception is that everyone can achieve lotus pose through regular practice.
This is not true, as we all have different anatomy. For example, specific shapes and orientations of the hip joint mean it is not anatomically possible for some people to practice full lotus.
But this doesn't mean you cannot benefit from it; you just need to modify it to suit your body.
As the lotus pose is an intense hip opener requiring significant external rotation, some people worry that it is bad for the hips.
However, the only dangers of practicing lotus pose are:
- Not knowing the correct way to enter the pose
- Not warming up first
- Pushing yourself too far and ignoring your body's limitations
Takeaway on lotus pose
Lotus pose is an advanced asana for a reason. Just like you wouldn't expect to do a headstand in your first yoga class, lotus is one asana that takes a long time to work towards.
But remember, it's about the journey, not the destination.
Rather than obsessing about mastering the full variation, focus on slowly improving your hip mobility and flexibility. Even if you cannot achieve full lotus, the progress you make will benefit you in many other ways, reducing back pain, poor posture, and more.
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