A few approaches to a hyperextended knee in Asana

hyperextended knee

II.16. heyaim dukham anagatam

The pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided.
—Yoga Sutras, translation by B.K.S. Iyengar

I have gotten an overwhelming response from my post about the process of straightening the legs in Iyengar Yoga. Of course there are two sides to every coin, and in this case it is the plight of the knee hyperextenders.

A hyperextended knee occurs when the knee is bent backward (see above) and can damage ligaments, cartilage and other stabilizing structures in the knee. It may sound cliche, but the statement holds true that flexible people have a much more distinct disadvantage in Asana than those of us who are naturally stiff. That is because often times knee overextending practitioners are not aware that they are pushing too hard in the back of the joint until one day they are met with severe knee pain.

As a diagnostic test, do Utthita Trikonasana in front of a mirror and look at the back of your knee on the side you are leaning toward. If it is this shape (see below) than you are overextending. There is a distinct “look” to a hyperextended knee as fellow blogger mbdyoga commented the “tibia head is way behind the lower femur.” From a distance, the leg appears as though it is caving in from the knee joint.

hyperextended knee trikonasana

Here is what the knee should look like:

arun utthita trikonasana

If you are in the hyperextending camp, here are a few exercises you can do to create awareness of what a “normal” knee should feel like.

First, place a block in the back of the calf in Utthita Trikonasana. This will allow you to press against something without hyperextending the knee.

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Next, do Upavistha Konasana (Seated Angle Pose) on the floor with no blankets underneath the buttocks. This will allow you to again press down on the floor without risk of knee hyper extension. In forward bends don’t sit on height because you will hyperextend the knee.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 7.28.42 PM

Lastly, find a corner or a door jamb and extend one leg up into a modified Supta Padangushthasana (Reclined Big Toe Pose). Notice the other knee is bent to avoid hyper extending that leg too. Press the whole back of the leg against the structure to get a feel of what a “straight non-hyperextended knee leg” feels like.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 7.30.56 PM

Then take the awareness gained from these exercises into you daily practice. As a warning, I have heard that it feels like you are not stretching at all if you are ultra flexible. Be okay with that.

And until you have integrated this awareness of non hyperextension into your practice, I would advise doing “bent leg” forward bends in lieu of straight leg forward bends.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 7.38.30 PM

As I normally say, these exercises are only the tip of the iceberg. Fellow blogger Stephanie Tencer from Studio Po in Toronto, Ontario has further reflections on this subject from her own experience with hyperextended knees. To be safe, find a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher in your area. I hope many of you find this post helpful. As always, I am open to commentary and criticism. It only creates more awareness for my own sadhana.

Blessings!

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8 thoughts on “A few approaches to a hyperextended knee in Asana

  1. Nathalie

    I have found that the knee-hyperextenders need to learn the use of their quadriceps, as it is not engaging much when the student “straightens” the knee. Which is probably why the instruction is “lift the kneecaps,” as opposed to “straighten the legs.”
    Thanks for your posts!

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  2. Iyengar Student

    Lifting the kneecaps extends the knees. For a hyperextender, this either brings the leg to hyperextension or does nothing to stop it. It needs another action to balance – resist the calf forward while moving the top of the thighs back, etc. Micro bending helps.

    Focus on building strength. Do Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana 1 with the back to the wall, heel as close to the wall as possible and don’t allow the standing thigh to come forward. Micro bending is OK and can actually build more strength. Try to do 1 minute each side. This is what helped me the most.

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  3. Fnyogi@gmail.com

    Hi Michael! I got back to this article today because it is sooooo relevant for my practice… I am fighting my hyperextension but I haven’t found all the keys yet, since when going away from hyper extending, it means unlocking the knee and therefore losing a lot of stability in the leg: especially in the standing poses.
    In trikonasana, simply taking the toes off the floor helps the front leg but it is not entirely satisfying. I found for myself that I have to compensate with muscular work : quadriceps and calves. But it kills me mostly, and I am still not happy with it because I am never feeling well in the poses! We’ll never ending story. The journey of yogi probably.
    Anyways, I have a blog where I draw all my notes from the teacher training that I am taking here in Germany. I would love to translate this article for my French readers and also the one about drawing asanas. Would you allow me to do this and of course I would mention your blog as the original source of it. (I am requesting this in the comment Since I haven’t found a contact Mail on the page!) thank you in advance for your answer.

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Hi Fnyogi!
      Feel free to use my posts and translate them into other languages. It sounds like you are working hard to compensate for you hyperextended knee problem and have keenly linked it to your sadhana. Many blessings to you!

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    2. yogibattle Post author

      Hi Fnyogi!

      Just sending you prayers, well wishes and blessings during this difficult time. May you be safe and well and be a guiding light of peace through your teaching for your fellow countrymen.

      Be safe!
      Michael

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  4. Pingback: On the art of straightening the leg in Iyengar yoga | Home Yoga Practice

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