From Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.

Baddha Padmasana or Bound Lotus

‘To be or not to be, that is the question’

Baddha Padmasana must be the most iconic and well-recognised of yoga asanas. Many depictions of the Buddha place him in this pose, and thus it seems central to a general conception of yoga. Similarly, the opening to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy has to be the best-known quotation in English literature, and the very word ‘Hamlet’ conveys an entire world within it, of the timeless power and beauty of language – and the reverence with which we still regard Shakespeare today.

The bound lotus symbolizes infinity; there is no end to each line as all the limbs are connected. It is therefore a pose in which to contemplate the infinite, and to feel that you are a part of the universe. In Hamlet’s famous question, he is also considering whether he should become at one with the universe, and throw away the earthly shackles which are causing him so much pain. He is having the original existential crisis. Hamlet never finds a way simply to ‘be’; to be present and to observe without judgment or attachment. He is torn apart by his internal, highly verbal, wrestle between action and inaction. Yoga tries to resolve this conflict too – there is a flux between stillness and activity; strength and relaxation; noticing when the thoughts wander and bringing the mind back round to the breath each time you do. It should not be a wrestle, but an ebbing and flowing process.

This is often easier said than done, and often in yoga when I try to breathe through and detachedly observe the discomfort of a stretching muscle, I have some sympathy with Hamlet’s cry:

‘O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, 

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!’