Lotus is one of the most iconic postures in yoga. It embodies the serenity and beauty that we all strive to manifest from our practice. Some people walk into a yoga room with zero experience and whip their legs into Lotus without a second thought, while many seasoned yogis struggle with even Half Lotus. This posture requires deep external rotation in the hips, which provides quite the challenge considering most us us have tight hips from hours sitting at desks, in cars, or from years of running and sports. The best way to find Lotus is by a series of hip-opening forward folds that we'll go over here. If Lotus is a goal, I recommend doing these on a regular basis. Try the seated sequence from the primary series in Ashtanga--this will help immensely as well. Be patient though--pushing for a deep hip opener can result in knee pain or even injury. Listen to your body. Sensation is great, opening wonderful, but pain is never OK.
Lotus pose exemplifies yoga--when the yogi is ready, the pose will come. You can't push or break the rules. You show up, do your practice, do your best and when the time is right, it appears.
Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your right knee and place the right ankle directly above the left kneecap so that the right foot hangs off the side of the left leg. Keep the right foot flexed and gently encourage the right knee toward the ground (never push on your knee). If this is a huge hip opener for you, stay here. Sit up tall and continue this pose until you can sit with ease. If you're moving on, inhale, sit up tall, exhale and begin to lengthen out over the straight leg. If you can reach your left foot without rounding your spine, clasp the foot with both hands. Otherwise, use a strap wrapped over the ball of the foot. Root the hips, lift the belly, and reach your heart up. Keep any rounding out of the spine and don't worry if the right knee doesn't drop down--it's takes time (and patience) to open the hip. Repeat on the second side.
Janu Sirasasana is a fantastic and accessible forward fold that opens our hips. Begin again in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your right knee and bring the sole of the right foot to the upper inner left thigh. Root into the hips as you take a large inhale, and twist the torso toward the straight leg. Try to line up your naval with your left kneecap. Exhale, walk the hands toward the foot without rounding the spine. Feel free to pause along the way or use a strap. If you reach the foot, grab both sides. Rotate your torso to help square your body. Roll the right side of your waist down and extend the heart. Take 8 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
We're starting to get into deep rotation territory! You may very well practice steps 1 and 2 for a long time. Don't be disheartened by this. Hips take some love and time, as does Lotus! Start again in Dandasana and bend the right knee and grab the heel of the right foot. Draw it toward your belly button then spin the toes toward the ground so that they rest curled over the left thigh. Keep the heel flexed and digging in toward the navel (or where ever it lands) to protect the connection to your knee. You can use a block underneath the knee for support and practice sitting tall. Congratulations, you've reached Half Lotus. With time, deepen the pose by adding the forward fold--elongate the spin (no rounded spine) over the straight leg using your strap on the ball of the foot or holding both edges of the foot. Roll the right ribs down toward the ground and keep the heart extending. Repeat on the second side.
Full Lotus time! Make sure that all the previous steps are accomplished with ease before attempting this pose. A regular forward-fold practice will get you on a strong path to this pose, so please practice patience!
Repeat the beginning of step 3 but begin with the left leg in Half Lotus (this is traditional). Once the left leg is as snug as it can be while remaining comfortable, bend the right knee. Grab the right foot and, lifting the entire shin several inches off of the ground, lift the foot above the left knee onto the thigh. Drag the foot up toward the left hip flexor. Once the foot arrives at the crease of the hip and thigh, re-flex each foot and sit tall. No worries if one knee lifts off the ground, it will go down eventually. Sit here for 8 breaths or as long as the knees and hips are comfortable.
Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women's Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MBG, creator of Gaiam's Aim True Yoga DVD and is currently writing Rodale's The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website.