I am intrigued by yoga’s impact on our anatomy and movement. I plan to dedicate the next few blogs to different parts of the body, their anatomy, and safe movement.
We do yoga to feel good; yoga is not meant to be painful. Learning to move safely is most definitely in our best interest. It is also our personal responsibility. You know your body, what hurts; what does not. Pain does not serve us. I don’t believe in the “No pain; no gain” philosophy. There is a difference in an area feeling like it is being worked and frank pain. Never continue in a pose when there is pain. If you are not sure if a pose is hurting you more than helping you, just back off a little. Remember: yoga classes are a safe place where there is no judgment and no competition. You do what you need to do and leave the rest for another day. Your life won’t change that much if you can do some yoga pose or not!
Last week I blogged about tight quadriceps and how to start loosening them up. Kneeling poses are where I really felt the tightness in the top of my thighs and into my knees. We really want to protect the knee joint so any surrounding muscles need to be in optimal health and condition. I also feel the problem in tree pose; my foot does not go much higher than my knee.
The action of bending our knee results in a lengthening of our quadriceps and a contraction in our hamstring. When we straighten our knee, the opposite happens, the hamstrings stretch out and the quadriceps contract. When those of us with hyper-extended knees sit back into our knees, the quadriceps contract even more and the hamstrings stretch even more. Minimizing this hyper-extension will help let the quadriceps stop over working throughout the day. This is a very hard habit to break!
In the meantime we continue to use blocks in Hero pose (Virasana) to protect our knees and allow our quadriceps to gently. Simple kneeling pose (Bhujrasana) also offers this gentle stretch and can also be done using a folded blanket or block. These two poses offer other physical benefits than just quadriceps stretching. They are beneficial for the lower back, the hips, knees, and ankles. It stimulates both thyroid and parathyroid activity and helps relieve high blood pressure. Besides these physical benefits these two poses also help calm your mind and sooth the nervous system. So, sit into either one of these poses comfortably and relax your mind for a while as you let all these things just happen naturally. You don’t have to feel a majorly strong stretch. Let the stretch happen as passively as possible.
The quadricep muscles attach at the knee area and also at the front of the hips. Stretching the hip flexor area will help loosen the quadriceps also. Lying face down in Half Frog pose (Ardha Bhekasana) is a great way to stretch out the top of your thigh as it allows you to simultaneously extend the hip joint and flex the knee allowing the rectoris femoris (RF) muscle to fully lengthen. Start lying face down with your knees 3 or 4 inches apart. Bend your right knee and grab your foot as it moves towards your buttocks. Alternatively you can use a strap to hook around your foot. Press your pubic bone toward the floor eliminating any gap between your hip and the the floor. Gently pull your heel down towards the outer edge of your buttock. Hold this for between 1 and 2 minutes. Don’t force the stretch. Focus on your breath. As you breath in you create more space; as you exhale you can move into that space.
Balance is key here: remember to stretch your hamstrings also. A simple stretch can be a forward fold while holding opposite elbows. Make sure not to hyper-extend your knees while doing this and focus on trying to relax into the pose.
Relaxing your short, tight quadriceps may take you some time. Be patient, go easy, and most importantly remember to breathe!
To your health.
The following sources were used to write this article: Hero’s Journey from Yoga Journal and Hatha Yoga Illustrated.
Disclaimer: All articles written on Microyogi are opinions and not meant to serve as any kind of instruction for how to move your body. I am merely writing to serve as a means of trying to find my own answers. I am not a certified trainer or medical expert.