The quintessential yoga posture is lotus pose, or padmasana. We see grand images of yogis in lotus on book covers and in magazines, but the reality is that few of us can successfully do this posture. Why is that?
There are several contributing factors. Namely, our cultural habits and how we store stress in our bodies. Most of us spend a large portion of our days sitting in chairs in a position that creates tightness in our hips, hamstrings, and external rotators of the legs. It's a recipe for disaster in regards to the kind of flexibility needed in our hips to sit comfortably - even for a short time in lotus pose.
What we hold in our bodies as tightness translates into what we hold in our bodies as energetic stress and tension. For example, most of us recognize that someone with a hunched upper back has more than just shoulder and chest tightness, they also may have depression, sadness or fear. Other portions of the body store specific kinds of energetic tension that are exhibited as tightness and inflexibility.
Energetically speaking, our hips are where we store the emotional stress caused by a lack of creativity, difficult intimate relationships and the coinciding emotional roller-coasters. The hips are the energetic location of the second chakra, which is ruled by emotions, creativity and intimacy. Life stressors in these areas become lodged in the hips, resulting in difficulty opening up - both literally and metaphorically.
The ability to sit in lotus pose represents, metaphorically the ability to remain open, available and in touch with the creative aspect of ourselves. Whether or not we physically are ever actually able to achieve this position, the work required to open the hips can have a deep effect not only on our physical bodies (alleviating low back pain and sciatica, for instance), but also on our emotional bodies. Because our physical and energetic bodies are interconnected, what we do to one will be inherently reflected in the other. It's a win-win for us as a whole.
In order to begin addressing the hips and working our way toward lotus, we need to work on postures that help to deeply open the hips on an external rotation. Some examples of good postures for this work are prasarita padottanasana (standing wide leg forward bend), agnistambasana (ankle-to-knee pose), baddha konasana (bound angle pose) and upavista konasana (supine wide-legged forward bend). There are others of course, but focusing on these will help to open the hips in preparation for lotus pose.
If these postures, or ones like them are already a challenge, then this is actually an indication that this would be a great place to spend some time working in our yoga practice.
When we practice these hip openers, we aim to be attentive to the relationship of the pelvis to the femur, or thigh bone. For example, as the pelvis drops forward along with the torso in prasarita padottanasana, we are consciously externally rotating the thigh bone in opposition. This helps to create the deep opening of the hips that may eventually lead to success in lotus.
This also helps to facilitate the deep opening of tissues that can free the stored energetic and emotional tension locked within the hips. As we change the physical structure of the area of the second chakra, we also change its energetic structure which will then be reflected in our attitudes and behavior around creativity, intimacy and emotions.
So the concept of the lotus is far bigger than just "achieving" the posture itself. It's a transformational journey that can help to open - or blossom- other areas of our life. Beyond alleviating back pain or sciatica, working toward this pose can help to alleviate emotional stress and tension giving us a little more freedom to move more successfully throughout our lives.