Myth: Your knee should always point down in standing half-bound lotus
Where the knee points in standing half-bound lotus tells us something about where tension is in the student. Yoga practitioners are understandably concerned about their knees in lotus, as the knee is a vulnerable joint. I imagine it’s for that reason I’ve heard lots of well-meaning verbal cues and directions intended to keep those knees happy.
But, sometimes we need to dig a little deeper into our understanding of something as complex as the knee joint. This is especially true if we want to make sense of how and when to suggest that someone orient their knee in a particular way. In this article, I want to continue my series on unpacking common alignment cues. We’ll take a look at standing and seated half-bound lotus from the perspective of what to do with those knees and what alignment cues make sense to me.
Where does this cue come from?
So, what about the cue to “point the knee straight down to the floor” in standing half-bound lotus, or the cue to “point the knee straight forward” in seated half-bound lotus? Either way, the cue is really asking for the same thing. Where does that cue come from? My best guess is that someone using that cue recognizes that something isn’t quite right. But, I think it’s also easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone should look the same when doing a posture. It’s true that there may be an ideal that we are heading toward in a posture. However, with respect to how each student approaches that ideal, as teachers we need to dig deeper.
What am I observing and why?
When we see something that catches our attention we need to ask ourselves why? Why is this student not able to point their knee in the direction I think they should? Are they not listening? Are they not capable? Is it something anatomical? The answer to this question is often different for each student. When we’re considering whether a student is able to place their body in certain positions, we need to think about several factors. How long has the student has been practicing? And, how open are their tissues?
This is especially important when it comes to a posture such as half-bound lotus, regardless of whether we are standing or sitting. The reason it’s so important here is because we know that the knee is prone to injury. Typically, we need to recognize that the direction of the knee is symptomatic of tension somewhere in the body. But, is directing half-bound lotus from the knee a good idea? And why is that knee reluctant to point straight down or straight ahead anyway?
Let’s start unpacking these questions by reviewing some anatomy.
We’ve covered standing half-bound lotus in another post. In that post we reviewed the intentions that you might be working on in the posture and the anatomy involved in bringing the pose together. We’ve also covered half-lotus and lotus in various forms in other posts. There is one thing I’ve consistently highlighted in all of those articles regarding the knee. That is that tension or movement at the knee is intimately related to what’s happening at the joints above and below the knee.
A chain of joints
Remember that the knee lives in the middle of a chain of joints. So, whatever the knee is doing reflects what is happening with the foot and ankle and the hip joints. In half-bound lotus, I’m especially interested in what is going on at the hip joint. It’s actually the situation at the hip joint that is going to tell us a lot about why the knee is pointing wherever it is pointing. Tension at the hip joint from muscles such as the lateral gluteals (gluteus medius and gluteus minimus), tensor fascia latae, and the deep six lateral rotators can all influence how the thigh is positioned in a half-lotus position.
And of course, at the other end of the thigh is the knee. So, the amount and type of tension at the hip joint has a lot to do with where the knee ends up pointing in our half-lotus poses. Tension at the hip can prevent the knee from ending up in a position that points either straight down (in a standing forward bend), or straight forward (in a seated forward bend). In that case, we’ll see the knee pointing out to the side (which typically comes from the other hip) in either pose. The other possibility is that we see the knee is lifted up if seated, or is further forward than we like when standing.
It’s about the hips, not the knees
But, is there a reason that we think the knee should point in a particular direction? The short answer is no. The knee pointing out to the side in a standing half-lotus does tell us something about where there may be tension in the body. But, I don’t think simply pointing our knee down toward the floor is our primary, or even our ultimate goal in this pose. The position of the knee may encourage me to engage with a student by asking some more questions. I might ask if they are experiencing any knee pain or pressure in the pose, or if they have any history of knee injuries. But, I’m going to use that information to go back to the hip.
So, does trying to point the knee in a particular way address our intention to keep the knees happy in standing or seated half-lotus poses? No, I don’t think it points us in the direction of the tension that would likely be causing any pressure felt in the knee.
What to do with that knee?
If the knee is pointing more out to the side, let it. Or, come up with a different way to accommodate the tension in the hips that is preventing the knee from pointing where we want. My personal preference is to keep the thigh at about a forty-five degree angle from the other leg and have the knee lifted up or forward. Remember, the knee is telling us that there is tension at the hip joint to work with. By all means, work more intentionally to stretch the muscles around the hip joint. But, please don’t arbitrarily cue students to point the knee somewhere when the hip joint is not allowing that to happen.
With my years of experience, I can definitely say that the full expression of lotus is not the best way to open the hip joint muscles that need to be open to allow for a full lotus. In this case the same holds for half-bound lotus. The good news is that you will often find that the body is more adaptable when only doing lotus on one side. In other words, there are more areas of the body that can compensate for the tension in the hip. Use this information to make good decisions about what is best for the student at this moment in time. And then, let the technique or instructions change over time.