In Lotus Pose variations, each foot is placed on top of the opposite hip while the legs are crossed. This yoga position allows us to lengthen our spine and breathe freely, enabling us to enter the more subtle limbs of pranayama and meditation. It is critical to perform Lotus Pose carefully to create a stable seat from which the spine can lengthen and the breath can freely flow.
However, we must honour our individual bodies in any position by practising yoga safely and properly. If you force your legs into lotus, you may damage your knees. The objective of yoga is to cultivate a steady breath and a stable mind, not to cause injury.
You may still find that steadiness in Lotus Pose by modifying it. These less-intense versions of the classic shape can offer tremendous advantages for those of us who spend our days sitting in chairs. Working on these variations is also a safe and cautious way to work towards full Lotus Pose, which you can then practise physically difficult postures that begin in Lotus Pose, including modifications of Garbha Pindasana in the primary series of Ashtanga yoga, Karandavasana in the second series, and Urdhva Kukkutasana in the third series.
To find a variation that feels appropriate for you and, if you want, helps you achieve Padmasana, follow the sequence of seated postures below.
5 alternatives to Lotus Pose
When you’re working on your knees, be sure to pay close attention. If you notice any pain or discomfort, then slow down and find a more gentle approach.
Navasana (Boat Pose) or Virasana (Hero Pose) can be used between postures to stretch the knees. In addition, bringing the legs into Virasana (Hero Pose) can be soothing for the knees during between poses if you are flexible enough. On the ground, or on a block, the hips are positioned.
1. Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Forward Fold)
With both legs extended out in front of you, bend your right leg and externally rotate your right hip, pointing your right ankle right above your left knee. Flex your right leg, which protects your right knee by flexing it. Keep your balance.
You may reach both hands to your left foot if you are comfortable and fold forward from your hips to any extent that feels suitable. (If your hands do not easily reach your foot, use a scarf, towel, or strap.) Take 5-10 steady breaths here. Repeat on the other side.
In the variation above, your knees felt good, so explore a slightly more intense version of Half Lotus. Start with both legs extended straight in front of you. Bend your right leg, externally rotate at your hip, and place your right foot on top of your left thigh as close to your left hip as is comfortable. Reach your right arm behind your back and try to grasp your right foot.
To help you get into a bind, reach with your right foot and use a scarf, towel, or strap to help you stay upright or fold forward from your hips over your left leg and take 5-10 steady breaths. Repeat on the other side.
To get into a Half Lotus position without pain or stiffness in your knees, wrap a scarf or towel around your knees before coming into the position. This spacer prevents us from overdoing it by limiting our mobility, so it prevents us from coming into Half Lotus positions too aggressively.
2. Marichyasana B (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi B)
With both legs extended straight in front of you, bend your left knee and open it out to the side as you bring your left heel closer to your body. Place your right foot on the mat in front of your left foot with your right knee pointing upward. Cross your right knee over your left knee, positioning your right knee upward. Reach your right arm forward inside your right leg. Clasp your hands or use a scarf, towel, or strap to create the bind. Fold forward and take 5-10 steady breaths in Marichyasana B while staying upright. Repeat on the other side.
If you wish to increase the difficulty, try the same posture performed with your left leg folded in a Half Lotus position instead of on the ground. You will need to shift your weight to your left thigh and raise your right hip off the ground in order to bring your right foot in towards your body in this variation. If it feels appropriate, bind your hands. Take 5-10 steady breaths before repeating on the other side.
3. Marichyasana D (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi D)
With this position, you will be in the same leg position that you used while practicing Marichyasana B. Your right leg will be folded on the ground or in a Half Lotus Pose, and your left foot will be on the mat. From here, carefully twist to the left, bringing your right arm outside your left leg and your left hand behind you. If you are familiar with the arm bind, you may bend your right arm and reach your hands toward each other behind your back. Otherwise, place your left hand on the mat behind you. Stay here for 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
4. Baddha Padmasana (Bound Lotus Pose)
Position your legs in a Half Lotus Position, one on the mat and the other on top with your feet crossed. If this looks too difficult, sit in a cross-legged position. You can alleviate some of the pressure on your knees by raising your hips on a pillow or folded blanket. Take your hands behind you and clasp your opposite elbows. Circle your wrists and pull your abdomen in on the inhale as you engage and lift the pelvic floor.
If your knees have felt comfortable thus far, repeat the position, switching which leg is on top. Either clasp your elbows or grasp your same foot with each hand, then find a bind.
To locate your feet, first take a deep breath to locate your left foot, and then your right foot. If your right leg is on top, do the opposite. You should take 10 deep breaths here.
5. Padmasana (Lotus Pose) with Jnana Mudra
Find the best cross-legged position for you at this moment—one leg in Half Lotus Pose, both legs in full Lotus Pose, or crossed legs. Feel the ground beneath you and elongate your spine. Straighten your arms without tensing and rest the backs of your hands on your knees. Bring your thumb and forefinger gently together and extend your last three fingers straight. You may close your eyes or gaze gently past your nose. Take 10 nourishing breaths here.
When performing this mudra during asana practice, we attempt to seal in the benefits by sitting and breathing with our hands in this position. The thumb and forefinger form a circle, from which the remaining fingers extend outward to achieve this.