Asana Saturday: Working Towards Lotus

Remember how a couple of months ago I confessed the potentially embarrassing fact that despite more than a decade of yoga practice, I am most decidedly not the world’s most flexible yogi?  Well, today’s asana discussion whole heartedly supports that truth.  I love the beauty and simplicity of Padmasana, or Lotus Pose.  I think it is graceful in its stillness and I do believe it is an ideal vehicle for mediation.  This is perhaps why I often find myself frustrated that I cannot for the life of me achieve full Lotus.

There are several reasons for my Lotus-less-ness.  First and foremost, I am an endurance athlete, focusing mostly on running and biking, neither of which is good for hip flexor mobility.  Additionally, running can reduce knee and foot flexibility, both of which are crucial for full Lotus.  Secondly, while I have absolutely no evidence to back this up, I think I am at a disadvantage due to my height.  At nearly six feet tall, I have a lot of legs to toss around.  Finally, and most importantly, I have been stuck at half Lotus for so long that I’ve become somewhat complacent and have not given achieving full Lotus the devotion it needs.  Well, enough of that.  I’ve recently made great strides in my meditation practice, and I’d love a full Lotus to go along with it.

However, all this thinking about Padmasana led me to wonder: why Lotus pose anyway?  Why is Lotus so quintessentially yogic, and why is it the ideal asana for meditation?  I did a bit of research, and while most websites simply spouted the same blanket information about meditative practice and benefits during pranayama, a couple of sites had some truly interesting information.

According to yogameditation.com, Padmasana is key for meditation because it ideally aligns the body for effortless sitting.  In order to avoid restlessness and muscular tension, the nervous system must flow through the body unimpeded.  The “undisturbed position of the spine in Padmasana is important in order for the nerve impulses [and the associated cerebrospinal fluid] to flow freely during meditation” (yogameditation.com).  This open, flowing position of the spine also allows for psychic energy to run through the body unchecked, adding to the harmonious mental and spiritual effects of meditation.

The website syvum.com states that Padmasana can reduce excess body fat in the abdominal region.  This claim is backed by yogameditation.com, which states that the cross-legged position of Lotus redirects blood flow to the abdominals, which is beneficial for the digestive organs.  Syvum.com also states that practicing Lotus can help people suffering from insomnia and asthma.

As awesome as the physical benefits of Padmasana may be, Erich Shiffman, the author of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness (a great yoga primer), reminds us that “sitting in Lotus is not the important point. What’s important is the knowledge you gain in terms of how to open your body and keep it opened. The yoga lies in how sensitively you nudge your edges and tight areas toward greater openness. The postures are the tool you use for this.”  So as I work towards full Lotus, it will be important to remember to be kind to myself, to use Padmasana as a tool for openness and acceptance, and to discover that more often than not, the path and the practice are more important than the achievement or destination.

For the next couple of weeks I will be working on (and blogging about) preparatory poses for Padmasana.  Please feel free to follow along and share your progress too!  Maybe we’ll all reach full Lotus together.

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Doing more with less

Perhaps it’s the economy, or maybe it’s backlash from our culture’s over the top materialism, but minimalism has been strangely hip for the past couple of years. Ironically, there is a plethora of websites dedicated to all things minimalist (which again, smells subtly of irony), and there are more minislism blogs than you can shake a stick at. One blog even has a list if the top ten minislist blogs of 2011. Needless to say, minimalism is cool, which makes it decidedly uncool to people who profess to be cool, or to those who were minimalist before the boom.

Now, I cannot rightfully claim to be a minimalist in any sense of the word, but after a month of moving, reorganizing, and downsizing, I see the appeal. It’s the same reason I’m drawn to yoga: when it all comes down to it, you really don’t need special clothes or fancy equipment (although stretchy pants and a mat are definite bonuses). All you need is time, dedication, and a little knowledge of the asanas (or a solid yoga DVD). In my other athletic life, I compete in triathlons, which are all equipment, all the time. Yoga provides a solace of simplicity unavailable in other activities and lifestyles, which leads a girl to wonder how much “stuff” we really need.

Which leads me to the point of this post. I normally don’t do the whole resolution thing, but as we spent the last months of 2011 hauling junk from one house to the next, I think a resolution is in order. So here it goes: for each day of 2012, I am going to throw away or donate one non-trash item. This resolution is not a massive overhaul (I’m not going minimalist overnight or anything) which makes it all the more likely that I will succeed. It’s also an immediately noticeable resolution; each day, something is going out the door, making space for more positive energy in the house. Finally, this resolution just feels right: it feels simple, and freeing, and yogic. While others may be striving for more, I will be striving to be happier with less.

Here’s to a simpler, happier 2012.