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Lotus Pose: The Complete Guide

Padmasana creates an essential foundation for your meditation practice, while simultaneously stretching the front of your thighs and ankles.


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Padmasana (Lotus Pose) is a quintessential meditative posture. It requires a bit of hip flexibility and a deep stretch in the front of your thighs—which is why it may require regular practice and warming up to achieve.

Padmasana is considered by many to be an archetypal yoga posture, explains Nora Isaacs, author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age. “The arrangement of your hands and feet in the pose resembles the petals of a lotus flower—the blossom that grows from its base in the mud to rest above the water and open to the sun,” says Isaacs. “The image is nothing less than a metaphor for the unfolding process of yoga.” But keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, and your version of Lotus Pose may look very different from the person on the next mat.

“When doing the pose, imagine that you are a lotus,” says KK Ledford, a San Francisco-based Anusara instructor. “It’s gravity calling you to get rooted again. Even if your life is muddy, you can blossom and open your heart to the sunshine.”

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Lotus Pose Basics

Sanskrit: Padmasana (pod-MAHS-anna)

padma = lotus

Pose type: Seated

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Benefits

Lotus Pose creates a foundation for meditation practices. It can help manage stress, and when done in a relaxed manner, activates the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and deactivates the stress response (sympathetic nervous system).

Other Lotus Pose perks:

  • May help lower or regulate blood pressure
  • Stretches the front of the thighs (quadriceps) and ankles
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Step-by-step instructions

  1. Begin seated in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your legs extended forward.
  2. Bend your right knee, externally rotating from deep in your hip socket so your knee falls open to the right.
  3. Take your right ankle in your left hand, holding from below so your palm faces up.
  4. Support your right outer knee with your right hand, and maintaining the external rotation in your hip, start to draw your right heel toward your navel, gently swinging your knee forward and down toward your midline. Place your right foot atop your left inner thigh.
  5. Lean back slightly and begin to bend your left knee. Clasp your ankle from below with your right hand (palm up), and carefully bring your left knee toward your midline until you place your left heel on your right inner thigh.
  6. Press into your big toe mounds to help draw your knees closer together, then release that action.
  7. Rest your hands on your knees palms up, then draw them back slightly to align the heads of your upper arms with your side body.
  8. Draw your sacrum in and up toward your navel, lifting and opening your chest. Stack the crown of your head directly over your pelvis, and soften your gaze.
  9. Hold for 5–10 breaths, then release and switch legs.
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Explore the pose

When you bring your foot across your body and onto your opposite inner thigh, maintain an even stretch of the inner and outer ankles in both feet. Don’t allow one side of your feet or legs to feel overstrained or taxed. Adjust or use a prop, such as a block or blanket, if you are feeling strained.

Be mindful!

When using Padmasana as a seat for meditation or pranayama, there’s a tendency to cross your legs in the same exact way day after day. Eventually, this can cause imbalances in your hips. If you regularly use this pose as a platform for meditation, alternate the cross of your legs daily. One simple method to help you remember to do this is to bring the right leg in first on even-numbered days, the left leg first on odd-numbered days.

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Lotus Pose variations

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Half Lotus Pose

If the full expression of this pose is too intense, sit cross-legged and use the support of your hands to slowly lift one leg on top of the other; stop if you feel any knee pain, and try another meditative posture like basic cross-legged Sukhasana (Easy Pose).

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Half Lotus with props

Sit cross-legged, and use the support of your hands to slowly lift one leg on top of the other; stop if you feel any knee pain and try another meditative posture like basic cross-legged—Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Rest your thighs on blocks or folded blankets. Find support with props to avoid pressure on the hip and knee joints.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Lotus in a chair

Come to a comfortable seated position in a chair with your feet directly under your knees, allowing a 90-degree angle. If you are taller, consider also sitting on a folded blanket. If you are shorter, try placing blocks under your feet to bring your knees in line with your hips. If accessible, sit forward in the chair with a neutral spine. Feel the crown of your head lifting upward, avoiding slouching while lengthening your spine into a neutral curve. If needed, you can use the back of the chair for support. If needed, place a pillow behind your back for support.

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Preparatory and counter poses

Your ability to come into Lotus Pose is enhanced when you practice other hip openers prior to attempting it.

Preparatory poses

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)

Janu Sirsasana (Head-of-the-Knee Pose)

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)

Counter poses

Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

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Your body in Lotus Pose | Anatomy

Padmasana is one of the most advanced of the hip-opening poses. It is a continuation of Sukhasana (Easy Pose), with the hips flexing, abducting, and externally rotating. Your feet are brought up onto your thighs and a bandha is formed where the lower legs cross.

Achieving Lotus safely requires great flexibility in your hips. The hip is a ball-and-socket joint that is designed to rotate. Therefore, you must lengthen the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius muscles (the internal rotators) to take the rotational forces of this pose into your hips. Never force your feet into Lotus position as this can injure your knees. Take as long as necessary to gain the required flexibility first.

In the drawings below, blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

When you sit in Lotus Pose, your hips flex. This happens as a result of engaging the psoas muscle. A cue for this is to press your palms into your thighs and gently attempt to lift up into your hands. This activates the psoas. As a consequence, the pelvis tilts forward and the lumbar spine lifts and extends. The sartorius muscle, running from the anterior superior iliac spine to the inside of the knee, synergizes the tilt of the pelvis while aiding to abduct and externally rotate the hip.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Engage the hamstrings in Lotus Pose. These are muscle stabilizers of the knee (along with the quadriceps). Activating them in a pose like Padmasana helps maintain joint congruency so the knee retains its hinge quality. This helps protect the ligaments and cartilage. Pressing the ball of your foot forward can also be used to stabilize the knee joint, as this activates the gastrocnemius muscle, which by virtue of crossing the knee is also a muscle stabilizer.

Dorsiflex the foot at the ankle to hook it on the thigh. The tibialis anterior activates to create this action. Slightly evert the ankle as well by contracting the peroneus longus and brevis muscles on the lower side of the leg. This protects the ligaments on the outside of the ankle from overstretching.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Externally rotate the shoulders by engaging the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff. Press your hands into your knees and rotate your hands slightly outward to activate these muscles. Draw your shoulders away from your neck by contracting the lower third of the trapezius. Then adduct the scapulae toward the midline with the rhomboids. Hold the shoulders in this position.

Attempt to roll your shoulders forward. They won’t move, but the force of the action will engage the pectoralis minor and lift the ribcage. Expand your chest out to the sides. This contracts the serratus anterior muscles on the side of the ribcage. Visualize pushing your hands outward into a door frame to feel these muscles contract.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends by Ray Long.

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Put Lotus Pose into practice

3 Hip-Openers to Prep for Lotus Pose

How to Protect the Knees In Lotus and Related Postures

A Yoga Sequence to Celebrate the Summer Solstice


About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.