By focusing on the alignment and softening of the knee and elbow joints you can safely cater to participants with widely differing ranges of motion.
YogaFit’s Seven Principles of Alignment (SPA), which has been discussed in previous instalments of this feature, is a useful tool for explaining the importance of proper anatomical alignment to your yoga fitness participants. One area addressed by these principles is softening and aligning the knees and the elbows
As hinge joints, our elbows and knees naturally flex and extend. However, range of motion within these joints varies from person to person. In addition, a small degree of lateral flexion is built into both of these joints as a means to support the joint through shock absorption – not to extend flexibility or load from other areas of the body, which is what can happen without due care.
Aligning the joint
For alignment, a good rule is to align the knee with the ankle or big toe. An example of this would be in chair pose, where we want to sit back away from the toes, taking our weight into our quads and glutes and away from our knees and ankles. Further alignment will bring the knees along the same degree as our first or second toe, thereby keeping the knee joint stable and avoiding either collapsing in or out, which could increase pressure on the ligaments of the knee, the ankle and possibly the hips, pelvis and lower back.
Elbow alignment comes quite naturally to most people during yoga practice, provided that in weight bearing poses, such as plank or crocodile pose (tricep push up), the wrist is aligned to the shoulder joint and the elbows are tucked into the body.
Softening the joint
As mentioned, range of motion within the joint can vary greatly between individuals. Softening the joint – and avoiding locking or hyperextension – is therefore very important. Hyperextension is defined by moving past a 180-degree line of the joint to a point at which the muscles surrounding the joint are no longer supporting it.
In the elbows this is often seen in plank pose, where the insides of the elbow shine forward or in some cases create the look of a bow. To correct this, begin in the shoulder girdle, rolling the shoulder blades back and down. With the arms straight, maintain the activation of both the biceps and triceps and gently turn the insides of the elbow in towards the centre of the body. Take time to notice the stabilisation felt through the entire upper body with this simple adjustment.
Similarly, we want to avoid locking the knee joint and reducing the muscular support of the knees and overall strength and support of the lower body during exercises such as mountain pose. By softening or adding a micro-bend to the knees, we are better able to engage the muscles of the quads and hamstrings, which carry up to our pelvis and lower back. This reduces the lordotic curve of our spine, or anterior pelvic tilt, and releases tension from the muscles that support our lower back.
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Lisa Greenbaum is the VP of Operations of YogaFit Training Systems, as well as an E-RYT 500, Senior Master Trainer and international presenter.