In most Asian countries people sit on the floor for most of their daily tasks. All their meals and socialising as well as their general work is still done mainly on the ground. This means that their hips are open and their spines are able to move independently from their hips, this also requires having great strength in the legs and core to be able to get up and down from such high distances with ease, hence Padmasana is a basic pose for many Asian people.
All these elements are really important to able to get into a seated lotus position. In the West our chair-culture has prevented us from developing these movements and openings. So when we start to practice yoga, just sitting on the floor is our biggest practice.
Moving the spine in different leg positions allows the softening to happen. The ideal way to get into any pose is to move into it without any assistance. By focusing on active movements we develop the muscle intelligence without having to force any joint into a position that might not be ready. In Padmasana so much care needs to be taken around the knee area, but both the hip and ankle joints can also be compromised if these areas are also too stiff.
Just like we cross our arms easily, our legs should be able to move just as gracefully. One of the easier ways to practice lotus is in a headstand where gravity works in our favour. But to do this, first our headstand needs to be proficient so do take care.
So in your normal practice focus on active movements with the usual standing hip opening poses (forward bends, lunges, trikonasana variations, warrior variations, gadjastan variations) as well as moving actively (no hands) into sitting poses.
Make sure to actively externally rotate the hip that should be externally rotated in those postures. Also make sure to remain active in the pose so as not to not sink into hips. Use principles of activating muscles while in lengthened positions.
We can see how a more natural bodied person, Ramali can come into a pose like Padmasana (lotus) with ease and without hands.
Ramali takes her legs into position in two very smooth movements. This is what we are looking for in our practice.While Sonja can do this first thing in the morning, with no preceding warm ups or movements, as we can see in the video she still has a slight ‘sawing’ action to get there. It’s all a practice.
This article was not written to dishearten. But for us to think about the truth and reality of what our body is able to do of its own accord.
Based on ideas of active movements and trying not to force your body into position we encourage students to try to move their legs into postures using just their legs. This brings much more body awareness ~ play around with it when you are next on the mat!
Happy and safe practicing.