Sitting in Padmasana for meditation, and article byDavid Keil
Sitting for meditation
The basic goal of all the asana practice is finding and maintaining acomfortable padmasana (lotus pose) for meditation. There are a few keyanatomical components and principles to finding this comfort. Thefoundation of the pose is the crossing of the legs and “sit bones”comfortably on the floor. With a firm foundation we find an upwardenergy and lift in the spine, which eventually becomes effortless.
Finding your padmasana, much less a comfortable one is a difficulty formany people who practice yoga and meditation. It is difficult to quietthe mind when the knee, hips, back or neck are uncomfortable. Why is itso difficult? What is it that we’re actually doing to our hips, kneesand back anyway? What can I do to prepare my body for practices thatrequire this posture?
All questions we’ve asked our teachers or ourselves from time to time.You must understand that yoga (coming from India) practically assumesthat one can do lotus. On my trips to India I’ve observed young and oldregularly sitting on the floor in lotus, half lotus or squatting. Thislends itself to knees and hips that are ready and available for beingcrossed fully. Yoga is from a different place. On the contrary are ourchairs, desks, cars and our “modern” culture that discourage somethingas simple as sitting on the floor.
So, what to do? By understanding the basic function of a couple ofjoints you may be able to save yourself some pain in the leg as well asthe uh… back. We’ll hopefully get to do a more focused hip and kneearticle later on but for the moment let’s look at some basics aroundthese joints.
There are three main joints in the leg, the ankle, knee and hip. Theyfunction together and movement at one often requires movement atanother. The knee is at the center of this interconnected chain andtherefore regulates the function of the leg as a whole. If the hip orankles are tight, the force that is created in the leg often finds itsway to the knee possibly leading to meniscus tears, or general pain andachiness. We can also use the functioning of the knee to help us focusand isolate the other joints, particularly the hip in lotus.
From dandasana bring your hands together in front of you with palmsopen and facing upward. Let your leg lift leg and place your foot/ankleinto the palm of your hands (lower your hands and move them forward ifneeded). Now, relax your hip joint and allow your knee to slowly lower.A very important action happens as you do this, and that action is anoutward or external rotation of your lower leg (shin/calf), which meansyour upper leg (thigh) has rotated outward as well. You may even needto exaggerate this action if you feel a pinching on the inside oroutside of your knee by lifting your calf muscles out of the way as youflex (bend) your knee. Draw your heel towards your navel and take halflotus.
In any lotus type position, if you feel an excessive amount of pinchingor pain simply lift your knee up toward the ceiling and you’ll find thepain disappears. This is indicative of the force created by a tight hipjoint being relieved.
- Developmental poses
- Baddha konasana
It may take some time to create a stable base for the spine to sit onin a lotus position. All seated poses rely on the “sit-bones” forfoundation. These large boney areas are actually called the ischialtuberosities and are the inferior (lower) and posterior (back) part ofthe pelvis. The pelvic bowl has a major influence on the spine above itas it is connected to the sacrum (via the sacroiliac joint), which isbase of the spine.
The pelvis is doing an anterior tilt when the pubic bone in the frontheads down toward the floor. The pelvis is doing a posterior tilt whenthe pubic bone comes upward toward the ribs. If the hip joint andassociated hamstring muscles on the back of the thigh are tight, whenwe sit on the floor our pelvis is pulled into a posterior tilt. If thehamstrings are looser then we find an anterior tilt or a neutralposition coming more easily.
The tilts of the pelvis are also associated with the curve in our lowerback (lumbar spine). An anterior tilt increases or exaggerates thiscurve in the lumbar and a posterior tilt reduces the curve in thelumbar spine. Over a long period of time the removal of this curve canbe detrimental to the integrity of the entire spine and particularly tothose very important and needed discs in the lumbar vertebrae which arethe most common to dysfunction. Sitting in a car, office seat, orregular chair almost always removes the lumbar curve from our spine andis associated with a posterior tilt. Check yours now and see foryourself.
The effect of the loss of curve in the lumbar reduces the integrity andstamina of the muscle of the back and will affect the spine above. Ifin a seated position your pelvis is free to tilt forward in an anteriortilt, the lumbar curve is present you’ll find a natural and comfortableenergy that helps the rest of the spine above be comfortable for alonger sitting period. This is the reason for a small blanket orbolster under our sit-bones for meditation.
All asanas require a strong and stable foundation. Padmasana startswith the sit-bones on the floor and the legs comfortably crossed. Withthis foundation the spine comes to its natural alignment more easilyand helps increase comfort as well as the movement of prana through anice and easy breath. Take some time in the evening to do what I referto as “homework” poses. Try virasana, baddha konsana, and a nice deepsquat.
With the right preparation and some regularity of practice of theaforementioned “homework” poses you’ll find more openness in the jointsof the leg, a comfortable lotus and the ability to sit for much longerwith more comfort for the ultimate yoga practice, meditation!
©David Keil 2005