As the Lotus Blooms: Progressive Practice, Profound Results

The Lotus Pose is like the lotus flower itself:  It blooms in its own time. You can't force it open or you'll destroy it. Instead, you feed it. You watch. And you wait.

Parvatasana in padmasana

Parvatasana in padmasana

Author's Note: This post is dedicated to Gloria Goldberg and Geeta Iyengar.

The most common question I get about Iyengar Yoga is "what makes it different from other yogas?" This can be answered in many different ways, but as I was teaching today I witnessed one of the most powerful in action and it is this:  Progressive practice yields profound results.

What do I mean by progressive practice? It has nothing to do with politics (LOL). It means practicing in such a way that you make progress. Not piecemeal progress that comes out of the blue like a stroke of luck, but systematic progress that builds on itself until you achieve a result that is complex and complete. It's kind of like building a house: you don't get the finished result without going through the process.

The amazing thing is that in Iyengar Yoga, progress is like a fractal:  Not only does it take place over the months and years; it can happen right there in a single session depending on how you approach it. This is how my student, who comes with a history of knee pain in asanas, ended up in a pain-free Padmasana (Full Lotus Pose) by the end of today's one-on-one lesson.

My student is an ageless woman ;-) who (after I first published this post) told me she is in mid-'60s. We'd worked on her knees quite a bit last week in the standing poses – mainly, how to straighten them in such a way that pain is avoided (Patanjali Yoga Sutra II.16 heyam durham anagram - the pains of the future can be, and should be, avoided).

This week, we started with with Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose). We worked methodically through all the versions of Supta Padangusthasana as well as their stages. This last bit is very important, as working through the stages is what allows for the ultimate result to unfold. You have to have a foundation and a frame before you put up the walls. 

By the time we had worked our way through all of the Supta Padangusthasanas, about 40 minutes had gone by. 

"I'm not in a hurry," she said when we noticed the time.

"I haven't got time to hurry up!" I quipped.

(Side note: This student comes with previous Iyengar Yoga experience, so I was comfortable having her repeat poses several times and adding layers of complexity each time. While new students often prefer to move on and keep learning new poses quickly in order to feel satisfied, seasoned practitioners can appreciate the process of looking again in order to penetrate deeper into the pose and into their own understanding. Typically, this change in mindset develops over time as the practice itself evolves.)

Having warmed up all the muscles and joints in her lower body, I was curious to see how her knee would respond to bending into half Padmasana. The lying down version is the best one for a pain-free knee, so I instructed her to try it. The trust was established, and she was game.

I taught her how to hold the back of the knee while bending it, how to take ahold of the ankle from underneath, and how to correctly place the foot. Once her leg was in 1/2 Padmasana, I taught her how to extend from the inner thigh to the knee and the shin to the knee in order to allow the knee to move towards the floor (as opposed to forcing it down from the knee itself, which is too aggressive).  She did both sides twice and reported comfort. 

Alrighty then! Can we move this even further along? I was curious. Next I had her put her legs up the wall. I took her in and out of 1/2 Padmasana at the wall a couple of times, with the second leg in Swastikasana. Finally, I had her come into 1/2 Padmasana one more time. I taught her to take her second foot further up the wall, move the Padmasana knee toward the wall, take ahold of the second foot correctly (from underneath!), and slide it on top of the opposite thigh. Voila, Padmasana! Or in this case, Kamalasana which is the wide-legged beginning version of Padmasana. 

She couldn't believe it.

"I've never done this before! I didn't think I could do Padmasana," she said. We did another round, this time moving a bit further toward Padmasana.

"Do you want to try it sitting now?" I asked. She did.

So I taught her how to come in from Dandasana: keeping the first knee low while bending it into Padmasana, then bringing the second foot underneath that knee in Swastikasana. I instructed her to walk her hands forward any amount and feel the stretch in the back of the body. On the second round, I had her shift her second foot forward and out from underneath the bent knee side. She leaned forward until that knee came to the ground, took ahold of the second foot from underneath, and slid it right on top of the opposite thigh. Padmasana, again!

We sat there for a few moments. I asked her to observe the feeling in her back muscles, her spine, and even in her brain. She noticed that the spine was erect seemingly without effort, and that the muscles of her back were relaxed – especially the area around her neck and shoulders that tends to ache when she sits for meditation. (That ache does not come in a proper Padmasana.) Her eyes were still and quiet – open, but looking within.

The Lotus Pose is like the lotus flower itself:  It blooms in its own time. You can't force it open or you'll destroy it. Instead, you feed it. You watch. And you wait.

Today's lesson showed me firsthand, once again, one of the main reasons why Iyengar Yoga works so well. By moving step-by-step through a precisely sequenced set of actions, you can respectfully and safely guide your body to achievements that you may not have even thought possible. Progressive practice yields profound results.

What pose(s) are you working toward in your own practice? If you enjoyed reading this post and made it this far, please like, comment and share! As always, I wish you well.