March 14, 2014

How to sit in full Lotus (Padmasana) l But should you?


I do not recommend the full Lotus (Padmasana, in Sanskrit) position for most Western meditators, if you have a typical solid (muscular) build. If you want to try it though, some preparation exercises will be helpful, and will make the pose easier to achieve safely in time.

This video shows two tests that you can use to see if you are flexible enough to try the pose safely, and both are excellent limbering movements.

The difficulties people have with the pose are two, mainly: a lack of external rotation in the hip joints, and a lack of suppleness in the thighs that the ankles rest on.

The potential dangers of the pose are that if either of these elements are missing, then the lateral collateral ligaments of the knee can be placed under too much stretch when in the pose, and loosening these too much can adversely affect the stability of the knee in daily life activities.

A technical and personal note: the capacity to externally rotate the legs in the hips *in this position* is extremely localised—Olivia, who has perfect side splits and pancake, cannot get even one leg into the starting position. Her legs do not rotate well externally *at this leg-hip joint angle* despite her otherwise great flexibility. Her second difficulty is related to the first: her thighs do not relax (soften) out of the ankle's way as the leg is put into position on the thigh, so the involved thigh has to externally rotate even more in the hip joint as a result. 

I apologise for the noisy audio; I am still experimenting with the best way to record programs when the mood strikes (as it did last night) and there is no one to help! Nonetheless, the instruction contained in this video is unique, in my experience. Please give feedback below.

Read transcription

Hi. Kit Laughlin here. I've been asked a number of times on the forums and by private emails, recently, about how to sit in the full Lotus position. Before I talk about how I achieved the full Lotus myself, I think it's only fair to say that countless yogis and meditators have hurt their knees -- Western ones I'm talking about in particular, but not only Western ones -- by trying to sit in the full Lotus position before their body was ready for it. And I also will mention that good instruction on how to sit in this pose is quite hard to find.

The way I'm sitting now, which is called the Burmese position, in my opinion for most Westerners, is far and away the easiest way to sit for meditation. And I do intend to go through all of these sitting positions, all of the different meditation sitting positions, in a forthcoming video program called How to Sit for Meditation.

But today, it's some tips for determining whether or not you're loose enough to sit in the full Lotus yourself and whether you should even try, plus the very important loosening exercises that I have found necessary in a typical Westerner's body with solid legs. And a lot of muscular tension, generally speaking, is needed to do, in order to be able to sit in this position.

The first thing I'm going to do is to get rid of my cushion and my mat for a moment, which will become clear. Just move that to the back here, and we'll do the first test. And this is a test which you can do cold. You don't need to warm up for this. And here it is. You simply hold your foot in position like this. Make sure the heel is pressing against your tummy. Hold it in position by putting the back of your upper arm against the instep, like this, and then seeing if you can pull, using the bottom muscles on this leg, can you pull this thigh down to the ground?

Now notice, too, that my ankles are perfectly straight. Sitting with the feet like this is not a good full Lotus at all, and it will strain the outside of your ankle joints. The real full Lotus, which I'll demonstrate in a moment, is an extremely stable sitting position if you're loose enough to sit in it.

But I want to draw your attention to something else in this position. When I pull this leg down to the floor like this, can you see that this ankle, the full, straight ankle, has actually entered, so to speak, the thigh muscle here? And that's because this muscle will get out of the way. And I'll talk about that more in a moment.

But in my opinion, this is a critically important dimension of the Lotus pose, which is hardly ever mentioned. If I put my fingers across like this, you can see the outside of my ankle is exactly the same level as the top of the thigh. And I'll show you how to get the thigh soft enough to do that in a moment. So that's the test. That's test number one. And there's another test which will come up in a moment.

So in my opinion, the way to start loosening the hips. Before I mention that, let me just explain the difficulties in sitting in full Lotus for a Westerner. Because we don't sit on the ground and we sit on chairs all the time, this position here, for most of us, is simply not possible. We don't have the external rotation in this hip joint, and we don't have the abduction looseness in the adductors, here, to be able to sit like this easily. And in my view, this is another kind of test, if you'd like, as well as being a prep exercise.

If you can't easily sit on the ground like this, then again, it's probably better to avoid the full Lotus. So this is actually our preparation exercise. Watch what I'm doing. I'm going to lift myself up onto the outside of my heels, like this. Tip my body forward, which you can see on this camera, like this, and then watch... use my thigh muscles and bottom muscles to press the legs onto the floor.

Also, in time, you can learn to balance in this position, like this. Rock a little from side to side like this. And all of these things will loosen up the hips. Notice how I'm pulling my hips actually over the feet. And then, you can bring your cushion in position for the next part of the exercise, which is done like this. You lift the hips up on a cushion. And as you can see from this angle here, that actually tilts the whole body forward slightly, and tilting the whole body forward means that the next parts of the exercise are a bit easier to do.

Part one. Press the soles of your feet, particularly the heels, into each other, like this, which contracts the adductors, these muscles here, for a count of five, four, three, two, one, stop. Take a breath in and then slowly, again using the bottom muscles and the thigh muscles and holding your toes, slowly press the legs down onto the ground, like this. Then – I should say, if you were doing this against a wall, you can then do the next part like this, by pressing the arms straight down. But in this position, in free space like this, which is how you'll be in a meditation hall, I recommend holding your feet like this, normally the big toes with the index fingers, like this.

Press the elbows down onto the thighs like this. Lift the thighs up against the resistance of your arms, and again, press the legs down to the ground. And then last of all, and very importantly, take a breath in and slowly pull yourself forwards, like this. If you can, put your elbows on the ground like this, in front of your shins. And watch what I'm doing. I'm pressing the elbows back against my shins to pull the body through the hips.

And then eventually you'll be loose enough, one day, to get the head down on the ground like this, but that is not absolutely essential. As long as you can rock the body forward 40 to 50 degrees from vertical, like this, you'll be loose enough in the hips to sit in the full Lotus. So that's assistance exercise number one.

Number two. And number two is the way to get these muscles lovely and soft. They need to be really soft to sit in full Lotus. Is we do like this. Put one foot here, like this, on the mat. And press the other leg back like this. And then, pull yourself forward like this. I'm using the muscles under the arms to pull forward. And I'm also using the muscles at the back of this leg here to pull forward. And then, once you pull forward as far as you can, just let the hips roll to the outside, and see what that feels like. Then come back to the middle. And then, for me, the tight part is always on the inside of this thigh. And so I turn the hips around like this, a little, so that this inside line is exposed to the stretch, and then pull forwards like this.

And I found that to be extremely effective for loosening that line. And then push the hips back, fold the legs up ... fold the back leg up like this, I should say. Don't pull the heel all the way into the bottom in the beginning. Just get used to the additional tension that folding the leg up gives. And then run through exactly the same positions as we did a second ago, when the leg was unfolded.

Now you'll probably find that exactly the same line that was tight when the leg was more or less straight will be just even tighter in this position here. So I'm going to turn my leg on the inside a little bit like this and pull forward. And that absolutely is a sensational stretch today. And then eventually, in time, you can pull the foot right back to the bottom, as I'm doing now.

So that's one side. Then change your legs over, like so, and pull yourself forward, like we did on the other side. And again, the pulling yourself forward is to achieve two things. One is to actually feel where you're tight today, and the second is to stretch. So I'm pulling forward. I'm rolling on the inside of the back leg, because that's my tight line, again, on this side, too. The outside is very comfortable. The middle, completely comfortable. But the inside is where I'm tight, so I'll come back to the inside and pull myself forward on that line to stretch that.

I always recommend holding this position for a breath or two or three. Depends how much time you've got, of course. Then push both hips back. Fold the back leg's knee like this. Hold it in, not too close to the bottom in the beginning. And then once again, run through the middle position, which is the classic hip flexor stretch position; the inside position, which actually stretches some of the adductors on the back leg; and then the outside, which actually stretches TFL, a little muscle on the front of the hip joint that joins onto the iliotibial band.

Come back to the middle. Pull the foot in closer to the bottom and repeat all of those positions, until you feel that you've got the body as loose as it can be today. Then push back. And once again, sit down. Now we're ready for the third part, which is all about the full Lotus, itself.

So it doesn't matter which leg you begin with. And also don't be surprised to find that you've got one leg or one hip quite a bit tighter than the other. Mine are about the same. Bring this foot back into position, like this. Hold in position, like this. Press the leg down to the ground, not with your hand, but with the muscles underneath here. And then lean forward and hold the outside of the foot, like this. You'll find, as you pull yourself forward like this, which you can probably see better on this camera, this foot literally buries itself inside the body. And you want that. There's an esoteric dimension to that, which I won't go into now, but it's to do with the function of the large intestine.

So, stay like that for a while. Then come out of that position. Bring the other foot into position. Also, if you're loose enough, you might try this, as well. Lean forward. Hold the big toe with the index fingers. And I usually use two fingers there. Straighten this leg, hold, and then pull this thigh while holding this and squaring up your shoulders. Use the bottom muscles on this side to pull that thigh down to the ground. And again, pull yourself a bit forwards. And you'll feel, again, this foot not only entering the gut here, but the ankle will be completely pressed into the thigh that you're bending over. And breathe deeply, and try to go as far in that position as you can.

Come back to the first leg. I might just repeat that on this side. Also, too, notice how to get into this position. Turn yourself around this way. I'm moving toward this camera. Reach this hand around. Hold. Wriggle the fingers onto the top of the foot, like this. Turn back to the front. Take in a breath. Lean forwards. And then hold this leg, the left leg, my left leg, onto the ground like this and pull yourself forward. And once again, you can see the whole foot buries itself in the gut.

And come out. Let yourself out of that. Now, the big test. Go back. It doesn't matter which leg we do, which leg we start with. I may as well go with this one. Like this. Now notice the thighs are parallel or very close to it. Then slowly bend this leg like this. And this is the most important part. This ankle is perfectly straight. It's held in position, like this. The leg is on the ground, and notice the line of the thigh is inside the line of the heel. If you can't sit like that on both sides, and I'm talking comfortably here, then in my opinion, it's better to give the full Lotus a miss.

So I'll try that on both sides. Hold. Hold. Pull this in a bit tighter. You can see how bulky my thighs are, too, probably, in this position. But you can also see, on this leg, how they get out of the way, and that the key to this position, safely, is both external rotation and a soft enough thigh to be able to do this.

So now watch. Here's, at least, my way of getting into full Lotus. And I believe it's a safe way. Like this, bring the legs as close together as possible, like this. Hold this leg on the ground and then, while holding it on the ground, breathe in. Breathe out. Pull this leg up into position like this, and pull the legs as tightly together as you can. And as you can see, the thighs are just outside parallel. And then, do your practice sit like this. If this knee's not on the ground, by all means, bring in a cushion like this and rest it there.

And I recommend, in the beginning, when you're learning how to do this pose, don't stay in the position for any longer than, say, 15 to 30 seconds on each side And always switch legs. Now, classically, yogis sit in one particular way. But what happens is, the body adapts to that. In my view, it's much better to be able to sit in the full Lotus position on both sides. So let's just try the other side now.

Like this, like this, like this, like this. Breathe in and pull the foot right in. Scrunch everything together. And once again, you can see this leg's a little bit closer to the ground, but when I'm practicing I would always rest something in there. And I sit. I hold a mudra like this, but there are many others that you can use, as well. And once you've held that position – again, I'm talking about when you're learning, here -- 10, 15 seconds, then slowly ease yourself out of it, like this. And then relax.

Relaxing is usually done like this. That'll relieve any aches and pains here and here. And as I said in my introduction, don't be in too much of a hurry to sit in this position. You do require quite a lot of flexibility and quite a lot of softness for it. Try it and report back and let us know how you go. Thanks.

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