Lotus Pose, or Padmasana in Sanskrit, is one of the most widely recognized poses in yoga. It is considered to be the ultimate pose for seated meditation. Interestingly, there is a standard way of entering this pose.
There is a specific order of placing the legs in lotus. According to traditional yoga texts, we place right leg first in lotus due to the way the feet are positioned, they press into the acupuncture points of the stomach, gallbladder, spleen, kidneys, and liver, creating balance in our whole system.
If we were to examine this posture from an anatomical perspective, it could be argued that we should try to alternate the foot’s position in lotus to maintain balance and symmetry in the body.
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What does Lotus Pose mean?
The lotus pose is named this way due to the resemblance the legs have to the petals of a lotus flower.
The name for lotus position in Sanskrit is Padmasana and it is made up of two Sanskrit words:
- Padma: lotus
- Āsana: posture or seat.
The following quote helps show the beautiful meaning of the lotus in Asian cultures.
“May we exist like a lotus,
At home in the muddy water.
Thus we bow to life as it is.”Zen
Lotus flowers are rooted in the mud at the bottom of ponds, and yet rise and bloom above the water. The petals and the leaves don’t have any traces of dirt. And this is why the lotus is used as a symbol of growth towards rebirth, renewal, and enlightenment.
The meaning of lotus is a strong metaphor that could be applied in our lives. And so one way we could interpret this is that no matter where we came from, what has happened to us or is happening in our lives, no matter how difficult our lives or reality may seem, we should try to remain peaceful and present. And perhaps, something beautiful may be able to emerge from it. Everyone has the potential to bloom like a lotus and rise up from the muddy water.
Right leg first then left
In Ashtanga yoga, we place the right leg first in lotus and then left. Pattabhi Jois said: “Right side first and left leg on top purifies the liver and spleen. Left leg first is of no use at all.”
The reason for this dates back to the traditional yoga text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written in the fifteenth century by Svatmarama. It is considered to be one of the three classic texts on Hatha yoga (the other two are Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita).
In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika it states:
“Place the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh, and grasp the toes with the hands crossed over the back. Press the chin against the chest and gaze on the tip of the nose. This is called the Padmasana, the destroyer of the diseases of the Yamis.Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika then goes on to explain why it is right leg and then first in lotus. Indeed, it states that because of the way the feet are positioned, they press into the acupuncture points of stomach, gallbladder, spleen, kidneys, and liver, which in turn helps create balance in our body.
So if we were to follow the traditional yoga texts, then each time we go into lotus, it’s right leg and then left leg.
However, there is a more anatomically focused way of approaching this posture. Indeed, an argument could be made to alternate the foot placement in lotus.
In our yoga practice, we aim for symmetry and overall balance in the body. And so when practicing, it could be worth trying out left foot first every now and again. In Ashtanga yoga, we generally stay in each posture for 5 breaths, so its not like we are going to be lop-sided if we only do lotus right leg first throughout our practice.
However, if we have a consistent meditation or pranayama practice that requires sitting in lotus position for extended periods of time, then perhaps it is worth trying out switching around foot placement for the sake of symmetry.
Importance of lotus pose
Many yoga classes begin or end with lotus pose. It is considered by many as the ideal pose for meditation, as the legs are crossed and the spine is vertical and lengthened. When we are able to sit here comfortably, it can be a very stable posture.
“When the yogi seated in the lotus posture leaves the ground and remains firm in the air, he should know that he has attained mastery over that life-breath which destroys the darkness of the world.”The Shiva Samhita (the Pradipika companion text)
Lotus pose is considered of intermediate level because it requires a certain level of flexibility and openness in the hips. When our hips are able to externally rotate enough, there should be no discomfort or pain in the knees. So basically, lotus position requires open hips.
The hip is a ball-and-socket joint with a circular range of motion. This varies from person to person. And so some people will be able to do lotus, even at their first attempt and some won’t, even after years of practicing yoga.
East vs West
Something worth pointing out is that yoga originated in India thousands of years ago. And yet, even if you were to travel there today, you would see people of all ages able to sit and work either squatting or in lotus.
I travel to India every year and I’m always amazed when I go to the local fruit market and see men and women selling their products for hours on end and no chair in sight. It’s either a squat or a lotus pose. As you can imagine, thanks to their way of life, they have very open hips and so lotus is a very natural pose for them to sit in!
This is in contrast with our Western way of life, where we are used to sitting in chairs. Not only does this lead to tighter hips, but also wide-spread back pain.
Another downside of tight hips is more common knee injuries. Indeed, when we try to get into lotus and don’t have enough flexibility in the hips, the knees take on much of the pressure. This is one reason knee injuries are not that uncommon in yoga.
Coming back to lotus position, if we do have open hips and are able to sit comfortably, then our spine is able to lengthen and our breathing is able to slow down.
And so the ability to stay here for prolonged periods of time means we are able to sit in this position for meditation. It should be pointed out that it is not mandatory to meditate in lotus pose, but it does make it easier to sit straight and be still without discomfort.
Lotus pose for beginners and those with injuries
As with most yoga poses, the lotus pose can be modified for beginners or those with tight hips or knee pain. The main alternative is half lotus pose.
For half lotus pose, only one foot is placed onto the opposite thigh. The other is positioned under the opposite knee.
For the sake of symmetry, it is worth alternating sides so as not to create unevenness in the hips. Another alternative is to sit on a blanket or a cushion. This helps tilt the pelvis forward, especially for those who feel they have difficulty straightening their spine, even in half lotus.
Especially for beginners and those with an injury, the most important piece of advice for any yoga pose is to always work within your own range of limits and abilities.
I have seen people come for their first-ever yoga lesson and very comfortably be able to do lotus. I have also seen yoga practitioners unable to do this pose, even after 1 or even 2 decades of practice.
As I sometimes say in class, this is our body and we work with what we are given. So next time you attempt lotus pose, do so mindfully, don’t force it, and remember to place right leg first.