Offering Registered Massage Therapy & Yoga Therapy in Courtenay BC

2 Cues I Encourage For the Knees

I'm a firm believer that yoga cues don't apply to everyone...

Yes, every yoga cue has a purpose. A good purpose, even! 

But, in a group setting, a teacher has to speak to the group as a whole and try to cover all the bases.

They may notice a few individuals struggling to find or move into the correct shape, and they will give tips and cues to address that. And yet… 

There will be enough people in the class who were doing just fine…

I also feel that in some instances, a cue that might promote a safe practice for one person could be unsafe for another!

Everyone has a different history. 

Different levels of mobility. Disability. Old injuries. Fusions, rods or pins. Reconstructed joints… You name it!

Some cues that promote a safe and more effective practice in one body could actually be problematic in another. 

For instance:

In chair pose, a common cue is to send your weight back into your heels. But I have worked with quite a few individuals who already send their weight way back… And so if they were to follow this cue, they’d probably topple over backwards!

In fact, these people probably need to do the opposite of the teacher’s cue. They probably need to send their weight ever so slightly forward. 

There ARE however, two cues I urge everyone to follow or try

And they have everything to do with your knees...

If you consider your knees and the ways they move most freely, what immediately comes to mind is bending and straightening. 

But did you know that when the knee is flexed, there is also a small amount of rotation available?

We need our knees to have a little more freedom of movement other than just flexion and extension because that’s what prevents them from being too rigid of a structure. Our knees need to be fairly adaptable, after all.  

The one type of movement, however, that the knee does NOT really do, is side to side… 

Imagine you’re looking at the thigh and leg straight on, and the lower leg is moving side to side like a grandfather clock’s pendulum.

This motion would create ‘gapping’ between the thigh bone and lower leg bone on ONE side, while on the OTHER side, the thigh bone and lower leg bone would kind of get smushed towards each other. 

For the most part, we want to keep our knees from experiencing too much strain or pressure in this side to side direction, and that’s where these two cues come in. 

Cue #1: "Flex your ankle to protect your knee"

In certain positions like figure four (ankle to knee), pigeon and firelog, a lot of pressure can be placed on the outer-side of the knee when the stretch is taken too deep. 

In these positions, the ankle is firmly stabilized on the other leg or on the floor, and the hip needs to rotate to allow the leg to fall out to the side. 

If the hip joint runs out of rotation, but the ankle is stabilized in place, the only spot in the leg that’s left to ‘give’ is the knee joint.

The pressure of sending the knee away from the torso when the hip can’t move any further might just influence ‘gapping’ on the outer side of the knee – especially in knees that tend to be hyper mobile or have a history of injury.

For those who feel a funny feeling of pressure or strain in the outer knee in these types of positions, flexing the ankle can create a feeling of stability at the knee joint. 

We don’t really know why… The muscles that move the ankle and create this stability in the lower leg bones doesn’t actually affect the knee joint, but there’s something about the overall ‘tension’ that’s created through the whole limb that makes things feel more ‘stable’. 

This is one of those cues that may not be necessary for everyone, but is worth experimenting with to make the decision for yourself. You may not have really realized something felt funny at the knee until you’ve experienced this tip!

Cue #2: "Place your foot below or above the knee", in Tree.

When the foot is placed at the knee joint in Tree, there is now a risk of putting unsafe pressure on the inner knee and creating a that same ‘gapping’ effect on the outer knee.

If you don’t have the mobility to bring your foot all the way up to your thigh, keep it low. 

There are other ways to work on building up that mobility so that one day you can do the more advanced version of the pose without having to sacrifice your knee as a stepping stone. 

It was surprisingly difficult to find a good picture of Tree pose! So many photos show people placing their foot against their inner knee! Don’t always trust the photos you see online!

So if you have knees that tend to be a little cranky, hopefully these two tips help you bring a little more confidence and safety to your practice. 

There are lots of ways positions like pigeon and firelog can be supported while you build up your hip mobility, and there are lots of ways to work on your ability to bring your foot higher up your leg – all without compromising your knees. 

In fact! I think I will make a couple of month’s practice videos, blog posts and Facebook posts all about that! 

So stay tuned!

In the meantime, watch the videos above and keep this information in mind the next time you find yourself in similar positions!

This blog entry was written by Heather and is based on what she has seen resonate with, and work for her clientele for over a decade. She is a career student who keeps her massage and yoga therapy training current, and does her best to keep up with the newest research and evidence.

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