5 Tips for Getting Into Full Lotus
Many of us see value in full lotus. “Will I be able to meditate for hours on end, or have super powers?” The truth is YES…If you cultivate the mind and soul underneath the bodily appearance of full lotus. Here are some tips to get bendy in mind and body.
Our flexibility changes day to day, and being in tune with our bodies, and their limits on a particular day, is the most important part of asana for us yoga practitioners. If we don’t have the hip openness and strength that day, it may just be best for our knee joint and ligaments to find our edge for the day and back off.
2. Full Lotus doesn’t make you a better yogi
Patanjali only makes three comments on asana; with the first being that it should be “steady and comfortable”. It may look sweet in Yoga Journal, or when you find your friend who has never done yoga can hop into lotus.
But then we must come back to remembering that asana isn’t about getting a pose to look just “right”, but to make it indulgent and freeing in our bodies, rather than stiff and forced. The practice of yoga really opens us up off the mat as well. This makes the practice of life freeing, when we know that we can back off, rather than force situations and relationships.
3. Knee health
Sickle-ing of the foot, is the grim reaper for your knees. By keeping the ankle neutral, you are able to keep the tiny ligaments surrounding the knee happy, and healthy. This translates to flexing the foot up while placing the foot.
Double Pigeon is a great pose for opening up the outer hips, and getting movement in the psoas or hip flexor muscles. Sit cross-legged and reach for the shin farthest from you. Grab the inside of the shin (calf and heel). Lift the knee, then the flexed foot, up on top of your other shin. This should resemble two fire logs stacked on top of each other, with heel and knee lining up on both sides. If there is discomfort in the knee, or to release, carefully lift the knee first, with the foot still flexed, and lift the foot off the knee and place on the ground.
Sit with your legs wide apart. Lift the flesh out from behind you, and engage the quadriceps muscles to lift the knee caps. Begin on your right leg. Start at the groin, making your way down to the knee, use your hands to manually spin your thigh internally, so your kneecaps face up or forward, towards the front of the room. Repeat on the second side. Elongate through the spine, and lean the chest forward into this luxurious stretch.
Now you. Do you have any tips as to how you got into full lotus? It doesn’t mater how silly. What helped you in body or mind, to get to the point where there was no knee tension, and your hips felt open enough, and your mind stilled? Truth moment: I still can’t get into lotus without knee discomfort. Everyday is another day closer, as I enjoy the journey of opening up into my full lotus.
Discipline & Surrender: The Art of Down Dog
I’m a yoga teacher who’s been teaching for over 20 years and doing down dog every day. So technically I can do the pose, but because of a pinched nerve in my elbow I’ve developed a problem akin to tennis elbow and it hurts like hell.
For years I’ve heard one student after another complain about down dog. They tell me it’s too hard, it’s boring and it sometimes hurts the hands and the feet. I would remind them about limitation, relaxing and letting go. “Breathe,” I would say.
I love down dog. It reminds me to surrender every part of my body to the pose. It requires discipline to first get into the pose and then a sense of surrender to maintain it. I remind my students that such is down dog, such is life. It takes discipline to stick to your goals and surrender to maintain them.
What I love about down dog is that it’s a one-for-all pose, meaning that it requires the integration of the whole body. It stretches the muscles of the back of the legs, shoulders, the belly and the back. It strengthens the arms, relieves neck tension and offers some of the benefits of inverted poses, such as cleaning the internal organs and relieving tension. It can be done for a warm up or a cool down.
Patanjali, who organized the knowledge of yoga into The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, understood down dog. His book compiles 196 sutras that are essentially a road map for life. The second sutra, if fully understood, is enough to understand yoga. The rest of the sutras only serve to explain. Basically the second sutra is about the modification of the mind or the balance between the two qualities of abhyasa and variragya or “discipline” and “surrender.” This is down dog.
These two qualities form the foundation of yoga. It’s the balancing and the blending of the two opposing forces of discipline (practice) and surrender (letting go) that create harmony. It’s precisely the physical discipline of moving into down dog and the letting go so as to maintain it: that is why I love down dog, and why I was so disappointed when my body would no longer allow me to embrace the pose.
Not to be one to give up, I saw my doctor who sent me to a physical therapist. For six weeks I worked to relieve the pain in my elbow so that I could return to the mat. It also took discipline to faithfully make time to see the physical therapist three times a week. It took a sense of surrender to let go and remain unattached to the outcome of my therapy. My focus was to establish that sense of balance between abhyasa and variragya.
This process of therapy was a discovery that called upon me to transcend my ego. I’ve always prided myself on being able to easily slip in and out of down dog. My body has always been strong, flexible and resilient. Now my body was tired and worn, and I had to let go of my self-imposed boundaries and admit that I too had my limitations. I’m the yoga teacher and I cannot do a down dog?! But like all things in life, this too shall pass. Everything changes. With time and a little rest my elbow improved, and before I knew it, I was back on the mat in down dog with my students.
But something changed. I no longer take for granted that my body will always respond with the discipline I impose. Sometimes we need to pull back and surrender to the flow of life, even if that flow is one that is not so pleasant. As I like to remind my students, everything has an element of good. We just need to surrender to it and quietly learn to accept. In that, we will discover a sense of discipline and the ability to surrender; and if truly understood, this is enough to understand yoga. The resting of my elbow, like the remaining sutras, simply served to instill in me the importance of balance and the modification of the mind.