Asana Column: Padmasana (Lotus Pose)
Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith once said, "There are some faults so nearly allied to excellence, that we can scarce weed out the vice without eradicating the virtue." If I have learned anything during more than two decades of practice, it is that the purpose of yoga practice is not to eradicate defects but rather to learn to accept the whole of ourselves, including (and especially) those parts we find infuriating. Practicing yoga isn't about fixing all our problems and answering all our questions. It doesn't mean that one day we'll arrive at a pie-in-the-sky existence. In reality, some things are not fixable. In fact, if we achieve any equanimity at all, it's only a reflection of our skill at acceptance—our skill at living with our questions rather than having answered them. An even greater challenge is to not just begrudgingly accept our questions and imperfections, but to embrace them so that we enjoy our practice in spite of our difficulties.
It's All in the Hips
Here is a sequence of postures that I use to warm up for Padmasana. This sequence assumes that you are already familiar with deep hip opening movements and are able to do Half Lotus without strain or injury to your knee. But, like so many practitioners, you may have become stuck in the transition between doing Half Lotus and lifting that second leg up into the real McCoy. These movements are best done after standing poses, when the body is already warm. If you're very tight, you may benefit from practicing in the afternoon when the body is naturally more flexible. Begin by staying in each posture for at least a minute (counting 12 to 15 breaths is a good guide).
Your hips are deep joints stabilized by some of the strongest ligaments and muscles in your body. This stability means they are intrinsically less mobile than most other joints. Thus, the hips tend to change rather slowly. In contrast, your knee joint is one of the weakest joints in the body, and its instability makes it more mobile. Relative to the hip, the ankle also tends to be unstable. Therefore, when you are working on Padmasana, it is essential that you stabilize both your knees and your ankles as you attempt to free your hips. Otherwise you will damage the less stable joints long before you achieve Lotus.
Begin by sitting in a chair and slowly rotating the right leg out at the hip. Place your right ankle just above your left knee. To lift the leg into Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose), reach your right hand under your calf to grasp the outside of the right lower leg near the ankle. Flex the foot so that you can no longer see the sole, and slowly lift the leg up, rotating the shin and thigh outwards as you do so. Carefully place the ankle on the upper thigh near your groin, with the outer ball of the ankle joint supported by your thigh. Continue to draw the little toe of your right foot back towards your outer knee to prevent the rotation from coming at the ankle or knee. If you pull the leg up by grasping the top of the foot and allowing the foot to sickle, you will only overstretch the ligaments of your ankle and knee rather than opening your hip.