In yoga, padmasana is a seated position in which the feet are placed on the opposite thighs, resulting in a cross-legged posture. The name "padmasana" comes from the Sanskrit words "padma," meaning lotus, and "sana," meaning seat or throne. It is commonly called the "lotus position" in English. The shape of the lotus position is said to resemble the shape of an opening lotus flower.
In padmasana, the yoga practitioner places first one foot, then the other, atop the opposite thigh. The heel should be as close to the abdomen as possible with the sole facing upward. Both knees are in contact with the ground, and the pelvis is tilted slightly forward. A cushion or mat may be used to provide support. In this case, the practitioner sits in a position close to the forward edge of the mat.
Like other "asanas" or yoga positions, padmasana originates in the physical discipline of hatha yoga. Hatha yoga, usually shortened to "yoga," is intended to prepare and purify the body for meditation. Padmasana serves this purpose by helping the body to remain immobile. If the knees are firmly on the ground, the upper body will be supported so that it can rest in a relaxed posture without moving at all. By keeping the body still and relaxed, this position allows the practitioner to clear the mind, ignoring the body's demands.
Although many people can spend long periods sitting in the lotus position with practice, the flexibility required may be too great for some. Those who suffer from joint problems, sacral infections or sciatica should avoid attempting padmasana, as should anyone whose range of motion prevents them from placing both knees on the ground. People whose health prevents them from attempting padmasana can use other asanas for meditation.
In addition to the practice of yoga, the lotus position has a long tradition in both Hindu and Buddhist Indian art. Various spiritual figures, including the Hindu god Shiva and the Buddha, are depicted seated in this position. Representing a figure in this way usually indicates a strong connection to meditation.
In addition to referencing a yoga position, the term padmasana can literally mean a throne. Art inspired by Hinduism or Buddhism sometimes depicts gods or other beings seated in thrones decorated with lotus motifs, or even in thrones made from lotus flowers or pads. In Balinese Hinduism, the god Acintya is often represented by an empty throne decorated with lotus motifs. The vacant throne symbolizes the unknowability of the divine.