In Yoga, should the knee go beyond the ankle?

Should the knee go beyond the ankle in Yoga??

warrior 1

I have seen pictures of Iyengar Ji, Pattabhi Jois Ji, and Krishnamacharya Ji in asanas where their knees are far in front of the ankle. It was not something my teachers taught me. I questioned myself knee going beyond the ankle is it right or wrong? In yoga, we are taught that knees should never go beyond the ankle. E.g. in Utkatasana, Warrior I, and II as it stresses and strains the knee joint.

Knee beyond ankle

But does it hold absolute truth?

Questioning some of these long-standing yoga cues is likely to challenge the long-lasting beliefs. When we have heard something for years and it’s repeated multiple times we believe it to be true. It’s naturally difficult to raise doubts about that belief. I try not to deal with absolutes. Especially, when it comes to something as complex as the body and something as complex as yoga.

When is the knee most vulnerable to injury?

There is nothing inherently wrong with the knee passing over the ankle joint. We should be able to sustain that without any trouble. The bigger issue is when the “Knee is tilting in”, that’s more problematic. As it sneaks inwards, then there are forces moving in different directions through the knee joint. We must never let the knees collapse inwards or outwards. Instead, we must keep the knee in line with the toes. This is far more important to follow. It ensures efficient force transmission through the knee joint. Secondly, the inward collapse of the knee (or dynamic knee valgus) has been linked with ACL injuries. Thus, it is not a good idea to encourage this movement pattern.

A knee going straight forward and backward can bear more weight safely than a rotated knee.

The knee joint that is moving straight forward and backward is safe. We are weight-bearing through the center of the knee joint and the center of the ankle joint below it. We can flex and extend the knee as per the flexibility and strength of our muscles. Bringing the knee in front of the ankle in poses such as side angle, Warrior II, or Utkatasana will be fine for most people. It’s a normal movement.

Notice that the knee goes in “front of our ankle” every time we climb stairs or go for a hike uphill.

In poses like Warrior II, it is common for our front knee to want to “fall in” or internally rotate. It can be a bit due to tension around the hips. This is transferred into the knee joint through the kinetic chain of joints. It’s a problem when the knee internally rotates. Further, we transfer force into it because our hips are tight. This potentially puts a great amount of pressure on the inside of the knee. It’s much more than what the ligaments and muscles can resist.

 Why does the knee hurt sometimes in a Warrior pose?

There are quadriceps (4) muscles on the front thigh. All of these muscles form a common tendon at their end. It’s closest to the knee, which then wraps over the knee and attaches to the front of the lower leg. An imbalance in quadriceps strength becomes a problem. The imbalance between the medial (inside) and lateral (outside) quadriceps muscles can alter the position of the patella (kneecap). This can increase tension on the inside/outside of the knee joint. A general tightness in all the quadriceps can also restrict knee flexion. This is especially true when we are weight-bearing in poses like Warrior II. The quadriceps are eccentrically contracting to take us into the posture and contracting isometrically to hold us in the pose. If there is intense discomfort in a knee while doing Warrior II, just don’t go as far. As the quadriceps gain more strength and flexibility over time, one can perhaps go a little farther.

So what to do?

Don’t hold onto one particular rule. Consider the person doing the pose. The focus should be on individual alignment rather than universal alignment. Factors like body strength, flexibility, or the issues should be considered. For instance, a beginner holding a Warrior II pose for too long could have trouble. He/she might not have adequate strength yet to hold the pose for a longer duration. Universal alignment doesn’t fit all. There is a variation for a pose from person to person.

Consider yoga asana as a tool.

For the yoga asana tool to be most effective, we need to be aware of who is applying the tool. Some general guidelines are useful for teaching yoga. But it’s better to observe how different bodies move and resist certain movements. It’s anytime better than to memorize some arbitrary “alignment rules”, which won’t apply to everyone. It will be helpful in making informed decisions about one’s own practice. Also informed direction to students/clients for each of their individual practices.

Author: Dr. Roopal Patel

I’m Dr. Roopal Patel from Mumbai. A Dentist, Mrs. India 2018 runner-up, an International Yoga Instructor, the Chief Administrator of a Yoga Institute, a fitness model, and an avid traveler at heart with an insatiable and burning desire to explore the world, having set foot in 100 countries across 6 continents as of now. An adventurous alpha mother and a spunky globetrotter who has a claim to fame: ‘Atlas in my hands, adventure in my eyes, and never-ending wanderlust in my veins.’ My aim in life is to inspire and bring a smile to every life I touch. I live by the phrase "Carpe Diem" and firmly believe in यद् भावं तद् भवति ।