First published in The Current
Champlain College’s Student Newspaper.
The majority of my yoga career has been spent building upper body strength so I can flip my way easily and gracefully into arm balances. Eight-angle pose was no big deal. Forearm stand took a year’s worth of off and on practice, but I finally got the hang of balancing my body. My once bent and wobbly crow grew up and has taken flight to somewhere warm, like Florida. But I have to admit, I’m structurally made for arm balances. I have broad, base building shoulders and arms that bulk up easily. Dabbling in the delightful world of inversions was really swimming around in the comforting, shallow-end of my yoga pool. Recently, I’ve started swimming out to where my toes no longer touch to tread water and tango with on bad ass asana: padmasana.
Known in English as Lotus (or “Indian sitting”, which I’m sure isn’t terribly PC), padmasana is a posture synonymous with yoga. The image of a serene-being seated with their legs folded up like a delicious soft pretzel is what comes to the minds of many a non-yogi. Ironically, Lotus is not that simple. For starters, our sedentary western lives have tightened up our hips to an unimaginable degree. And, unlike our Indian friends, we did not grow up sitting in this fashion. Sometimes our exercise endeavors tighten up our hips as well due to repetitive motion; my teacher is fond of saying, “Yoga is good for your running, but running is not good for your yoga.”
Some people are genetically blessed with the ability to flip into this deceptively elusive pose. I know yoga-envy is the wrong, wrong, wrong, radioactive-greenness that can lead to injury, but I can’t help feeling it when I look around the room of lithe men and women gently settling into the posture and lifting themselves. Don’t even get me started on how, in shoulder stand, you can maneuver your way into Lotus and pull your knees into your chest, creating a little egg shape with your body. Oh, how I long to tackle forearm stand, while my legs are in a pretzel so fierce Auntie Anne would just have to add it to her food court menu.
Sadly, my Lotus is stuck in an awkward, pre-pubescent phase. My left hip is incredibly open and my foot can nestle into the crease of my right hip easily. My right hip is stubborn and can barely make it up to the left hip. You can try to finagle your way in, but finagling and Lotus go together like cats and dogs. When your hip has done all the rotating it can your knee will lock up. When that happens you can try to manipulate your ankle and “cheat” yourself a little further, but it is only putting undue stress on the delicate knee. Push too hard and say bye, bye to your meniscus. Who would have thought such an innocent looking pose could cause such stress, envy, and possible injury. The only way to move forward is with patience, like, years worth of patience.
Not only do our hips carry the wear and tear of time, but people (especially ladies) can lug around a huge amount of emotionally baggage in that spot. One of the best things you can do to open the hips is sit in wide angle pose. In a seated position, spread your legs as far as your feel comfortable. Keyword: comfortable. You’ll be hanging out in this posture for quite some time, so no need to pretend you are auditioning for Cirque Du Soleil! Make sure to keep your back straight and start leaning on forward. You might need to keep your hands on the ground to support yourself. It’s important to watch out for two things here. Be wary of earthquake shaking legs. Major muscle spasmimg is a sign that you’re pushing your body to a point where you have started to release adrenaline (when you are getting a good stretch you’re releasing feel-good endorphins) and approaching a threshold where tears can happen. Bring your legs closer together if this happens and proceed again. The other thing to be aware of is where your knees are at. The kneecaps should be facing up towards the ceiling and not rolling in. If they are, recruit your leg muscles and gentle activate your hips to point them back up. If you are new to this posture start out gently a few nights a week. It’s okay if you can only hold it for a minute. If you have been practicing yoga for a bit longer, try holding the pose until your body starts whispering “hey, hey now!” This will allow you to push yourself, and you may feel a little sore the next day, but you won’t injure your body. It’s also a great activity that can be done while reading those long CORE assignments, watching T.V, or Facebook stalking your peers.
Again, this takes time. You might notice significant gains after a month. You might plateau and not see a difference for what feels like ages. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Lotus may never be something you achieve, and that’s okay too. Your body is slowly, slowly starting to undo the tightness that has accumulated which means it can take years. It’s a lesson in patience, which I can safely say us instant-gratification-seeking Americans could use.
My teachers have always said that our physical yoga practice meets us where we are, and where we are is exactly where we need to be. Sometimes we aren’t ready for a pose, for whatever the reason. Perhaps our muscles aren’t prepared, or our bones aren’t strong enough, or we have a mental block. I can agree. As a first year yoga practitioner I had no business being in forearm stand. I had the brute strength, yes, but not the stability in the shoulders, understanding of gaze, or abdominal control. I would have probably hurt myself. Instead, I paid my dues in upper-body building Chaturanga (low plank) and gritted my way through ab-strengthening navasana (boat pose). I earned my right to forearm-stand and scratch it off my pain-in-my-asana list! Yes, the outro is cheesy, but I’m hopeful that someday my Lotus will push up through the muck and bloom.