I received some queries about the importance of Padmasana and if it was worth the effort. The answer is yes and I explain exactly why and what the reward can be. But it also comes with a warning. Never let your legs go numb because as you will read, doing so gave me a tear to a meniscus and for a while a lot of discomfort. If you practice prudently though and look at lotus posture as a long term project it is second to none.
This is an excerpt from my 2012 book Pranayama The Breath of Yoga. The numbers refer to references from shastra, which are listed below.
“About asana, Patanjali says that it needs to have the dual qualities of firmness and lightness.309 In it, effort ceases and meditation on infinity occurs,310 and one is beyond the assault of duality.311 Here Patanjali puts the bar very high. Although he does not explicitly say so, there is only one posture that fits his description and that is Padmasana (lotus posture), once it is mastered. Sitting on a chair, for example, tends to make the mind dull and heavy as the gravitational force pulls us down, whereas in Padmasana the spine is perfectly aligned against gravity. This alignment lifts the spine and brain upwards, producing lightness. Importantly in Padmasana, the soles of the feet and palms are turned upwards, receiving energy from above, whereas while sitting in a chair there is an automatic discharge of energy out of the soles into the receptive Earth.
Padmasana, once it is mastered, also facilitates a natural alignment that is effortless. Shavasana (corpse posture) is also effortless, but of all postures it offers the largest area for gravitational down force. For this reason it induces heaviness whereas Padmasana induces lightness. Additionally, Patanjali’s third condition asks for transcendence from duality, for example the duality between rajas (frenzy) and tamas (torpor). Again, Shavasana is the most torpid of all postures; there- fore it presents an angle for the attack of the opposites. Padmasana is the only posture where the spine, through its miraculous alignment of the energy centres contained within it (chakras), automatically facilitates meditation on infinity and transcendence over duality. There are other postures, notably Siddhasana and Swastikasana, that allow such alignment to a certain extent, but many traditional schools and teachers allowed pranayama to take place only in Padmasana for the above-mentioned reasons.
T. Krishnamacharya’s perennial favourite, the Yoga Rahasya, states that of all postures Shirshasana (headstand) and Padmasana (lotus posture) are the important ones.312 Headstand, of course, is not directly used to practise pranayama, but it achieves the steadying and reversing of amrita (nectar), which are essential for pranayama. The siddha Goraksha Natha taught that pranayama should be practised only in Padmasana.313 Sage Gheranda also taught the use of Padmasana, but only with the right leg first in place and the left leg on top.314
Of the Vedic texts, the Yoga Chudamani Upanishad accepts only Padmasana for pranayama.315 The ancient Brhadyogi Yajnavalkya Smrti also advises assuming Padmasana for the practice of pranayama.316 The Yoga Kundalini Upanishad accepts both Padmasana and Vajrasana,317 but gives Padmasana the preference.318 The Amrita Nada Upanishad is somewhat more liberal, saying that Padmasana, Svastikasana or Bhadra- sana will do as long as the practitioner can easily sit in it.319
The Hatha Tatva Kaumudi tightens the requirements by accepting only Padmasana for pranayama.320 Bhavadeva Mishra, author of the Yuktabhavadeva, is somewhat less stringent in saying that pranayama was preferably executed in Padmasana.321 Brahmananda, commentator on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, prefers Siddhasana for the performance of kumbhaka.322 Siddhasana is mentioned in many texts as the foremost of all yoga postures due to its propensity to induce Mula Bandha and its suitability for raising Kundalini. However, more often than not Padmasana is the preferred asana during pranayama.
According to van Lysebeth, of all postures it is Padmasana alone that guarantees correct spinal alignment, and it is this fact that makes it the posture of choice in most yogic scriptures. From my own pranayama practice I can confirm that Padmasana is the most efficient posture for it. However, I have to admit that I obtained asana siddhi in Padmasana not through mere asana practice itself. Even after a long phase of asana practice I still found Padmasana becoming uncomfortable after 10 to 15 minutes. This radically changed when I commenced pranayama. It might have been simply the fact that my mind was now focused on performing a task in Padmasana rather than simply waiting for signs of discomfort. After commencing pranayama in Padmasana I quickly managed to extend my time in Padmasana to 30 minutes and from there to 1 hour and eventually 3 hours, even if not in one sitting. Looking back now I would have been better off not to be so conservative but commence pranayama in Padmasana earlier. I would have been able to cover more ground rather than wait for some mythical stage of achievement in asana that will never come.
Another story illustrates the potency of Padmasana. At one point during pranayama in Padmasana, when adding external kumbhakas and Kundalini techniques I became so ecstatic that I literally lost any sense of time passing. I would come out of these sessions with my legs having gone completely numb. One day I must have folded my numb leg out of Padmasana in a very clumsy fashion because I acquired a micro-tear in the joint capsule of my left knee. For a period of 8 months after that I was unable to sit in Padmasana and had to be satisfied with Siddhasana. To my surprise my kumbhaka length decreased significantly and so did the total length of my pranayama sessions. Additionally, my capacity to concentrate diminished and so did my propensity for spiritual exultation. It was quite staggering to see what a difference it made to have simply lost my Padmasana. A modern Indian teacher that I hold in high esteem once told me ‘You Westerners believe that mystical powers are obtainable by simply sitting in Padmasana.’ Today I would reply that it is not just Westerners who believe that, but it’s exactly what the shastras (scriptures) state. It comes at no surprise that most Hindu deities, Vedic rishis and tantric siddhas are depicted in Padmasana. It is a veritable laboratory for spiritual emancipation. But remember, it is not the laboratory that brings results. It is what you do in it, the actions you perform. These actions must be pranayama and meditation as described in the shastras. Mere sitting will not get you far.
I hope that I have created some curiosity and enthusiasm in you towards Padmasana. But please don’t be as silly as I was, going up to the 3-hour level so fast. Your knees will thank you for it.
Let’s look now at the requirements for postures in pranayama, and this will make clear why Padmasana excels. Any posture used for pranayama must fulfill the following requirements:
- Feet and hands must be turned away from the floor so that the ground cannot absorb prana being projected out of them. This rules out sitting on chairs, where the feet face downwards. • Legs must not be lower than the Muladhara (base chakra) so that prana and blood flows are directed upwards. Again this rules out sitting on chairs and leaning against walls.
- The pelvis must be tilted forward quite strongly so that the spinal double s-curve is exaggerated and the spine assumes the shape of a cobra ready to strike. This is a prerequisite for the serpentine power to rise.
- To stimulate mula bandha the perineum must either press into the floor, which is achieved in Padmasana through the strong forward tilt of the pelvis, or be stimulated by the left heel, which is given in Siddhasana.
- Ideally, through forward tilt of the pelvis, the heels should press into the abdomen to stimulate Uddiyana Bandha. This is only the case in Padmasana. • The posture must provide a firm base that can be held naturally for a long time. It must align the whole body effortlessly against gravitation, so that there is no slumping or slouching at all. Again, Padmasana reigns supreme here.
The posture that fits this brief best is Padmasana, with Siddhasana second and Swastikasana or Virasana acceptable if neither of the first two can be achieved.
The postures are here given in order of importance, Padmasana being the most important but most difficult. Learn the postures in the opposite order, starting with Virasana and slowly graduating towards Padmasana. Meditation asanas such as these are to be practised towards the end of one’s general asana practice, when the body and particularly the hip joints are warmed up. If you do not know how to rotate and move your hip joints, you may injure your knees. Consult a yoga teacher to learn postures. I have described postures in my two previous books Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy and Ashtanga Yoga: The Intermediate Series. Here I have described the meditation postures only in a basic fashion, as this is a book on pranayama. In these descriptions I am assuming that you have a general asana practice. You will need to have a certain foundation in asana to practise pranayama.
- Yoga Sutra II.46
- Yoga Sutra II.47
- Yoga Sutra II.48
- Yoga Rahasya I.103
- Goraksha Shataka stanza 41
- Gheranda Samhita II.8
- Yoga Chudamani Upanishad stanza 106
- Brhadyogi Yajnavalkya Smrti IX.186–190
- Yoga Kundalini Upanishad I.2
- Yoga Kundalini Upanishad I.22–23 319. Amrita Nada Upanishad 18–20
- Hatha Tatva Kaumudi of Sundaradeva XXXVI.6
- Yuktabhavadeva of Bhavadeva Mishra, lxvi
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika II.9, Brahmananda’s commentary”