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.
Please check out my upcoming live, online Chair Yoga for Brain Health Training. September 10, 24, and October 8, 9:30 am to 1:30 pm.
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