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  • Baxter Bell, MD

Yoga Alignment Principles vs. Functional Movement Concepts

I recently got this inquiry from one of my students, Betty:

Curious about the instruction we've used and heard forever to keep the knee over the ankle in standing bent knee poses like lunge and Vira 1 and 2. You used it in this practice. Bone strength and alignment vs muscles. I've been taking a functional movement class that encourages knee ahead of the ankle as that is how we walk and climb stairs and squat to pick things up. Ankle flexibility, calf and knee support muscle stability. Comment? Insight? Thanks!

What a great question, Betty!

Knee position in yoga poses

I took a look online to get clear on the term “functional movement” and found this from EW Motion Therapy: “By definition, a functional movement is a movement sequence based on real-world situations. They are any movements you perform in multiple planes of motion with multiple joints to help you accomplish things more efficiently.” And another source defined 7 functional movements: “There are seven basic movements the human body can perform and all other exercises are merely variations of these seven: Pull, Push, Squat, Lunge, Hinge, Rotation and Gait. When performing all of these movements, you will be able to stimulate all of the major muscle groups in your body.” (You might take a moment and run these 7 through your yoga filter and consider any gaps in yoga’s ability to support all 7. Hint: there are 2 in particular yoga is a bit weak on.)

It is interesting to compare the modern yoga recommendations regarding holding poses statically for a while, as I learned from some of my teachers in the Iyengar tradition, and what my student is learning in their functional movement classes. Both ways of working may be of value.

When holding poses, such as Warrior 2, Side Angle and Warrior 1, for a long while, it may be better for the joint of the front knee to positioned directly above the ankle to reduce sheering forces in the joint. This may be particularly true if you are going to be there for a few minutes. Notice my use of “may”, for as far as I know, there are no specific studies that support this recommendation.

And indeed, with actual movements such as walking, hiking, running, stair and hill climbing, the knee does go beyond the ankle joint. That is one reason when I teach my mini-vinyasas I am not as adamant about the “yoga recommendation” regarding knee-ankle alignment. Although I suppose I still sometimes fall back on the older modern yoga instructions, even when guiding something like dynamic Warrior 2.

Yoga and tennis - knee positions

And I couldn’t help but think about my ready stance in tennis, when awaiting a serve or a returning ball, where my ankles, knees and hips are all flexed, and my knees are over my toes, not my ankles. This position allows for explosive movements in many possible directions. I usually am only holding this position for 5-10 seconds at the most, but I do it a hundred times per match. My static Warrior 2 pose does not exactly support this other functional position needed to play tennis well.

If I were to start incorporating the functional movement concepts into yoga-style practices, I would want to create something that actually mimics real life movements, like “dynamic climbing the stairs,” or “slow motion walking in place”… you get the idea. The possibilities are endless.

Hey, wait a minute…I’m already doing that! If you have been in class lately and done my hopping transitions and other dynamic movements, you have experienced movements that are aligned with the functional movement concept. Stay tuned for more of those down the road!

Those are my thoughts for now. Until the next time...



1 комментарий

Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette
06 апр. 2023 г.

I know yoga isn't as good at the "pull" movements...what's the other one? Maybe gait since most poses are more static?

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