An Unmagical Lotus Pose Story
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | August 26, 2022
When I first started practicing meditation regularly, I’d sit on the floor with my legs crossed (sukhāsana). But my knees would almost touch my elbows. When I looked around at the other people in the meditation class I couldn’t understand how their knees were down to the floor. I felt like a true novice.
But later I learned that there are basically two kinds of people in the world – those who are more externally rotated and those who are more internally rotated. The externally rotated amongst us are usually good acrobats, dancers, and asana practitioners (and often hypermobile). The internally rotated are usually better at running and sports.
I was a pretty good tennis player in high school – I also ran and jumped. But I was not good at gymnastics. After about fourth grade I gave up on it, and later I gave up on ballet too because my body was more naturally attuned to running and jumping than stretching and contorting.
But I was also attracted to yoga, particularly to meditation – and when I started practicing regularly, I knew it was going to be a lifelong project for me.
So after sitting daily for a few months my knees found their way down to the floor. I finally could sit comfortably for long periods without having to support my outer thighs with blankets and it felt great. Then I started exploring the possibility of sitting in half lotus. I found that after a few months it became rather easy to get my right foot up on my left inner thigh.
Of course I wasn’t content to stop there – I wanted the whole nine yards, the real deal, the true yogi experience – full lotus (padmāsana) here I come!
But, while I’d certainly increased my flexibility from using my body differently, I still had a strong, pitta, runner and jumper kind of body. I would never be a vata waif.
Then I went to India.
I saw many old people squatting comfortably waiting for trains, or smoking bidi cigarettes, or eating, or sitting cross legged tending shops or fixing things. Sitting cross legged or squatting is much more normal in India (and other parts of Asia as well) because the lifestyle of regular people is a lot less chair oriented than it is in the west. So, I thought, maybe I just needed to work harder and do more.
During that time, I studied in several ashrams. I heard yogis talk about the value and benefits of lotus pose for meditation – how it focused and cleared the mind, how it taught strength and fortitude, how it would lead to deeper spiritual experiences. Knowing very little about biomechanics, development, or use dependence at the time, I decided to go for it.
So I started sitting in full lotus. I began with about 5 minutes a day and built from there till I could sit for an hour. I found the more I did it, the easier it got. It was powerful. My mind could focus and I had expansive meditation experiences. When I returned to the states, I kept up my full lotus practice.
A few years later I got married, and a few years after that I had a baby.
I still practiced full lotus. But I began to realize that it may not be optimal for me. The reality is that I had never been able to really rock it. My thighs are prodigious and strong. Getting the soles of my feet to point straight up to the ceiling (like the sadhu above) was just never going to happen.
Over time, I had started (unknowingly) to overstretch the lateral collateral ligament on my left knee. One day, my husband, son and I went to a playground. I told my husband I was going to sit on the park bench and meditate for a few minutes while they played.
The bench was narrow and I had to squish myself in tight to fit. I put my right foot on my left thigh, then I placed my left ankle on top of my right thigh and felt a little pop. It wasn’t anything major, but I knew it wasn’t good.
When I finished meditating, I got up and noticed a soreness in my left knee that I hadn’t felt before. It was painful enough to let me know that my lotus pose days were numbered. I tried to do lotus several times after that, but each time the pain would intensify. My body was not having it.
I needed to let it go.
While focused concentration in meditation was important to me, so was walking – as well as running, hiking, bike riding, and playing with my son. I decided it was time to retire lotus pose and avoid doing any more damage to my knee.
Although lotus pose was great for concentrating and focusing my mind, not being able to do it forced me to find other ways to focus and concentrate. It forced me to be more mentally creative, and it allowed me to be more forgiving and compassionate to my body.
I believe that some poses deliver almost magical qualities – lotus pose is certainly one of them.
But I also think that it’s magical to walk through a field of fireflies, hike up to a beautiful overlook, and be able to do weighted squats at the gym with my son. I needed to sacrifice the magic of lotus pose to save my wonderous, magical knees and enjoy the magic in other areas of my life as well as my practice.
We all have to make choices. We have to prioritize certain values over others, certain visions over others, and certain activities for others. That’s okay, that’s just part of the experience of living.
So now, when I meditate, I sit on a bolster or a blanket in sukhāsana. As if I’m a beginner again. And that’s just fine.
Who knows, there may come a time when I need to sit in a chair to meditate, or even lie down. That’ll be fine too – because I may discover even more creative ways to find focus and concentration without sitting up or folding my legs.
Life is about adapting to whatever is present in the moment. Yoga practice should help us adapt – not make us more rigid.
And that is what’s truly magical about it.
P.S. A long time ago, a friend told me about a funny book she had seen once – it was full of pictures of Indian gurus who couldn’t sit comfortably in lotus pose – their knees were up to their elbows or even higher. We had a good laugh, and I felt a lot better about my stiff hip rotators.
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YES. As a yoga instructor who is quite internally rotated, I needed to read this. Thank you!
awesome! Glad it’s helpful. xo
I confess I read the blog in the hope that you would demystify the lotus position for me! Nonetheless, the experience of trying to push your body beyond its natural limits is so relatable. When all is said and done, the body will always le us know what we need to feel. It is a humble reminder of the importance of mental flexibility and “what is” not what we want it to be. An invaluable lesson for all on and off the yoga mat and a great one for teachers to share with participants.. Thank you Kristine.
Thanks Judith! I’m glad that it’s helpful (sorry it was not the magical solution – I wish there was one!)
I love this! Especially the line: “Life is about adapting to what is present in the moment.” I certainly have learned that lesson well with 2 broken ribs and a broken elbow. For almost 6 months I learned that meditation/pranayama was so important for my recovery-no matter how I did them. I learned that asanas were not for me at that time. I learned patience with my body and the miraculous ability for it to heal. I learned to self-advocate for my care.
I learned to let go of what I could do in the past and embrace the moment…..
that’s beautiful Joanne, thank you for sharing
Thank you! I needed to hear this message. I have felt that my practice “wasn’t good enough” because I am not even able to get into a half lotus pose. What I do possess as a yoga instructor is my soothing voice, clear instructions, gentle attitude toward the practice, and conscientiousness toward my students. With the things I do possess, I and my practice are enough.
I needed this blog! I have never been able to sit in full lotus and half lotus is still a challenge for me sometimes! Always just felt I have stiff tight joints nice to know I am a plain internal rotater! Thank you. ( in my mimagination I am a full lotus )
I am reading this after returning home from getting a cortisone shot iny left knee to alleviate the pain from arthritis that was exacerbated by a fall. This article helped me SO MUCH to appreciate what my body can do and my responsibility to take exquisite care of it. Thank you.
thank you and I hope your knee is doing a little better!
Great blog Christine, I’m someone who has always chosen to sit crossed legged & I’m in fact sitting on my couch with my legs crossed. In my early days I was encouraged & expected, by my guru, to sit in lotus for long periods of time & always when meditating. We also practiced headstand in lotus pose. Some years ago I damaged my knee, in a fall, this resulted in lotus being uncomfortable, so I know longer do it. I am really comfortable in easy sitting pose (Sukasana), because it’s, well, easy lol. I always ask my students to sit in whatever way is best & most comfortable for them. I don’t mind how they sit, for me it’s much more important that they are comfortable & able to settle into stillness. In class I always use a Bhutanese meditation cushion & offer them to all my students, when setting up for class I place one with each mat so my students see it as the usual thing to do. These are great cushions that I source from Nepal, which in turn helps the women in their community support their families.
I have never heard the being internally versus externally rotated thing. I am definitely the internally rotated kind. And I wouldn’t swap the feelings that running gives me for all the double pigeon poses in the world 🙂
As always, thank you for your helpful insight! As an aging yogi (and yoga instructor), I have had to modify, prop, change or even not do many poses! Letting go of the “I used to be able to do that” concept is quite challenging…but I feel limitations are not hinderances, but lessons. We do what we can do in the present moment! Your article was very validating for me & I am sure for others as well! Thank you for all that you do for the yoga community!
I am the same way. My physical therapist had measured my rotation of my hip and my external rotation of hip is just not that big. Even at some point I was able to to half lotus, but I was never comfortable enough for a long period time. I gave that up and just sit in sukasana with folded blanket under my hip. I am able to be comfortable yet alert. Then I know this is the adaptation that suits me. Live and learn 🙂
I totally get this….I always had difficulty with external rotation and was much better at modern dance and jazz dance, than ballet. Tennis was my big sport. Recently, I got both hips replaced. The PA and I were looking at my x-rays and he made the comment that my hips were narrow and shaped more like male hips. No one had ever told me that…but it makes sense to me, no wonder I had such a hard time in childbirth. We really have to embrace and honor our bodies.
so true! Thank you for sharing your story!
This couldn’t be more real or true. So much of what I’ve learned as a person living with chronic pain and being a yoga instructor, it has never been more important for me and how I teach to be kind to the body. We get our cues from the body and if something is painful it need not be done. We can find other creative ways to practice. Thanks Kristine for always being so spot on and for being such a wise teacher.
Thank you diana and thank you for being so real and helping people, despite your chronic pain. So many people have pain and it’s important that yoga teachers can relate to them. so thank you!