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.

Pigeon Pose

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.


Susan, March 18, 2012

Many thanks for writing valuable post regarding the subject. I am a fan of your site. Maintain the great work.

TaraFit™, March 18, 2012

Thanks Susan!!!

Misa, March 21, 2012

Can I clone your article to my blog? Thank you.

TaraFit™, March 22, 2012

Yes – but only if you use provide a link back to my website.


Ahmad, April 13, 2012

I purchased his book, for evresal reasons. I have suffered from lower lumbar back pain for 40 years. Forty years ago, the Veterans Administration Hospital strongly recommended surgery. And meanwhile provided grocery bags of killers.But I also lived and worked in an African village for two years. I knew Esther was on the right track. The functional posture and strength of both men and woman in the tribe in which I lived, was awesome. Esther’s photographs beautifully capture the functional poise that I witnessed many years ago.I bought this book with great hopes. Sadly, some of the ideas in this book only injured my back further.But I can also say the same for the dozens of back books and seminars which I have read or attended over forty years. Whether the subject is Tai Chi, Yoga, or Pilates, I always find that some exercises seem to help, but there are unhappily always a few exercises that do further injury. And there is the rub.I am also amazed that Esther does not show the ancient village squat. This is a glaring ommission. A westerner can not live, or travel, in the 3rd world and not observe the ease and frequency with which villagers young and old can assume the village squat.Generally, Westeners just can’t seem to squat like this for any length of time. I am mystified that this functional and popular position is not captured in her photographs.I would love to see Esther take her beautiful but beginning research a step further.Thankfully, I eventually found right here at Amazon some back books and DVD’s which have given me relief from for the first time in 40 years as well as a new found ability to run and ice skate again.Admittedly, my search was a long journey, but I found the best self help yet in the books and DVD’s of Peter Egoscue. Book by book, I became so impressed with the results, that I eventually bought every book and DVD Peter has written or produced.My back problems are largely confined to the lower lumbar area, due to injuries sustained in Vietnam in 1970.Ironically, Peter Egoscue is also a Vietnam veterean who sustained injuries while on duty. Peter embarked on his own search to heal himself.What a marvelous, simple and sound approach he has pioneered. Not one of Peter egoscue’s procedures has ever caused my back further injury or pain!In response to the one negative comment I received, may I affirm and clarify that my back injuries are serious due to substantial injuries sustained in Vietnam. I do recognize that many other people will be well served by Esther’s exercises. But, I also wish to extend a hopeful hand to those whose injuries are severe, life long, and who so far may have found only partial or intermittent help with the many modalities of back treatment that have developed over the past 40 years.In addition, to the books and DVD’s I recommended above, I now wish to one more book that I earlier witheld due to its price. Rehabilitation of The Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual by Craig Liebsenson. Available here on Amazon.Yes, the price is edgy! But this book is a must have for anyone who experiences chronic and severe back difficulties. A magnificent and clearly articulated review of all of the current treatment modalities available in the mainstream as well as the alternative medical fields today. Pay attention to what Dr Vladimir Janda is doing to treat patients in Czechoslovakia.Once again, good luck with your own search for back health.

a vitamin, April 14, 2012

Hi, I just stopped by to visit your website and thought I’d say I had a great visit.

lost city apk, April 15, 2012

Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article. I will make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of Knee Deep in Yoga Substitution | TaraFitâ„¢ – Fitness Through Yoga & the Art of Belly Dance . Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely comeback.

TaraFit™, April 15, 2012


TaraFit™, April 15, 2012


TaraFit™, April 15, 2012


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