Moving Into Stillness with Erich Schiffmann
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A Few AsanasPrint View

Cat Pose, Mountain Pose, the "ten core poses" (Standing Forward Fold, Standing Side Stretch, Dog Pose, Spread Leg Forward Fold, Bridge Pose, Reclining Leg Stretch, Locust Pose, Sage Twist, Hero Pose, Shoulder Stretches) and the Lotus are presented here.  The other thirty-two poses I recommend can be found in my book.

Lotus (Padmasana)Lotus Pose

In my hierarchy of poses I consider Padmasana, Lotus Pose, the most important. Shavasana. Relaxation Pose (see page 295 of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness), is second, and everything else comes after that. All poses are equal, actually whichever pose you're doing is the most important one - but I like to think of it in this way because the Lotus Pose (if you can do it comfortably) is such a perfect meditation posture. It's a position in which you can sit perfectly straight and he absolutely still, relaxed, comfortable, and alert.

Most people cannot do Lotus Pose the first time they try, or the second. It is important, therefore, to pursue the pose gradually in stages, and to work at it patiently and consistently over a sustained period of time. If you pursue it properly you should be able to sit in Lotus within a year, probably sooner. It may take you longer. You may never get it. In any case, work it slowly, carefully, gently. A year is not a long time.

You should never experience pain in your knees as you do these exercises. If you do, stop what you are doing. Pain is an indication that something is wrong. The knees can be injured when the hips or ankles, usually the hips, are not rotating as much as they should and the knees overrotate in the attempt to achieve the pose. What's needed, therefore, is increased range of motion in the hips and ankles. The following preparatory poses are designed for just this purpose. They will help loosen and mobilize your hips, knees, and ankles - each of which plays an important role in a correctly performed Padmasana. But be patient, take your time, proceed intelligently, and do not force the issue. Do not be impatient. Simply persist. Gentle persistence is the key. Do the exercises regularly.

Here are the basic instructions for Padmasana:

1 Sit on the floor in an easy crossed- leg pose.

2 Clasp hold of your left foot with both hands and bring it high onto the right thigh, up into the groin. Bring the right leg over the left and place the right foot in the left groin. This is the full Lotus Pose. Do not be discouraged if you are unable to do this yet. Even if you can, a few seconds may be enough at first.

3 Uncross your legs and try it on the other side. To avoid becoming con fused about which leg goes where, remember that the leg you uncross first is the first leg to cross on the second side. The basic instructions are simple. To make it possible, however, practice the preparatory poses:

LOTUS PREPARATIONS

ONE  ON YOUR BACK

1 Lie on your back with your legs bent and both feet flat on the floor.

2 Place the side of your right foot on your left thigh near the knee. Make the right shinbone horizontal. Flex the right heel, allowing it to protrude slightly off the left leg, and move the right knee away from you.Lotus Prep 3

3 Clasp hold of the left knee with both hands by bringing the legs toward you, reaching through the window formed by your right leg and left thigh with your right hand, and clasping it around the left knee or thigh with your left hand. Put a pillow under your head if your neck or shoulders feel uncomfortable. Your head should be in line with your spine.

4 Pull gently. Pull the left thigh toward your chest as you simultaneously press your sacrum and lower back into the floor. Keep both feet flexed, your toes spread, and pull with your hands until you create a stretch in the right hip and buttock. Flatten the shoulder blades into the floor as you do this, making you chest round. When you cannot pull the leg in any tighter, stay where you are, maintain the action of the pose, and relax with the intensity of the stretch. Savor the way this feels. Pull the leg in tighter when the sensations of stretch diminish somewhat. Be here about a minute, breathing smoothly. Lotus Prep 5

5 Lift your head, curl your lower back up off the floor, and touch your nose to the left knee . Be here fifteen or thirty seconds, then lie flat on your back again.

6 Clasp the right foot and pull it down into the left groin. Snuggle it in deeply, being careful not to make any sudden movements that may cause you to strain the knee unintentionally. Be delicate as you wriggle it in.

7 Gently push the lotus, or crossed, knee away from you by placing your right hand on the right knee and gently pressing. I-Hold the right foot where it is, if necessary, with your left hand. If this stretch is difficult for you, then this is exactly what you need. Lotus Prep 7Proceed cautiously. Do not be aggressive and do not create even the slightest hint of strain in your knee. The best way to proceed is slowly. Therefore, push gently, firmly. Apply pressure for five or ten seconds, then ease off the stretch and repeat one or many times, This is an especially good position in which to work this stretch because your back is on the floor and therefore can easily remain straight. The opening you receive when your back is flat is consistent with the opening necessary to sit comfortably erect.

8 Release the right leg, then repeat all of this with your left leg.

TWO SITTING UP

1 Sit on the floor in Sukhasana, the easy crossed-leg pose.Lotus Prep 2

2 Place the right foot in the crook of the left elbow and cradle the leg in your arms. Bring the right arm around the right knee and clasp your hands. Flex the right heel, lift the right foot up until the right shinbone is horizontal, level with the floor, and then gently pull the leg inward toward your chest. Bring your leg toward your chest and your chest toward your leg, aiming the stretch into the right hip and buttock. Endeavor to sit erect as you do this, relaxing the shoulders downward and elongating your spine upward. Press the sitting bones firmly down into the floor, and move the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Elongate your spine upward as you inhale, and pull inward with your arms as you exhale. Be here several breaths, anywhere from half a minute to a minute. Lotus Prep 3

3 Bring the right leg into Half Lotus by placing the right foot in the left groin, the crease formed by the left thigh and torso, then wriggling the left foot forward until it snuggles under the right knee . The right leg is now in a tight Half Lotus and the left shinbone is horizontal. Wriggle the buttocks backward, then sit erect.

4 If the right knee cannot rest comfortably on the left foot, proceed cautiously. Gently press the right knee down with your right hand. Hold this stretch for a few moments, then release the pressure and repeat. Do this several or many times. Do not bounce your knee up and down.

5 Lean forward; place your hands by your hips and slowly tip forward. Do not be in a rush. Melt forward. Wait for the sensations of stretch to diminish before folding deeper. Then slide your hands forward, keeping your arms straight, and go in the direction of resting your forehead on the floor. Be here one minute, then perform each of these steps with the other leg. Lotus 6

6 Now place one leg on top of the other so both shinbones are horizontal. Sit erect for a few breaths. Then wriggle your hips backward so you are on the frontal edge of the sitting bones, pull the buttock muscles sideways and back, and slowly lean forward until (eventually) your forehead rests on the floor. Be here a minute or two. Change legs. Enjoy the way this feels. This is a wonderful pose.

HALF LOTUS POSE OR ARDHA PADMASAIYA

1 Sit on a zafu (Zen meditation pillow) or rolled blanket in Sukhasana, the easy crossed-leg pose. Catch hold of the right foot and ankle with both hands, holding the foot from underneath, and bring it up into the left groin. Sit erect with your chest up and shoulders relaxed.

2 Change legs and do the pose on the other side. This insures that you develop the hips equally. Be aware of the inclination to sit more frequently with your right leg on top, if that's what's easy for you, and endeavor instead to spend equal time on each side. Create a balance.

LOTUS POSE - ONCE YOU'RE IN IT

1 Once you've crossed your legs, lean forward slightly and wriggle the buttock backward until you are on the frontal edge of each sitting bone. You are now in extreme dog tilt. Then bring your torso erect and gently align your center toward cat tilt. Delicately bring the navel backward toward the spine until you sense the sacrum is nearly vertical and you are on the tips, rather than the frontal edges of each sitting bone. Your center is now in "neutral." Your back will not be totally straight. Allow a natural lumbar curve.

2 From this perfectly aligned "neutral" center, allow the weight of your body to sink into the floor. Become grounded through the sitting bones and perineum rooted into the earth. Take a few moments to do this. Then feel where your core is, your invisible spine, from the perineum at the bottom to the crown of your head at the top, and allow your core gently to elongate. As you do this, open the crown of your head by relaxing your scalp muscles and let it float upward -  without becoming ungrounded. You'll feel as though you are going up and down at the same time, without going anywhere. Let your pelvis drop down, out from underneath you. Allow your rib cage and chest to float upward away from the waist. Relax the shoulders, sliding the shoulder blades down your back, and gently keep the navel backward toward the spine. Rest your hands where they are comfortable, palms up or down. This usually requires moving them backward several inches so the upper arms are vertical and the elbows are aligned directly below the shoulder joints. If the elbows are forward of the shoulders, your shoulders will round and eventually ache. Balance your head perfectly on top of your spine and be sensitive to the overall feeling-tone of how you are. Look for the balance point where you feel most comfortable, most weightless, and therefore most perfectly balanced. The straighter you are, the less structural strain you'll experience. Make subtle internal adjustments until your alignment feels best.

3 Your sacrum must be nearly vertical for your spine to be perfectly balanced; not tilting forward too far and not tilting backward. Actually, it will angle forward a little, but it will feel vertical. This is because the relationship between your sacrum and spine is fixed and constant. The spine comes straight out of the sacrum. If the sacrum is tilting backward toward cat tilt, your spine will project backward before coming up; this will cause your ribs and chest to sink, and you'll sag into a slump that puts strain on your back, shoulders, and neck. If the sacrum is tilting forward toward dog tilt, your spine will project forward before coming up, making an excessive arch in the lower back that also creates strain. But there is a natural curve in your lower back that you want to maintain, and this is a function of having the alignment of your center in "neutral" with the sacrum just slightly tilting forward, about ten degrees. Some people tend to sit with too much dog tilt; most people are in excessive cat tilt. Especially in Half Lotus, for example, before it opens up sufficiently, one knee may be quite high - and if your knees are higher than your hips, your sacrum will be forced backward, causing you to slump. Sitting on a zafu or folded blanket can correct your alignment, making it easier to sit erect. Look into a mirror, have a friend check your alignment, and become familiar with the inner feeling of being fully erect and perfectly balanced.

4 Close your eyes, breathe softly, and experience what's happening right where you are. Sit erect without being rigid, be statue - still, unmoving, and consciously practice releasing tensions. Allow your awareness to scan through your body at a leisurely pace and deliberately let go of every discernible tension. Relax everywhere. Expand. Become more spacious. Experience improved energy flow. You'll feel like a gently billowing cloud.

5 Have in mind the image of a plant, for your spine and body "grow" upward from your firm and grounded connection with the earth and "bloom" into expression much like a plant. Plants do not have muscles to hold themselves up. They're held up by the water they receive from the earth and sky. The water flows into the cells of the plant, they fill and expand, and this gentle expansion is what holds the plant in full expression. The plant then instinctively grows toward the light. When there is insufficient water, however, plants wilt and become limp Pretend you are a plant that has just been watered. Feel yourself being fed, nourished, allow yourself to relax and expand, effortlessly - no muscles and no straining - and instinctively, like the lotus flower, open gently, bloom, and bathe in the light. The light is right there, here. The sun is shining. Just open yourself to it. Let it in. Receive. And thereby gently express the meaning of the pose. Be you in gentle, full expression.

Question: What are some advantages of Lotus Pose?

Response: First of all, being able to sit in the Lotus posture is not a sign of spiritual advancement. It is, however, the most stable sitting position for meditation. Lotus makes it easy to sit straight. In fact, it's difficult to sit in Lotus and not keep your spine erect. For me, however, it took about two years after I was able to do the Lotus before I could sit in it comfortably.

Once you are able to cross your legs Lotus-fashion, you'll find that, beside being the perfect meditation posture, it opens up enormous possibilities in term of what you can do in other poses. If you look at your body as all instrument and certain postures as scales, the Lotus Pose can be considered one of the key scales for opening your body and learning to "play" beautifully. With Lotus you'll discover you now have the means with which to open yourself more fully and that simple forward bends and twists, for example, are transformed into highly efficient, powerful, advanced stretches when done with your legs in Lotus.

Bodies are funny. Lotus will be easy for some people and difficult for others Keep in mind, therefore, that the degree of flexibility you now possess or the speed at which you progress is not what matters. If you do the preparatory exercise properly and if you sit in Half Lotus frequently, alternating your legs, you will eventually be able to sit comfortably in Lotus. But sitting in Lotus is not the important point. What's important is the knowledge you gain in terms of how to open your body and keep it opened. The yoga lies in how sensitively you nudge your edges and tight areas toward greater openness. The postures are the tool you use for this.

The most important feature of Padmasana is its utilization for motionless sitting, centering. Sitting motionless in Lotus is the most effortless way to expand your energy field, to decompress. It's a way of learning to be consciously relaxed and undefended, instead of unconsciously fearful, contracted, and defensive. When you relax, you expand - and this is good for you on all levels. Your physical health will improve because your energy is flowing better. Your bodily fluids will flow better, you'll feel better, and your new outlook on life will give rise to mental clarity, spontaneous optimism, and peace of mind. You will then experience life differently. You'll have a new experience of who you are - and as your sense of identity changes, everything will seem to change. Padmasana is an extremely restful pose, deserving of every effort to attain it.

Benefits: Lotus Pose or Padmasana

Increases mobility and releases tension in hips, legs, knees, ankles. Strengthens back. Improves posture. Improves circulation between legs and torso. Increases circulation in lumbar area and abdomen, thus increases circulation to abdominal organs. Extremely restful position. Best meditation posture.

Cat Pose, Mountain Pose, Standing Forward Fold, Standing Side Stretch, Dog Pose, Spread Leg Forward Fold, Bridge Pose, Reclining Leg Stretch, Locust Pose, Sage Twist, Hero Pose, Shoulder Stretches, Lotus

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