Ah, padmasana… Many of my student’s become impatient to reach this posture. Seemingly so simple…but that is all. Padmasana is one of the most difficult postures to master, especially for the inconsistent practitioner.
If padmasana is rushed, the increased potential of knee injury is substantial. In addition, the posture must not be practiced before all other asana has been performed in the sequence unless the posture is completely effortless. Like a majority of asanas, the source of padmasana is the hip joint. Range of motion at the hip joint is quite commonly limited as you may have noticed in your own practice, hence why the postures of the Primary Series focus largely around this area of the body.
In padmasana, you are attempting to integrate movement in two areas of the body - the knee & hip - which have two different types of joints. The hip joint, where the femur meets the pelvis, is a ball-in-socket & can move in every direction…With regular practice, it’s range of motion is potentially quite significant. What can limit such range of motion is tightness of muscle and/or ligaments which surround the hip.. This is why asana is very important, to aid in its relaxing & loosening over time.
The knee joint on the other hand is a hinge joint - very different. Think of a door opening and closing, and likewise the knee bending and flexing - That is all it can do. The range of motion in comparison to the hip joint is significantly different in that the knee joint cannot move in a circle, you must bend the knee and use the hip joint to achieve circular motion.
Now back to padmasana. If a student with tight hips attempts padmasana:
- Student bends the knee and guides her foot toward her upper thigh. While she is getting there she feels muscle tightness in the hips, limiting motion in the hip joint. This also will limit how far the foot can reach & the student’s knee is likely off of the floor. The ankle can also be likely torqued. Already bad news for trying the second foot. The student should stay here for few breaths if she is not feeling pain so she can overtime release tightness.. The knee will as a result soon come to the ground.
-The student now, overzealously, attempts the second foot - This is where injury is prone to happen. We already know range of motion in the hip joint is limited, but the second side requires more hip rotation because you must lift the foot over the opposite leg to achieve the posture & then be able to rotate the hip down so that the knee rests on the ground. The student is very uncomfortable, but likely moreso in the knee.
Because the range of motion is so limited in the hip joint, the knees are taking the toll - They are hot spot of injury in padmasana. Because the hip joint cannot rotate any further, the knees will naturally try to bend sideways…try to. As mentioned, the hinge joint on the knee was simply not made for this type of motion..It was made to bend and flex. Pressing down on the thigh of the student with tight hips will cause compression on the knee joint…It won’t open the hips. The result can be compression of the cartilage within the knee joint (meniscus), a very painful & slow to heal injury…Quite debilitating.
What is the solution? Time. If a student is forcing postures, the postures are not where the student should focus. The goal of practice is the quieting of the mind, the silence of judgement. An ultimate focus is the breath…If the breath quiets when attempting a posture, the student can listen here for limitations.
Padmasana can take sometimes years to master….And when you get there, another challenge awaits you.