Here is a pose that has much to teach us and one that I took out of my practice for years. After a knee injury, I swore off padmasana and all of its variants because approaching it brought about a ton of sensation and fear. Then a friend was talking about lotus pose and I knee-jerk interjected, like I had said a hundred other times (because I had), “oh, I don’t do lotus pose” and swiftly rattled off all my reasons. I did not realize how much of a story I had created around this pose and really, what a story I had about my knee in general. My friend saw right through it and asked me if what I was feeling was actually pain, or was I just feeling…something. Ding, ding. That was so it for me. He suggested I approach sensation with presence and breath instead of fear. (face palm emoji)
This pose, like many of the quiet seated postures can offer us some major lessons:
How many times in life do we have a fear-based story that we are invested in? And how often does that story make us feel smart & responsible for staying on the sidelines? Smart excuses are the insidious ones.
This is a big one. In no way am I suggesting pushing through pain in order to achieve some ideal version of a pose. What would be the point of that and how could the outcome ever be worth it? Please do not read this and take it as a big sign from the universe to ignore pain and “uplevel your practice” by contorting your body into shapes past your threshold. What I am saying, is that we need to cultivate viveka (discrimination) to discern the difference, in this case, between uncomfortable sensation and pain (the body’s signal that something is a threat).
*This is subtle and it is made even more complicated than it already sounds because pain and pleasure exist on a continuum and in some cases intersect. Think about the sensation of getting a tender knot out. It hurts, but hurts good as it dissolves. Well, for some people, stretching produces a pleasurable sensation while for others; even a beneficial healthy amount of stretch to the tissue is painful.
This is partially because we do not have pain receptors in our muscles. We have nerves that perceive extreme changes. Then the brain uses its best judgement to estimate how much of a threat that change is presenting, in temperature, pressure, etc. If we are asking the body to do something different then it is used to (like me asking my femur after years of not doing it to externally rotate in the hip joint), it may (as it did for me) feel quite intense. After a good amount of time having the sensations that come with that type of movement wrapped up in fear, it makes sense that my nervous system responded in the fight/flight mode each and every time I moved my body in that direction.
There is no right answer other than to try your best and to know thyself. Get safely out of your comfort zone enough (by moving your body often and in new ways) to become acquainted with which situations make you want to fidget & try to stay even just a little longer than you want to. See what happens. The more you do that, the more you will be able to discern the difference between something that is like it, safely uncomfortable, or different, a message from the body to back off. It does not serve us though to chase just the good feelings.
Side note for teachers: I am really grateful to my friend for saying what he did because I don’t know that I could have counted on any other teacher to say the same. I am happy that the communities I teach and practice in are not reckless and value alignment based teaching. That said, maybe because of this, we veer on the side of avoidance because we don’t want to hurt anyone. When making recommendations for another person's body, since we teachers can’t feel for you and discern the difference I’m talking about, I think veering on the side of caution is a good thing. It is the right thing. For our own practices though (and with regard to students we have the ability to work more intimately with) is there a balance to be found? I think there is and I think it is worth it because a lifetime of avoiding a whole pose family or anything that does not feel juicy, is not the path of yoga, as I understand it. In the right context, I think there is good reason for the famous BKS Iyengar quote “the pose begins when you want to leave it.”
The point about pain being the brain’s best guess can’t really be understood without this humility piece. For lack of any other way of saying this so forgive the cliché, yoga is about the journey, not the destination. Each pose is an opportunity to practice being okay with not doing the “full” pose. That is an important lesson in yoga, softening the attachment to the result.
If we are in a full public class and the teacher says to do something that is not right for us, why may we be inclined to do it anyway? We don't want to stand out as not being able to do something that everyone else seemingly can.... We figure it's not a big deal, it will be over quick and sacrifice our own well-being instead of setting a boundary around what we need.... There’s an endless number of reasons we may be so inclined and that’s really the work: slowing down enough to see how the mind is dictating our actions in life. It is about habit curiosity so we can make more mindful, aligned actions.
My journey to padmasana:
Once I decided to work towards padmasana, I did not actually do the pose for months. I got my body used to what lotus requires with poses that ask my body to move similar ways. I started all the way back at a simple cross-legged seat and became patiently dedicated to working consistently in a desired direction. No matter what it looks like day-to-day (which is not linear by the way), I set my intention to release my old story and explore what the this pose has to teach me.
If you are interested in safely incorporating your own unique version of lotus (no two flowers are the same) and/or other seated postures into your practice, I will be teaching just this LIVE at Onyx Yoga Studio: June 7, 2019 at 1:30 PM.