Yin Yoga for Lotus Hips
By Melanie Cooper
Padmasana or Lotus can be one of the most challenging and frustrating poses for a yoga practitioner. The ankles, knees and hip joints all have to be mobile and the muscles in the legs and the hip girdle have to be flexible. It is all too common for the knee to be injured trying to put the body in lotus before it is ready, so first a word of caution: take your time. There is no rush and it really doesn’t matter if you never ‘get’ Padmasana. But if you would like to work your lotus hips here is my advice:
Yin yoga is a way of opening the body with passive stretches held for a prolonged period of time. If practiced correctly it is a very sure and safe way to work on increased flexibility. Here are the principles of yin yoga:
Not Warmed up: The asanas should be done when the body is not warmed up. When the body is warm the muscle will stretch, when it is cold it is easier to access the connective tissue.
Stillness: There should be stillness within the posture. Movement engages the muscles and the aim is to keep the muscle out of the equation and work on the connective tissue. If there is strong discomfort and a need to move then obviously move, but keep the movement to a minimum.
How Long: The postures should be held for a minimum of 1 minute and a maximum of 20. They are often held for 5 minutes.
Edge: As with any asana work you go to your edge where you feel a comfortable stretch and no further. Because the postures are held for so long it is best to start away from the edge so the posture can be held for 5 minutes without moving. This is a matter of personal experimentation.
Safe Stretching: As with all asana, sensations in your body and your intuition will tell you what is a safe stretch.
- A sharp pain, especially in the knees or spine, is the body saying NO
- An electrical sensation or fizzing is the body saying ENOUGH STOP.
- If the sensation continues when you have finished the asana then you probably did too much so back off next time.
- Know the difference between muscles stretching and bone-on-bone contact. There will come a point in any stretch where you reach the limit for your body. A point when you are no longer stretching muscles but just pressing bone on bone. It is important that if you have reached your natural limit in a stretch that you accept it and stop.
- A dull ache in the middle of the muscle is usually ok.
- Tune into what is happening to work out what is a safe stretch for you.
What to do: When you are in the posture it is a good time to work on awareness and focus and patience. It is also a good time to meditate or do energy awareness exercises.
Alignment: In passive postures, there is a need for alignment but it is much softer then in a dynamic practice. Allow the muscles to relax so there is the minimum amount of engagement needed to stay in the posture.
Bandhas: In passive stretching don’t use bandhas.
Breath: use a very gentle subtle ujjayi breath.
For lotus hips there are five major groups of muscles that need to be open and flexible.
- The hamstrings
- The quadriceps
- The adductors
- The abductors
- The deep lateral rotators in the hips
Exactly which muscle group needs to be stretched will be different for each person. The way to find out is to try all the stretches and see which ones feel the most intense.
THE HAMSTRINGS (the back of the legs)
This posture can be practiced as a passive posture and held for at least five minutes. The main difference to the posture in a more dynamic form of yoga is that the muscles in the legs are not engaged so strongly. Most students need a bolster to support the upper body. Many will be helped by sitting on a block.
THE QUADRICEPS (the front of the legs)
This is one of the most effective stretches for opening the front of the legs.
For some people this is a very challenging pose and most people need a block or 2 or 3 under the hips. If it is too much to fold both legs back together then fold one leg at a time. The toes should point directly behind and be next to the body. The knees can come apart. If the student is a natural “back bender” then the knees will stay closer together. If their tendency is for forward bending or open hips then the knees will tend to come apart. The knees should be allowed to find their natural comfortable position. If the knees are lifting off the floor, then place a bolster under the back. Now lie back as far as comfortable. Use as many cushions and blocks as you need.
THE ADDUCTORS (the inside of the legs)
Supta Baddha Konasana
Lie with a bolster under the spine. Make sure the head is supported. Bring the soles of the feet together and knees out to the side. Taking the arms over the head adds a nice shoulder stretch.
If there is strong sensation in the knees or hips, prop them up on bolsters.
THE ABDUCTORS (the outside of the legs)
Fold the right leg over the left leg and bring the foot as far around the side of the hips as comfortable. If possible, fold up the left leg and bring the foot as far round the hips as comfortable. Eventually the feet may be on either side of the hips. Fold forward.
Many students will benefit from sitting on blocks to avoid straining the sensitive lower back area. If the pose is challenging one leg at a time can be more comfortable.
DEEP LATERAL ROTATORS OF THE HIPS (muscles in the butt)
Eye of the Needle
Sit with your back against a wall, this will stop sinking in the lower back. Bend up the left knee. Place the right ankle on the left thigh. The closer you draw the left foot towards you, the more intense the stretch.
Either cross the legs or place one foot over the other knee. If possible place the heels be under the knees. Make sure the ankle is in a neutral position.
If there is pain in the ankle, knee or hip support the leg with a block or bolster
Then fold forwards
From down dog step the right foot forward so the foot is next to the left hand and the knee is just beyond the right wrist. Lie the shin on the floor parallel to the hips, so long as there is no pain in the knee keep the shin in this position and don’t let the foot slide down towards the hips. Now lower the hips down towards the floor as far as it is comfortable.
The stretch should be felt in the hip not in the knee.
Engaging the front feet this brings more stability into that knee.
Many students will require the hips to be propped up on a block or cushions to keep the hips parallel to the floor and the back leg straight out behind.
To intensify the stretch, fold forwards.
The body is very complicated and everyone is different. It can be difficult to work out what exactly is causing a restriction, especially in a complicated posture like padmasana. If you try all the stretches in this sequence you will feel which muscle groups you need to stretch! These are the poses you will probably want to avoid! But they are the poses that will ultimately give you the biggest rewards. Practice this sequence regualry, be gentle with your body and aware of differences between safe stretching and over-doing it… And lotus hips could possibly be yours! And if not you will learn about your body and hopefully enjoy the process….
Melanie Cooper has been teaching yoga for 16 years, and training yoga teachers for eight years. She divides her time between London and Goa, practicing and teaching yoga and sometimes dancing on the beach. She currently runs the morning ashtanga self practice at The Life Centre in Islington and runs an annual teacher training at Brahmani Yoga in Goa and at Zolder Studio in North London, She has practiced at Ashtanga Yoga London for many years, and has also studied with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Melanie lives in North London.
Melanie also has her own magazine style page here:
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