Not long after I first began practicing yoga, one of my instructors pointed out that I hyperextend my knees. I thought I was just straightening my legs as instructed. Over the years, I have focused my attention on both straightening my legs and lifting the kneecaps without shoving the knees backwards. Shoving the knees backwards always resulted in a harsh feeling inside my knees. It was never painful, but it certainly did not feel supportive. Gently pressing back through the knees and lifting the kneecaps alleviated some of the pressure, but there was still a harshness and compression that did not feel quite right. My left knee also often made a popping noise when I walked up stairs. Though it did not hurt, I knew the popping was not a good thing.
Happily, when Nina came back from the recent IYNAUS convention in San Diego, she brought some invaluable nuggets of wisdom to share with those of us lucky enough to be her students. Birjoo Mehta, a senior Iyengar teacher from Mumbai, shared these techniques with her and the many other teachers at the convention.
One technique that has been especially helpful for me is activating the thighs by gently working from the kneecaps while moving the posterior aspect of the quadriceps down towards the knee. When I first heard this instruction, I thought, “How in the world do I move just the inside surface of my quad downwards? The side of the muscle facing the femur bone?? How does that move on its own?” But, of course, as with many other instructions in yoga, something changed when I directed my attention to that part of my thigh.
The other bit of wisdom that has helped my knees was straightening the legs in some standing poses by imagining the knee itself as a fulcrum, around which the thigh rotates to lift and straighten the entire leg. After working with my knees this way for a few weeks now, I feel a sense of supportive fullness inside the knees as I work my legs. The harshness is gone and the popping noise in my left knee has disappeared.
Developing an awareness of when my legs are straight and when they are beyond straight has taken many years of practice. But in only a few weeks of practicing in a different way, with more sensitivity and subtlety, I have experienced a change that I had used to wonder would ever happen. This is a wonderful illustration of how yoga continues to teach me patience and trust, among many other things. If I am patient and trust that things will change for the better if I keep working and learning, changes will indeed come.
Lisa Incognito RN, brings compassion and a warm sense of humor to each yoga class. She began practicing Iyengar yoga in 2006, and finds joy in sharing the physical, mental and emotional benefits of yoga with others. She has attended workshops with nationally recognized Iyengar instructors Felicity Green and Marla Apt. Lisa is working towards becoming a certified Iyengar yoga instructor through her apprenticeship with Nina Pileggi.