Why Does My Leg Go Numb In Full Lotus?

August 9, 2022

Transcript of: Why does my leg go numb in full lotus?

Hey everybody! Welcome to this month’s question of the month. If you’ve got a question that you want me to answer, go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion and I’ll answer it for you. This month’s question comes from Nicolai and it’s about why your leg might go numb in full lotus.

The Question:

“Dear David,
My friend Simona gave me the good advice to check out your video and article on full lotus position. (I practice Tibetan Buddhism.) With help from your simple exercises I can now sit up to 30 minutes without pain. [DK: That’s always a good thing!] But another problem started to occur. I get totally numb in my right foot and lower leg after 20 minutes. It goes away if I stretch my legs and wiggle my toes a bit. Is that harmful? Is there a way to reduce this?
Best from Denmark,

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The Answer:

Alright, Nicolai. Temporary numbness that goes away after you move your leg? We’ve all experienced this at different times, not even doing lotus. This is normal. So, a leg that goes numb in lotus pose shouldn’t be harmful. Of course, the more prolonged that period, there could be a problem that comes from it. So be mindful of it. But let’s back out of that for a second.

Is there a way to reduce the leg going numb in lotus? This is kind of my thing as you know from the video. Yes, as you know I have the free version even on this channel. There’s a lotus prep video. There are multiple articles on the website about lotus, the knee, and all this kind of stuff. And I also have an online workshop that is: How To Practice And Teach Lotus. In that, we go through all the techniques and exercises and stretches that you can do to help your lotus.

Why does the leg go numb in lotus?

So, tingling and numbness kind of sensations come from two places, which are the nervous system or blood flow. Right? So, if you compress a nerve, you can create tingling and numbness. If you stretch a nerve, like for a prolonged period of time, that can create tingling and numbness. If you cut off blood supply, you can create tingling and numbness. So, let’s take all of these.

Most commonly, in lotus, the sciatic nerve has to lengthen. Okay? Your nerves stretch. So, when we take lotus, and we externally rotate that leg for lotus, the sciatic nerve is going to stretch. And, it’s sitting underneath the piriformis muscle which is also being stretched. And then, you’re sitting on that (the piriformis muscle). So, depending on how you’re sitting, what you’re sitting on, etc. can impact this. Both stretching the sciatic nerve as well as the compression of the sciatic nerve through the glutes and through the piriformis can lead to whole leg numbness, potentially. Or it can lead just the lower leg to go numb in lotus.

My guess in your situation, is your lower leg, it’s your right foot—you didn’t specify whether you’re putting your right foot in first or second. In yoga we tend to put the right foot first. But, sometimes in other Asian practices—and I’m not sure about Tibetan Buddhism, how you’ve learned it anyway, whether it’s your left foot first or right foot. Either way, when you put your leg up onto your thigh, if your ankle is sickling, which we talk about in all of the other videos and articles on lotus, that by itself can stretch nerves. And it can compress and reduce blood flow, even just locally. So, that’s one possibility. It could still be coming from your sciatic nerve and skipping a whole section and ending up down there. But my guess is a combination of reduced blood supply and nerve compression down on that right foot is what’s causing your leg to go numb in lotus.

Reducing numbness by opening the hips

You may ask, well, how do you get your right foot into a better position so there’s less sickling or less compression going on? Well, that’s to get the foot higher. How do you get the foot higher? Well, it’s not by just pulling it really hard. Don’t do that! It’s by opening the hips, which brings us all the way back to the beginning which is what you’ve already started to do, which is do the simple exercises that I outline for opening the hip for lotus to be happier. It may just be that you need more time doing those exercises. Although they’ve helped, you just need to keep going with them. That’s possible. Because, although we want to get that foot higher, that’s for sure, the way to do that is by opening the hip more, not by turning the knee more, not by changing the ankle. Opening the hip more brings that foot into a better place.

Now the other thing to consider, I’ll just throw it out there, because I sit. I can sit in full lotus. I can sit in full lotus for quite a while. But when you start getting above 30 minutes of sitting, particularly in a western body, I don’t bother with full lotus. I just do simple crossed-legged. I’m sitting on a meditation pillow on top of a cushion. I can sit for 45 minutes and I don’t get any tingling or numbness. So, depending on the techniques that you’re doing, whether or not lotus is required is something to consider. Is it really necessary? There are certainly some techniques that absolutely might require lotus for some energetic thing. But typically for meditation, it shouldn’t really matter.

Okay? I hope that helps. Anybody else, if you’ve got a question, go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion.

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