The Lotus Flower as a Transformative Symbol in Yoga and Life
The Lotus Flower (Padma)
The lotus flower, known as padma in Hindi, is a common image in yoga studios and meditation rooms the world over. But have you ever wondered why this image is such an important universal symbol in the yoga and wellness community?
People have been observing the lotus flower for over three thousand years. Typically, it’s a metaphor for growth through struggles, which is intrinsic to yogic philosophy.
The lotus flower grows in swamps and wet, muddy areas. Because something so beautiful grows out of something dirty and murky, they are a symbol of purity and triumph. Just like the lotus flower budding from the unclean water, we too can grow from difficult situations.
The padma goes through a difficult period of growth while it is below the surface of the murky water. This is like our consciousness as we rise up to grow and learn, with the ultimate goal being a state of enlightenment. This is often referred to as nirvana in Buddhism, or samadhi in the yogic texts.
You have likely heard or seen the popular affirmation, “No mud, no lotus”. Without the mud (the challenges in life), there is no lotus flower (growth of the human consciousness).
The lotus flower is a symbol in many different religions across the globe, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. There is also mention of the lotus flower in Ancient Egyptian religions. In Buddhism, the eight-petaled lotus flower is a Buddhist mandala that represents cosmic harmony. It is associated with rebirth and purity. Specifically, the white lotus flower is said to symbolize the Buddha reaching spiritual enlightenment.
In Hinduism it is associated with many of the gods, such as Vishnu, Brahma, and Lakshmi. The opening of the petals represents the awakening of the soul. Ancient Egyptian scholars observed the lotus flower closing and sinking into the muddy waters overnight, to rise again in the morning, symbolizing rebirth.
The Lotus Flower in Yoga
Through the Eastern traditions, padma has also become an important symbol in yoga. The muddy waters represent being grounded in the earth, while the beautiful flower represents aspirations of the divine. The lotus is present in yogic philosophy through the representation of the chakras, several yoga poses, and through mantras.
It serves as the primary symbol of the chakras, with each chakra presenting as a lotus flower with a different number of petals. The number of petals increase as the chakras ascend the body.
- Root Chakra: 4 petals
- Sacral Chakra: 6 petals
- Solar Plexus Chakra: 10 petals
- Heart Chakra: 12 petals
- Throat Chakra: 16 petals
- Third Eye Chakra: 96 petals
- Crown Chakra: 972 petals (also known as “the thousand-petaled lotus”)
There are a range of yoga poses which relate to the lotus pose. These are:
- Lotus Pose (Padmasana): This is a traditional meditation pose where the legs cross over opposing thighs. It is an advanced pose and requires very open hips to do it properly. The crown of the head lifts up to the sky and the sit bones drop down into the earth.
- Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana): Similar to Lotus Pose, but one foot rests on the opposing thigh, while the other is underneath the opposing knee. This is a great asana for those working towards Padmasana, the full expression of the pose.
- Lotus Headstand (Padmasana Sirsasana): This is where the yogi is in headstand, with the feet in Lotus Pose. It can also be done in handstand or shoulder stand.
- Lotus Seal (Padma Mudra): This is a mudra, where the hands are touching at the heels, thumbs, and little fingers. The remaining fingers splay out like the petals of a lotus flower.
The lotus flower is also present in the yogic mantra, “Om mani padme hum”, originally from the Buddhist tradition. It is often referred to as the ‘jewel in the lotus’.
How to Use the Lotus Symbol to Enhance Your Practice
The padma is a beautiful metaphor for personal growth through adversity. When you are facing a challenging period or certain struggles, you can harness the power of the lotus flower symbol in many ways.
You can include more lotus pose variations in your asana practice or consider placing your hands in the lotus seal mudra during meditation. You can also have symbols or images of this serene flower in your practice space. It is for this reason that so many studios have images of - or real lotus flowers - in the practice space.
Finally, you can find other creative ways to keep the image of the padma near you, such as through jewelry, clothing, or even tattoos. Having lotus flower imagery near you can serve as a reminder that suffering is always an opportunity for self-growth.
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Stephanie Johnson, CYI, Yogini Soul Staff Writer, is an elementary school teacher, yoga teacher, meditation student and writer. She is looking for ways to explore this beautiful, crazy life that we have been gifted and to live it with meaning. Stephanie fell in love with yoga as a teenager and has since traveled across the globe in search of gaining knowledge and experiences to deepen her understanding of yoga, from her home country of Australia, to India and across Asia, to Chile, in South America, where she now lives with her partner and two sons. Connect with her on Instagram.