Padmasana Lotus Pose

November 8, 2021

You may have come across the symbol of the lotus flower in yoga philosophy. It is an encouraging symbol on the spiritual path. This beautiful flower still grows and thrives in the muddiest of water. In the iconic yoga pose Padmasana (Lotus Pose), it seems as if the legs resemble the petals of a lotus flower. And it is indeed a beautiful asana on the outside; however, reaching it (safely) takes effort, time, awareness, and patience.

From the onset of this tutorial in facilitating a pain-free and safe Lotus pose, it is imperative to understand that in India, yoga asana is a part of culture and lifestyle. Traditionally, daily activities that require being close to the ground has been a way of life. Such as sitting, eating and even sleeping on the floor. Along streets of India from Delhi to Goa you will find cobblers and craftsmen squatting as they tend to their work. The aromatic scents of Indian street food will lead you to women squatting while they cook. Even the traditional lavatory requires a squatting position. The daily life of Indians has lent to increased flexibility in their hips and knees than those in the West. It is important to raise this anatomical comparison as in India, Lotus Pose variations are typical for traditional yoga asanas, as it was a given that Lotus Pose can be done quite easily.

Comparatively, in the West, our daily lifestyle activities require that we use chairs and couches. How often and for how long do we find ourselves squatting for anything? Yes, in the West, we have welcomed yoga. We may attend yoga class a few times a week or have a daily sixty-minute practice.

This difference in how bodies are used in India (traditionally) compared to Western daily life requires that we pay careful attention to our knees. Knee pain during and after yoga asana is common but that shouldn’t mean you can never pursue Lotus Pose. It only means it’s not a pose for everyone and should you have the opportunity to try it safely, it just requires tie and patience until you get to a Full Lotus Pose. Read on to learn how to practice Padmasana in a safe and pain-free way! 

The anatomy of Padmasana

Anatomically, in order to reach varying expressions of Padmasana, there needs to be a considerable range of motion in the hip joints. The next part of the leg to be aware of in this cross-legged position is the knee joint. It is common to experience knee pain in Lotus Pose but such problems arise due to lack of mobility in the hip compensated by the knee and ankle joints. These joints in the leg function as a chain rather than separate joints. It is imperative as yoga teachers and practitioners that we always put safety first and the knee joint is a vulnerable, complex joint that deserves much awareness and attention in poses such as Padmasana! 

The condition of the hips; in terms of mobility, will reflect in the leg joints. 

To safely reach to Padmasana, we need: 

  • A great range of mobility to perform external rotation in the hip joint, at a skeletal level. 
  • Flexibility of the lateral rotator group of muscles
  • Flexibility of the glute and hamstring muscles
  • Flexibility of the quadriceps, specifically the lower part of the muscles group, that crosses the knee.
  • Flexibility of the iliotibial band (ITB)

The hip joint in Lotus Pose 

The main action required to do Padmasana, is an external rotation in both hip joints. What does this mean? The hip is a ball and socket joint. In terms of a definition, it means this type of joint in which a ball moves within a socket. This allows rotary motion in every direction within certain limits. These motions are backward, forwards, sideways, and rotating movements.
The socket area called the acetabulum is inside the pelvis. The ball part of this joint is the top of the femur
In external rotation of the hip, the thigh and knee rotate outwardly, while the foot moves to or across the mid-line of the body. 

The lateral rotator group 

The external rotation of the hip joints requires muscles to move it. The lateral rotator group is a group of six muscles of the hip that all externally rotate the femur in the hip joint. It consists of the following six muscles:

1.Piriformis
2.Gemellus superior
3.Obturator internus
4.Gemellus inferior
5.Quadratus femoris
6.Obturator externus

Quite remarkably, we stretch these muscles in a seated position, when our hips are externally rotated. It is common that the lateral rotator muscle group is tight in many of us and that has a great influence on our ability to externally rotate the femur in the hip joint when seated (when our hip joint is flexed).

When we want to do Padmasana, we come across the deep six lateral rotators in both legs, as both hips have to externally rotate to a great degree. If this muscle group is tight, you will like to injure yourself if you push yourself too far. If your lateral rotators are tight then the body compensates for that using the lower back. We want to avoid compensation by balancing mobility, flexibility, and stability of joints and muscles at the source of movement in a pose.

The hamstrings and glutes

The seated position of Padmasana requires the sit-bones to provide a stable foundation for the spine in this pose. The sit-bones make up the bottom portion of the pelvis. To be seated on the sitting bones requires a slight anterior pelvic ( the pelvis tilts forward slightly). Tight hamstrings and glutes hinder such an anterior tilt in the pelvis.

The quadriceps

Quadriceps: Literally meaning four heads. This large muscle group consisting of four prominent muscles on the front of the thigh. It forms a considerably sized fleshy mass which covers the front and sides of the femur bone. It is an incredible extensor muscle of the knee. We require this extensor action of the knee when we are performing activities such as squatting, running, walking and jumping. It is specifically the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis that keep the patella and the knee joint stable during these actions. The four muscles making up the quadriceps surround and attach to the patella. Then, via a ligament called the patellar ligament, attaches to the top of the tibia.


In Lotus Pose you are completely flexing the knee joints and so this requires flexibility in the quadricep muscles. If this muscle group is tight, it prevents us from flexing the knee entirely, which can lead to a wrong technique and down the road to strain and injury. 

How to keep your knees safe in Padmasana – Lotus Pose

We want to avoid pain or strain in the knee joint as it is an important joint. The knee joint is weight-bearing, complex, and vulnerable to injury in unsafe practice. In a hip-opener position, you should not feel pain during or after the pose. Lack of mobility in the hips is compensated by the knee and ankle joints and we need to avoid this.  

Although there is some minor degree of knee rotation in Padmasana, for the sake of your safety, remember that we do NOT want to rotate at our knees (or ankle for that matter) at all.  Rotation happens ONLY in the hip joint, and it is crucial that there is only hip rotation when the knee is in a flexed position. Flexion of the knee allows for safe rotation of the hip joint.  

In order to prevent knee strain and avoid knee pain in yoga we have to keep two principles in mind: 

  1. Having a basic understanding of how joints are designed to move.
  2. Knowing the difference between stress/ discomfort and pain.

The knee joint is a hinge joint. This means that the knee can open and close, just like a door.  Anatomically speaking, the knee joint mainly allows for flexion and extension, BUT it also allows a small degree of medial and lateral rotation. This rotation can only occur when the knee is flexed. If the knee is not flexed, the rotation happens at the hip joint. 

In my experience, treating the knee as if it can’t rotate helps me and my students to keep the knees safe. It is incredibly difficult to measure or sense the safe range of rotation, as we are engrossed in our practice. 

My urgent advice is to treat your knees as if they can only open and close and create an internal or external rotation in a pose solely in your hip joint! 

 When practicing hip-opening postures such as Padmasana, we can protect the knee joints by 

  • Flexing the feet in poses, when possible. This helps to prevent knee rotation.  
  • Avoiding the compensation mechanism of the body. So, when practicing half or full Lotus Pose, always flex the knees completely first, then rotate at the hip joint. 
  • Avoiding to force down the knee toward the mat in external (or internal rotation). 
  • Using props like a block under the knee if the knee cannot naturally rest on the floor.

Read more:  How to Avoid Knee Pain & Injury in Yoga

The ankles in Lotus Pose

The question is, to flex the foot or not to flex the foot? Each person’s anatomical make-up is different. However, flexing the ankle joint is safer in this pose as this action engages the muscles that pull the tibia toward the knee and this decreases the rotation. Regarding foot placement, we are looking for the outer edge of the ankle to sit toward and eventually in the crease of the hip. When practiced correctly, one shouldn’t feel any stretch in the ankles during (Ardha) Padmasana.

Preparatory poses for Padmasana

Full Lotus Pose takes time, effort, and patience. In the meantime, you can still gain the benefits of the pose while working your way to it with preparatory poses! For Lotus Pose we require external rotation of the hip joints, flexion of the knee joints, and a slight anterior pelvic tilt. Here we will use poses to encourage the grounding of an anterior pelvic tilt and the correct rotation of the hips.

One-Legged King Pigeon Pose

This pose targets the main areas for external hip rotation to prepare us for Lotus Pose the Deep Six Lateral Rotators. When we practice Pigeon Pose, we come across the deep six lateral rotators in the front leg. If this muscle group is tight, you will struggle to bring your front buttock to the mat. When we practice the One-Legged Pigeon Pose, we come across restrictions in the quadriceps and hip flexors in the extended back leg. If these muscles are tight, you will struggle to bring the front of your back thigh toward the mat.

Read more: Eka Pada Kapotasana: How to Practice Pigeon Pose for All Levels of Mobility

Half Lotus Pose

If you have warmed up well with Surya Namaskara and a balanced routine of asanas, including Virasana and Eka Pada Kapotasana, start you Lotus Pose practice with Half Lotus.  

Almost everyone (given that they do not have any knee issues) can do a Half Lotus Pose. It might not look the same as in a yoga book, you might need to use props but it can be done in most cases.  

How to come into Half Lotus Pose?

  1. Start in a seated position on your mat, with your legs extended in front of you 
  2. Flex your right knee and bring your right ankle to the crease of your left hip.  
  3. Make sure that the top of your right foot is resting in the crease of your left hip and the sole of your foot is facing upward. 
  4. Bend your left leg and place your left ankle under your right knee. 
  5. Let your hands rest on your thighs, palms facing upward. 
  6. Keep your spine elongated and close your eyes gently. 

Modifications & adjustments 

If your pelvis is tucked under and you are sitting on your tailbone instead of your sitting bones, you can sit on the edge of a cushion or blanket to help you come into an anterior pelvic tilt.  

If your upper knee is not resting comfortably on your lower foot, use a folded blanket or a block to support your knee.  

Alignment cues 

  • Make sure to generate the rotation at your hip joint as you fold your leg into Half Lotus Pose, and avoid straining your knee! Make sure you practice this pose on both sides. 
  • Aim your heel to the crease of your opposite hip. 
  • Keep the upper foot active. You should not feel any pull or strain in your outer ankle. 
  • Never push your upper knee down toward the floor, because that can injure your knee. Simply focus on releasing your leg at the groin.

Full Lotus Pose (Padmasana) step-by-step instruction

When you feel there is a balance of confidence and ability, take caution in giving this pose a go. Here are a few things to remember!

Please don’t attempt this pose if you have to force your leg to cross over. Also, remember to generate the rotation at your hip joints as you fold your legs into Lotus Pose as this avoids putting strain on your knees. You want to aim your heel to the crease of your opposite hip and you shouldn't feel any pull or strain in your outer ankle. Never push your upper knee down toward the floor as that action can injure your knee. Rather, you can simply focus on releasing your leg at the groin. Make sure you practice this pose on both sides.

How to come into the pose

  1. Start in a seated position on your mat, with your legs extended in front of you.
  2.  Bend your right leg completely and then externally rotate at the hip
  3.  Bring your right ankle toward or on the crease of your left hip.
  4.  Make sure that the top of your right foot is resting in the crease of your left hip or as close as possible to it and the sole of your foot is facing upward and is flexed.
  5.  Bend your left leg, and as with your right left, externally rotate the hip.
  6. Then gently (ideally without using your hands to pull) cross your left ankle over your right shin, and bring your left ankle to the crease of your right hip or as close as is possible to do.
  7.  Flex your left foot
  8.  The top of your left foot is resting in the crease of your right hip, and the sole of your foot is facing upward.
  9.  Gently push your knees toward each other, while pressing your sitting bones down on the floor and keeping your spine elongated. 
  10. Close your eyes and breathe evenly, with your hands resting on your knees.
    Then release the pose and repeat the same on the other side.

 
Contraindications & cautions

If you have any ankle, or knee issues please tread with caution and use appropriate support. If you have tight hips, you are also advised to tread carefully. It is best to go slow with this pose rather than forcing the joints into compromising positions. 

Conclusion

As with all poses in yoga, we must always use the principle of safety first! Rather than rushing to get into the final expression of Lotus Pose, use the key alignment cues in this yoga pose tutorial so that you can ease into where you are right now in this pose. Explore how that feels for you, in your own body. Honour the process! 

About the author

Kalyani Hauswirth Jain

Kalyani Hauswirth-Jain is creative director & senior teacher at the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams since 2013. She teaches during the Arhanta 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training as well as a variety of 50-hour courses such as the Vinyasa Yoga teacher training.

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