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I've just started Kung Fu a little over a week ago. I'm older (43), big (tall, and still slightly overweight), and haven't done any serious exercise in... well, longer than I care to admit.

I feel like I'm really struggling to maintain even a semblance of the pose. I'm not able to get my knees down, and I can't even begin to attempt a half lotus, let alone a full lotus. During meditation, or any of our exercises from that pose, I am struggling to keep from slouching over, and keep feeling like I'm going to roll backwards. Since a lot of our work on breathing is supposed to be done from this position, and breathing techniques are a pretty important part of training, I want to get at least comfortable enough in this position that I can focus on breathing, instead of not falling over.

I don't expect increasing my strength and flexibility to be fast, but I'd like advice on what I can do at home to help work on this, to maintain steady and efficient progress.

What specific exercises should I be working on?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Matt Chan Jun 16 '17 at 2:20
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From your question, you seem to have 3 issues:

1. Keeping your back straight

This one shows by you feeling like you're falling over. This problem can be taken care of by doing two things:

  1. Work on your core

    Your core (abdomen, waist, lower back) carries your upper body. Strengthen that and you'll have less trouble keeping your back straight. This should already be included in your regular training (situps, crunches, plank, etc.), so just keep at it. Don't cut corners on those.

  2. Practice in front of a mirror

    This is something I recommend for everything, like your basic stances, forms, etc. It'll help you get the right posture. I cannot stress enough to do this with mirror from the start, so you get it first time right. Correcting it afterwards, after years of practicing it in a wrong way, will make it a whole lot trickier.

2. Putting your legs into that pose

This one is mainly a matter of flexibility. There are some exercises that can help with this.

  1. Stretching

    Obviously, stretching is an important part. Sean Duggan's post covers the most important stretches for this

  2. Rotations

    Rotations may be a weird term, but I don't know the exact word for it. It comes down to hip rotations and rotations of the part where your leg attaches into it. These include the exercises where you swing your leg upwards, keeping it stretched along the swing, inwards, and outwards (crescent moon kicks). These should actually already be part of your regular training too, so never cut corners on those either! There are other exercises that are great for it too, like going into split, then turning around. Those are more advanced, though, so keep at it with these, first.

3. Staying seated like that

The last issue is staying seated like this. This is done with a combination of the 2 steps above, and simply just sitting like this. If you really can't keep sitting like this for even 30 seconds or so, try against a wall, first. The extra support you get, will compensate for the core that has to be built up, and may help with keeping your back straight as well. Move away from the wall eventually, so you can sit by yourself, without the support, and just keep at it. In the end, you'll be able to sit in lotus position for extended times with no problems.

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I cannot speak from experience of learning as I learned to do it as a child, and have continued to do it through the years to maintain the ability, but this site has stretches to help one to a Lotus Position.

  1. Butterfly Stretches - Referred to in the article as "Bound Angle Pose", this is where you sit and press the soles of your feet together, draw them in towards you as far as you can comfortably, then gently pressing your knees toward the ground. This will help you stretch out and open your hips and groin.
  2. Revolved Head to Knee Pose (Parivrivritta Janu Sirsasana) - I'm not familiar with this one, so I'll just include their explanation:

    From a seated posture, bend your left leg and bring your left foot to the inside of your right thigh. Keeping your torso rotated to the left and your chest open, bend toward your right leg. Allow the right side of your body to sink toward your right leg, and try to take hold of your right toes with your right hand. If you can, stretch your left arm over your head to meet the right. Hold for 10 deep breaths and then repeat on the other side.

  3. Pigeon Stretch - This one will help with getting your foot and leg higher. You could see this as a variant of a lunge, or of a front split, but basically, one leg is stretched out behind you while the other has the knee rotated out so that your weight is across your calf, which is horizontal, perpendicular to your torso. You then lower yourself to the leg and try to touch your chest to it. Be careful and protect your knee.
  4. Cow Face Pose - Never done this one before either.

    Cross one leg over the other so that both ankles are resting next to the opposite hip, and your knees are stacked. For our purposes, you can do the pose with your arms in any comfortable position. Stay here for a few breaths, and then walk your hands in front of you and begin to fold forward. Hold for 10 deep breaths and then repeat on the other side.

  5. Half lotus pose - This is pretty self explanatory. Put one leg up on on the other leg and then fold the second leg under you tailor-style.
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Start in a position you can focus on breathing or meditation

The lotus position is not essential to breathing or meditation. This may be where you want to end up, but it sounds counterproductive for you to start in this position because you will be focusing on all the wrong things while nominally working on breathing and meditation. You have pointed out your difficulties. There are many alternate positions you can use, including:

  1. lying down
  2. sitting in a chair
  3. standing - this alternative is more challenging than either of the first two because it requires you to balance while relaxing your leg muscles.

In all of these positions, you should be remain relaxed. Keeping your back straight, while perhaps requiring more effort initially, will cause you to be more relaxed over many minutes because your skeleton will support your weight instead of your muscles.

Increasing flexibility

In the context of kung fu systems, I would expect the necessary hip flexibility for a lotus position to be acquired from moving stance training. For example:

  1. From a horse stance, rotate your hips around your centerline without moving your knees or feet. You should feel a stretch in your hip and groin area.
  2. There is a common moving stance pattern: bow stance (left) -> crane stance -> drop stance -> bow stance (right). After one cycle, you are in a bow stance on the opposite side. After two cycles, you are back in the initial starting position. This is both a strength and flexibility exercise.

Ballet also has extensive exercises for hip turnout if you are looking for more variety.

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I'm a Taekwondo instructor - and we don't do much lotus position, but for general hip mobility/flexibility I've found that one exercise has consistently been the best for hips is

HORSE STANCE

do this as much as possible with your back straight and feet parallel (straight forwards). Have your back against a wall if needed when starting out. The more you do, the better you will get. I find this position has so many benefits for strength, flexibility and mobility. It doesn't require any baseline flexibility to get a benefit, and I've seen plenty of new starters develop their hip range of motion quickly though daily practice of a good horse stance.

Good luck!

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