Asana Column: Padmasana (Lotus Pose)
As soon as you admit that you practice yoga, you're likely to be confronted with the question, "So, can you do that pretzely thing with your legs?" Padmasana (Lotus Pose), a.k.a. "the pretzel," more than any other asana, is synonymous in the public's mind with the practice of yoga. And if you are like me, unable for the first 10 years of practice to even approximate Padmasana, you would have to doggedly admit that, no, you don't do Lotus—and then face suspicion that you must be some kind of hatha yoga dilettante.
Whether it's Padmasana or some other posture, almost everyone has difficulty doing certain movements. Usually, as you attempt such an asana, your key limitations are brought to the forefront of your attention. When I began practicing yoga at the age of 16, I believed that the purpose of practice was not only to identify these weak links, but to eliminate such "problems." For many years my practice became an obsessive ritual centered around eradicating these "defects." Much of my time on the mat, I am sad to say, was spent feeling frustrated, unhappy, and dissatisfied. My happiness and sense of self worth were always contingent on solving my body's "problems."
Many of my conditions did improve as a result of practice, but 22 years later, I continue to be astonished at the intransigent nature of some parts of my body. While it's true that hatha yoga is a remarkably effective practice for balancing the body and mind, and while I've benefited enormously from the positive changes that have come with the practice, it is also true that some parts of my body have remained, for want of a better word, problematic. My lower back, congenitally weak, demands respect and limits my ability to backbend; my shoulders, upper back, and neck tend toward stiffness; and my right hip, seriously compromised in a dancing injury, for years made Lotus Pose a special challenge for me.
Perhaps you too have noticed niggling parts of your body where tension always accumulates. Whether caused by an accident, your constitutional nature, habit, or a tension that mysteriously and predictably appears like a bird that returns to the same tree every summer, these difficult spots rarely vanish completely, even in the face of tenacious, disciplined practice. Just for a moment, let us postulate that these stubborn parts of the body serve some useful purpose. Could they represent some kind of stabilizing force in your personality? Although the idea of waking up tomorrow with a perfect body might sound tempting, I imagine this cataclysmic change would be so sudden as to shatter the psyche. The person you have come to know after so many years would have disappeared. But perhaps you still need this person. The glacial rate at which change often occurs allows you to shift the scaffolding of your personality slowly enough to do no damage and gives you time to integrate new openings and releases.
Each and every difficulty I have encountered in my body has taught me something. My tight right hip and 10-year introduction to Padmasana taught me compassion for my injured body. It also taught me to persevere. If I'd been able to crank myself into Padmasana and other difficult poses on the first shot, I might not have continued to practice. Thus my tight right hip has blessed me with years of fruitful yoga. How thankful I am to have had such a friend. Could any situation have provided me with a more thorough apprenticeship in life than my own innate imperfections?