Asana Column: Padmasana (Lotus Pose)
Remain in Padmasana for as long as you are comfortable and then slowly release the legs. Straighten both legs along the floor in front of you. Using both hands, press firmly down on the tops of the shins just below the knees. This will help release the interior knee joint.
Remember that Lotus is an asymmetrical pose that causes a slight rotation through your spine, so it's important to be balanced in your efforts. If there is a huge difference between the flexibility of your two hips, you have even more reason to work on Padmasana on both sides. If you are unable to move as far toward full Lotus on one side, you can still progress by simply repeating the variations you can do or holding those variations longer on your tighter side.
When you complete the series (or as much of it as you can do safely), take a moment to sit quietly. Acknowledge the efforts you have made, regardless of the results, and give thanks for the gift of your body and the gift of practice. If you feel frustrated, dissatisfied, or unhappy with the outcome, face these feelings honestly. Then consider that you have a choice. There will never be an end to personal failings, and thus no end to the struggle to eradicate them. You can continue to fight with your shortcomings, or you can perceive your failings with humor and light-heartedness.
It's not hard to accept wonderful things in life, either in yourself or in others. But it's a tall order to accept even the smallest unpleasant thing about someone else or yourself. Yet the purpose of yoga practice is to accept yourself and the world unconditionally. This acceptance is the root of all compassion. Without compassion, practice breeds an insidious form of self-hatred and intolerance, not only for your own perceived foibles, but for those of others. If you hate your right hip or your shoulder or your rounded upper back, how different is this from hating someone because they have acne, a stutter, or a limp? If self-acceptance is the purpose of practice, then what better conditions could you ask for than your own deep holding points, your weaknesses, your intransigent habits, available to you (free of cost!) every day of your life. Self-acceptance doesn't mean that you become complacent, or that you don't try to heal injuries, or that you don't seek help for pain. It doesn't mean that you practice half-heartedly. It means that you attempt to cultivate self-acceptance despite everything you know about yourself.
Ultimately, self-acceptance also means that peace of mind is never contingent on outcome. Now, as I practice yet again, slowly loosening my right hip, it is no longer a source of frustration. Over the years, it has softened enough to open into Padmasana. But even if this were not the case, it would not be a source of discontent. Padmasana is never the real goal; it is only a wonderful excuse to meet your Self with an open, accepting heart.
Donna Farhi is a registered movement therapist and international yoga teacher. She is the author of The Breathing Book (Henry Holt, 1996), and Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness (Henry Holt, 2000).
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