Friday, January 17, 2014

Quick Tip: How to check your knee alignment in Warrior II and similar poses

Knees are delicate joints, which is why yoga teachers tend to go on (and on!) about correctly aligning the knee in yoga poses. Unlike hips, which can move in many directions, knees are designed only to move in one direction. So when we do yoga poses, it's important to respect the way that knees are designed to move, otherwise we risk injuring this relatively delicate joint. Knees are hinge joints, designed to move on a single axis, just like the hinge of a door. And just like a hinge, they are especially vulnerable if you twist them away from that axis.

In standing poses where the knee is bent, correctly aligning the knee is especially important because the knee joint is bearing weight. In poses where the hips are facing forward, the body finds a safe alignment fairly naturally, just as it does every day when we walk or run. However, in poses such as Warrior II and extended angle pose (and Warrior I to a lesser extent), we put the body in an un-natural stance, with the pelvis facing sideways and the front foot facing forwards. When we then bend the knee, our body often comes out of its safe alignment, for a number of different reasons (stiffness in the hips, short adductor muscles, distraction…).

You'll often hear teachers cue "bring your knee over your ankle" to try and correct for this. But we all know that bringing the knee directly over the ankle in these poses can take years of practice! Instead, don't worry about how far forward your knee is: check the alignment of your knee by thinking about lining up two straight lines. The first (in pink) is a line that goes through the middle of your foot: approximately from the base of the second toe to the middle of the heel. The second (in blue) goes from your hip socket in the middle of the upper thigh to the middle of the kneecap. When those two axes are in line, you are good to go!

The pictures below hopefully makes it pretty clear. In 1) and 2) I've shown two common mis-alignments that I often see in class, just to help illustrate the point. 3) shows what it should look like.

(PS: You usually can't see your foot from standing in Warrior II, so lean forward to check your alignment, and then straighten up again).

My cat has recently been taking a renewed interest in disdainfully watching me do yoga, so you also get a bonus of some cute little cat feet off to the side!!


  1. Hi,

    Can you give me some tips or some suggestions on what I should do to stretch the back of my knee. I am finding that the area behind my knee is very sore when I sit on the floor cross legged or in other positions for a few minutes and then get up. Obviously it is very tight there (I am not sure if it is from running) but I would love some tips on what to do. Your calf exercises on your blog were absolutely awesome and really helped me. Now I need some exercises for the part behind my knee (ie that area at the back of the knee).

    1. Hi Brad - I'm glad the calf stretches worked for you, and thanks for the request. Stay tuned and I'll have something for you soon!

  2. What about the back leg in warrior II? If I don't keep the back knee bent then it hurts. Then my leg's not engaged. It doesn't bother me so much in warrior I. I think it's mostly when I square my hips forward in warrior II. I feel like my leg is twisting no matter how I angle my foot.

    1. Hi Tricia, I'm not sure I understand your question correctly. In Warrior 2, your hips are turned towards the side. In Warrior 1, your hips are squared towards the front.

      You are doing the right thing by bending your knee or looking to adapt the pose some other way - you should never push onwards in a pose when you feel your joints are in pain!

      In order to keep the leg engaged and avoid any knee pain, try turning the back toes forward and lifting up the back heel like in a lunge. I personally practice this version of Warrior I as I feel it is a much more comfortable and safe alignment.

    2. I'm sorry, I meant warrior 1! I'm going to try lifting the heel like you said. Thanks so much!