Lotus position or Padmasana is a cross-legged sitting asana originating in meditative practices of ancient India, in which each foot is placed on the opposite thigh.
The lotus position is an ancient asana, predating hatha yoga, and is commonly used for meditation, in the Yoga, Hindu, Tantra, Jain, and Buddhist contemplative traditions.
Variations include half-lotus, bound lotus, and psychic union pose. Advanced variations of several other asanas including yoga headstand have the legs in lotus or half lotus.
Etymology and origins
The name Padmasana is from the Sanskrit Padma, “lotus” and, Āsana, “posture” or “seat“. The sacred lotus symbolizes growth towards perfection and enlightenment as it is rooted in the mud at the bottom of the pond, but rises to shine as a beautiful flower in the sunlight above the water.
The pose is ancient, being one of the first asanas to be named, for example in the 8th century Patanjalayogashastravivarana. A figure seated in lotus position on a lotus flower is shown on dinar coins of Chandragupta II, who reigned c. 380–c. 415 AD.
The first tantric text to discuss posture (Āsana), the 6th-10th century Nisvasattvasamhita Nayasutra (4.11-17, 4.104-106), directs the meditator and “user of mantras” to sit in lotus or a similar posture. The 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that the pose destroys all diseases and that a yogin in the pose who retains the air breathed in through the Nadi channels attains liberation.
In Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, the lotus position is also called the “vajra position“.
From sitting cross-legged on the floor in Sukhasana, one foot is placed on top of the opposite thigh with its sole facing upward and heel close to the abdomen. The other foot is then placed on the opposite thigh as symmetrically as possible.
The pose requires “very open hips“. It can be modified using a support such as a cushion or blanket; by sitting on its forward edge, the pelvis is tilted forward.
In half-lotus, (Ardha Padmasana), one leg is bent and resting on the ground, the other leg is bent with the foot in the lotus position. It is an easier meditation position than full lotus.
Inbound lotus, (Baddha Padmasana), the practitioner sits in full lotus, and each hand reaches around the back to grasp the opposite foot.
For psychic union pose, (Yogamudrasana), the practitioner bends forward in full lotus, bringing the forehead as close to the floor as possible. The pose is both an asana and a mudra; easier variants begin from Ardha Padmasana or Sukhasana.
In other asanas
Variations of several other asanas such as Sirsasana (yoga headstand), Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), Simhasana (lion pose), Matsyasana (fish pose), and Gorakshasana (cowherd pose) have the legs in lotus.
Asanas such as Vatayanasana (horse pose) and advanced forms of Ardha Matsyendrasana (half lord of the fishes pose) have one leg as in half lotus.
B. K. S. Iyengar notes that people unused to sitting on the floor will initially feel “excruciating” pain in the knees, but that this subsides with practice until the pose becomes relaxing, both restful and alert and hence ideal for pranayama.
Twentieth-century advocates of some schools of yoga, such as Iyengar, made claims for the effects of yoga on specific organs, without adducing any evidence. Iyengar claimed that Padmasana encourages blood circulation in the abdomen and lumbar region, toning the spine and abdominal organs.
Lotus is one of the yoga poses that most commonly cause injury. Attempts to force the legs into lotus pose can injure the knees by squeezing and damaging the medial meniscus cartilage; this is painful and takes a long time to heal. The hip joints must rotate outwards freely approximately 115 degrees to permit full lotus.
Students who cannot achieve this much hip rotation may try to compensate by bending the knee joint sideways, risking injury. Safer alternatives include Baddha Konasana (cobbler’s pose), provided the knees are not pushed down. The thighs can be encouraged to rotate using hand pressure or a strap.
- In Buddhism, statues of the founder, Siddharta Gautama, often depict him seated in the lotus position and enthroned on a lotus flower.
- In Hinduism, statues often depict gods, especially Shiva, meditating in Padmasana.
- In Jainism, a Tirthankara is often represented seated in Lotus posture.