Knee Deep in Yoga Substitution
March 15th, 2012
One of my favorite yoga instructors, Kim Latford, has been out of town on business and I have been covering her 11 am Friday class at Anytime Fitness. Last week after this gentle yoga class two of her regular students came to me with yoga questions. I guided them into the poses differently then they’d been practicing so I decided to do some research to further expand my Knowledge on the issue. Both of the ladies were experienced yogi’s so it was a real treat to have them in my class. I especially appreciated the conductive criticism and direct questions to help me grow.
First question was about pigeon pose. The student had issues with her knees and wanted to know the best alignment to avoid knee strain. I found a great answer on the Gaiam Life Blog.
This pose asks you to externally rotate or turn out your front leg, which puts a good amount of pressure on the knee, especially if you have tight quadriceps (front thighs), adductors (inner thighs) or hip rotators (outer hips).
When you fold forward, the tilt of your pelvis causes even more stretch around the knee. If misaligned, the shear pressure on your knee joint can be too much.
When you come into Pigeon, three common mistakes and their solutions are:
1) Flexing your foot
A flexed foot can cause the lower leg to cease its external rotation, again, causing the knee joint to take the twist as you bend forward. Instead, “froint” the foot — point the foot but draw the toes back and press out through the ball of the foot, as if you’re wearing high heels (yes, guys…even you).
This will allow the whole leg to more freely rotate, releasing the knee.
2) Grabbing the foot and pulling it forward to take the shin more parallel to the front of the mat
Just because the shin is forward doesn’t make the pose more advanced. In fact, yanking the foot forward or hooking the flexed foot around the wrist, knee to other wrist, means you’re working to get your shin forward into a certain look of the pose, but you might be seriously compromising your knee joint.
From this moment on, never grab your foot with your hand in this pose. Instead, back your foot off toward the opposite hip crease and make sure your hips are level (not rocking over to rest on the bent leg’s hip).
Then, to deepen the pose if this feels fine on the knee, you can move your knee slightly wider and scoot your back leg straight back a little more. The front knee should be either in front of your hip or a bit wider, and you can repeat that adjustment (knee wider, back leg back) a couple of times. But don’t wait till you feel a huge stretch to fold forward, remembering that tilting the pelvis into a fold increases the knee strain. So save some room to move for your forward bend.
In this way, your shin and frointed foot will come forward naturally and totally hands-free.
3) Working with the hips too low if the knee hurts
For some, bending the front knee in Pigeon and having the hips lowering can pull the quadriceps and front of the knee, straining the knee joint before it stretches the hips. If you feel knee pain before a hip stretch, work on tighter front thigh muscles first by raising your front hip onto a rolled blanket or block(s).
Allowing your quads to release by lowering your bolster little by little over time will eventually get you into the hip muscles without overwhelming your knees.
Applies to: Any externally rotating leg poses, like Ankle to Knee, Gomukhasana, ½ or Full Lotus (I don’t recommend the Lotus poses due to their extreme knee torque), Flying Crow, Supine Pigeon, Janu Sirsasana
My Yoga Online also had a great explanation of alignment in the pose here.
The second woman had questions about how to to Head-of-Knee pose. In class I had her align the upper body with the extended leg (which is what the description below says to do too). She said she usually folds the torso inside the leg and wanted to know which was better.
In Janu Sirsasana extending the upper body over the extended leg provides a mild spinal twist that deeply stretches the hamstrings, groins, and spine. It calms the mind, relieving anxiety, fatigue, and mild depression. It is also known to be therapeutic for high blood pressure and insomnia. This pose stimulates and massages the liver and kidneys, helping to improve digestion and relieve digestive troubles. It can also provide relief from menstrual discomfort and the symptoms of menopause.
You can learn more about How to Do Head-of-Knee Pose in Yoga on iSport.