Functional Yoga – To Lotus or not to Lotus
Functional Yoga means understanding how our individual bone structure is integral to our ability to safely access poses such as the seated Lotus pose.
The hip joint is made up of a “socket” on the pelvis & a “ball” at the top of your thigh bone (femur), which we call the femoral head. Around the hip joint are a lot of muscles, a joint capsule, & connective tissue.
Things we have to consider for poses such as Lotus include:
Depth of Hip Socket
Hip socket orientation (placement)
Femoral neck angle
Length of femoral neck
Variation will dictate the range of motion the femur in the socket will have.
Our Femur bones nestle into the hip socket & aid flexion, extension & rotation of the hip joint.
When we think about hip internal & external rotation, we consider what is happening at the hip joint & not what is happening at the foot. For internal rotation, the inner thighs roll inward & towards the back, you are turning your femur (thigh bone) inward towards your pelvis. For external hip rotation, the inner thighs are rolled outward & to the front.
You may have to work through some muscle tension in your adductor muscles, the internal rotators, & deeper tissues.
But even after doing this, what will allow us to safely access this particular posture is the shape of the two bones that make up our hip joint: the femur & the pelvis, & their functionality for external rotation that is required for the Lotus pose.
For example, the bony structure of the hip socket, called the acetabulum, can vary immensely from person to person. While one yoga student may have a shallow acetabulum, another may have a much deeper one. This variation can impact the range of movement of the hip joint in all directions. The actual position of the acetabulum on the hip bone also varies immensely. Some people have an acetabulum positioned slightly further forward on the hip bone or further back, angled upward or downward if we use the image below as an example, courtesy of Paul Grilley.
We also have different shapes in our bones, called Torsion. Torsion is the natural curve of our bones. For some people, this can be a little; for others, more vast if we use the image below as an example, courtesy of Paul Grilley. He demonstrates two extremes of femoral torsion. Looking down at the neck/head of two left femurs.
To Lotus or not to Lotus
The femur on the left might make it reasonably easy for a student to sit in Lotus Pose, following working through tension or tightness in the surrounding hip muscles. At the same time, the femur on the right may make it difficult for that student to even sit comfortably in a tight cross-legged, easy pose position. If such a student attempts the Lotus pose, there is a possibility their knee may take the stress. We never want the knee to be the target.
Our external rotation can be limited by tightness in the muscles/ tissues that surround the joint. But what can ultimately prevent us from accessing this seated position is compression and the natural structure/layout of our hip sockets: this is when bone hits bone & when the neck of the femur can potentially meet the rim of the hip socket. As we reduce tightness, it will become compression, limiting our safe range of movement for seated shapes such as the Lotus pose.
Understanding that the ultimate range of motion in our physical body is our skeletal structure enables you to build a functional yoga approach to your Yin yoga practice & allows for a more healthy relationship to be developed with your body. In addition to avoiding injuries.
It can initiate both the exploration & development of a more conscious personal practice. We can become more mindful of the purpose of our practice & use this as the tool to aid our body’s functionality, the fluidity of our connective tissue, our range of motion & to remove stagnant energy, our Chi.
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