Chances are, if you suffer from a sore knee or two, you’ll end up being treated for your sore knee. However, for lots of people in Western, sitting culture, these types of problems stem from our super stiff hips! Truth is, it’s at the essence of so many knee problems that our approach should be to rehab the hips along with the knees, because even with knee replacements, it’s highly likely the same problems will arise sooner or later. All our bits are connected and things rarely exist in isolation.
Despite the fact that it’s a very strong hip stretch, I rarely ever teach Eka Pada Raja Kapotonasana (One Legged King of the Pigeon Pose) anymore in class (main image on the right). It’s truly a dangerous pose for the majority and so hard on most people’s knees, it should never really be part of any sequence unless it’s been prepared for thoroughly. Indeed, the reason why so many Westerners have bunged their knees practising “yoga” is from forcing poses like this (forcing is never yoga) and things like Lotus pose (Padmasana) which require extreme flexibility in the hips. Any yoga pose that cannot easily be moved in to without having to use another part of your body is potentially going to cause injury. Coming in to a lotus position should be as easy and comfortable as folding your arms! But is it? Not for us!
You can see in the main image that if I were standing up, there is no way I could get my shin up that high and hold it there in space. So, in a way, I am not being true to myself and my ACTUAL range of movement.This means there is potential to hurt my knee if I am not cautious. Luckily for me, I understand “bandha” and know how to protect my joints but what about “normal” people who attend yoga classes. Do they? Will they understand if I explain? Perhaps, perhaps not and how will I know?
My actual range of movement can be seen in the other two images. What I am aiming to do is to to get my foot or my heel closer to the opposite shoulder and higher than the knee – that would be a flexible hip and really, only if I could do that, should I really attempt a lotus pose, since only then, will I know it’s safe for my body (I should add that my hips are a little more flexible than most – but still stiff compared to an original yogi!).
The first two images are perfect examples of how to stretch and strengthen hips and knees without putting any pressure on any of the joints. They are active movements that naturally engage the core (particularly the balance).
In truth, I would advise avoiding pigeon pose and others like it unless you happen to be a rare person who can flip your legs gracefully in to a lotus pose in the same amount of time it takes you to fold your arms. Try the two options on the left as they will prove advantageous rather than damaging!