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Yoga Anatomy: How to Lower Your Legs in Baddha Konasana
In Yoga Mat Companion Book 2: Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends, I mention an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you are unable to attain a goal, do not abandon the goal. Rather, change your strategy to reach it.” A specific example of this would be working to bring the knees closer to the floor in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose). Say you have tried pressing on the knees, putting weights on them, etc., and you can’t get the results you want. Perhaps it’s time for a change of strategy.
I teach the following technique in my workshops, both to illustrate how spinal cord reflex arcs function and to help practitioners bring their knees closer to the floor.
Analyze Your Pose
We’ll use the Bandha Yoga Codex to analyze the asana. This is a simple process that you can apply to any pose to improve flexibility, strength, and precision—no matter what style of yoga you practice.
Let’s focus on the lower extremities in Bound Angle Pose. Begin by looking at the general form of the pose. The hips flex, abduct, and externally rotate, and the knees flex. Next, look at the muscles that engage in producing this position. The hip abductors (and their synergist, the sartorius) draw the knees apart and toward the floor. The external rotators turn the thighs out, and the hamstrings flex the knees.
I usually start my work on a pose by gently engaging these muscles—I call them the synergists of the asana. This stimulates the brain centers associated with the muscles and joints and creates an imprint on the homunculus. It essentially says to the brain, “Baddha Konasana.” This is an example of the mind-body connection in yoga. Next, determine which muscles are stretching. These will be the antagonists of the muscles that produce the form of the asana. Click here to understand agonist/antagonist relationships better. The muscles that stretch in a pose are the same ones that can limit openings. In the case of Baddha Konasana, tight adductors of the hips (muscles that act to draw the knees together) can restrict lowering the knees toward the floor.
Once you have identified the muscle group that is stretching, apply your knowledge of physiology to create length in those muscles. Below is the technique for using proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) to stretch the adductors in Baddha Konasana. This works nicely to bring the knees closer to the floor (some students say it’s like magic).
Engage the biceps to constrain the thighs.
Engage the adductors for PNF.
Apply Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
Take the general form of the pose. Grasp the feet with the hands and bend the elbows to place them in the crease between the lower legs and thighs. Activate the biceps and brachialis muscles to flex the elbows a bit further. This will bring the knees a little lower and stretch the adductors out to their “set length.”
Keep the biceps and brachialis engaged and then contract the adductor group. The cue for this is to attempt to lift the knees and draw them toward the midline. The elbows will prevent the thighs from moving, but activating the adductors will stimulate the Golgi tendon organs at their muscle-tendon junction. Hold this contraction for five to six smooth deep breaths, using a maximum of about 20 percent of your force.
Then relax the adductors and gently activate the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius (muscles that abduct the knees toward the floor). A cue for this action is to press the soles of the feet together.
Lastly, engage the hamstrings by squeezing the lower legs into the thighs and bringing the heels closer to the pelvis. This helps to maintain the integrity of the knee joint.
Repeat this entire process once more before coming out of the pose. Don't worry if your thighs do not come all the way down to the floor. Instead, look for improvement in the pose and then work on it again in subsequent practice sessions.
Engage the TFL and gluteus medius to abduct the hips and stretch the adductors.
Engage the hamstrings to flex the knees.
Now take Dandasana (Staff Pose). This balances the stretch of the adductors by engaging them to bring the legs together—just as Hatha Yoga balances the Sun and Moon. Don’t worry if you can’t get your knees down immediately. Please note that the positioning, depth, and orientation of your hip sockets and how the femur bones articulate with them is also a factor. If your hip joints are not designed for easy external rotation, your knees may never reach the floor. So instead, look for progress. Remember to allow 48 hours for muscle recovery and then go through this sequence again.
Read more on this topic from Ray Long, MD, and YogaUOnline - Yoga for Healthy Knees: Understanding Biomechanics Can Protect Your Knee in Lotus Pose.
This article is reprinted with permission from Daily Bandha.
Author Ray Long MD, FRCSC, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga. Ray graduated from The University of Michigan Medical School with post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, The University of Montreal, and Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over twenty years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters.
3d Graphic Designer / Illustrator Chris Macivor has been involved in the field of digital content creation for well over ten years. He is a graduate of Etobicoke School of the Arts, Sheridan College and Seneca College. Chris considers himself to be equally artistic and technical in nature. As such, his work has spanned many genres, from film and television to video games and underwater imagery.