Along with the increasing popularity of yoga, recent studies and supported meta-analyses note a rise in reported yoga injuries with sirsasana (headstand), sarvangasana (shoulder stand), and padmasana (lotus pose) being the big three culprits. For safe sequencing and informed asana work, practitioners need to go beyond exclusively knowing the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments to understanding how each part of the human body works together to produce movement.
Let’s break down one of the big three and look at the the biomechanics, or the science of movement, of the knee in padmasana to maintain healthy and happy knees. This article with introduce basic biomechanics that relate to padmasana; for a more detailed and comprehensive understanding of the knee joint, it is best to see a professional healthcare provider as well as an experienced yoga teacher.
Introduction the Knee Joint
The knee joint is the largest and most superficial joint in the human body; however, it is fairly weak mechanically and much of its stability is dependent on the strength of the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
The femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), and patella (kneecap) constitute the knee. As a compound joint, the tibiofemoral joint (connecting the tibia and femur) and patellofemoral joint (connecting the patella and femur) work together for movement. Each knee has two menisci, or C-shaped pieces of cartilage, that provide cushion and support between the femur and tibia.
Conceptualizing the legs in padmasana, the hips and knees are flexed and externally rotated. The knees can flex around 20 degrees more when the hips are flexed, an example of how closely the two joints work together along with muscles of the legs for a safe and comfortable padmasana.
Limiting Factors in Padmasana
A common limiting factor in padmasana is the connection between the calf and thigh. Especially with people who have larger legs, it can feel like there is not enough space to fold like a pretzel in padmasana. A more serious limiting factor to successfully mastering padmasana is tight hamstrings. Tight hamstring place stress on the medial meniscus and can be observed when a student attempts padmasana and their knees are way off the ground or when as student has to yank their legs into lotus position. According to the Mayo Clinic, a torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries and can result from any activity where forceful twisting or rotating the knee occurs.
To safely practice padmasana, the hips and knees should be comfortable and relaxed in external rotation. The goal is for gentle and easy transitions with legs that glide without force into and out of padmasana.
A Simple Practice of External Rotation for Healthy Knees in Padmasana
1. Marichyasana - variation
In this variation of marichyasana, the back can remain erect and the drishti (gaze) can rest gently on the big toe. The left leg is heavy and active, the left foot is flexed with the toes spreading apart. The right knee is flexed and right heel is planted on the floor as close to the butt as possible. The hands can pull gently on the right shin.
2. Janu Sirsasana - variation
In this variation of janu sirsasana, the back can remain erect and the drishti (gaze) can rest gently on the big toe. The left leg is heavy and active, the left foot is flexed with the toes spreading apart. The right knee and hip are flexed and externally rotated. The right hand can gently press on the right thigh to assist in bringing the knee closer to the floor and elongating the hamstrings.
3. Ardha Padmasana
In this variation of ardha padmasana, the back can remain erect. The left leg is heavy and active, the left foot is flexed with the toes spreading apart. The right knee and hip are flexed and externally rotated. The right heel is pressing gently against the left hip groove. The right foot is active with the toes gently spreading apart. The hands can gently pull the right thigh and calf apart to assist with external rotation and try to create more space for the knee to reach the floor.
Especially for individuals with tight hips or newer to the practice, it is common to have the knees off the floor in padmasana. This can lead to injury and discomfort. To alleviate suffering, it is extremely beneficial to use blocks, bolsters, blankets, and/or anything available to you that works to both support your body and feel comfortable. By using support to bring the floor to the knees, the legs can relax and the hamstrings length making it easier in the future to practice padmasana. A comfy buckwheat hull zafu and accompanying zabuton cushion are two excellent tools for support and help alleviate pressure on the knees when practicing padmasana. Happy practicing with ease and comfort!