Edit: please be sure to read the comments for further discussion on the pictures. It’s very hard to describe the motion that’s going on in words. : )
At my Anatomy weekend in July I learned something very valuable: I hyperextend everything.
I always knew that my elbows hyperextend while in all fours and down dog. And I’ve heard repeated warnings about hyperextension of the knees, but since I could look at my elbows and tell that they were hyperextended, I thought I’d just know if my knees were doing the same thing. And I had no idea that hyperextension of the shoulders was even possible.
During class at the training, the teacher gave a valuable clue that made it “click” in my brain. If you’re hyperextending a joint, then the joint is doing the work instead of the muscles. I already knew that – but how can you tell if the muscles are floating along letting the knee do all the work?
The key is that when your muscles are engaged, your patella (kneecap) is immobile. It follows that in a pose like triangle, if you can grab your kneecap and wiggle it, you’re hyperextending. If you add a slight bend to the knee, your muscles engage, and that kneecap becomes fixed.
This is one of those things I feel like I was the last to learn. But armed with this knowledge, I have slowly begun revolutionizing my practice. I feel like I need to re-learn every standing pose. It’s a big blow to my ego. I know adding the bend at the knee keeps my body safe and prevents injury, but darnit, the poses just don’t look as pretty as I’m used to!
So here’s to taking our ego out of our yoga and learning to modify the asanas for our own bodies, instead of the other way around : )
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