Foot Placement in Tree Pose

Foot Placement In Tree Pose: Is Your Knee Safe?

If you did not get a chance to read Dr. Trish Corley's article on foot placement in tree pose in the last issue of Namaskar Magazine, check it out here!

Namaskar Magazine
Foot Placement in Tree Pose

Have you given much thought to your foot placement in tree pose? I have heard countless yoga teachers tell me to avoid placing my foot on my knee during tree pose. I listened to my teachers for many years, and I never did experience any knee pain or injury during tree pose. More recently, I started questioning some of the common cues given in yoga and wonder where they come from and how they get passed down through generations of teacher and students. I played with placing the center of the sole of my foot directly on my knee during tree pose. And it feels good. It actually feels stable. And an anatomical analysis supports that it can be very stabilizing.

Although you may have been told so, the knee is NOT a hinge joint. Consider the hinge on a door. It allows the door to open and close. That is, the door only moves back and forth in one plane of movement. It may seem that your knee only bends and straightens. However, your knee (specifically the tibiofemoral joint) also has the ability to rotate slightly and if not for the stabilizing structures of the knee, it could move side-to-side. By definition, the knee is made up of two condyloid joints. The lower part of the femur (thigh bone) has two large rounded convex ends. The top part of the tibia (shin bone) has two shallow concave ends that support the convex ends of the femur. It is similar to two eggs resting on two spoons. And just as you would not want an egg to fall of the spoon, it is important that the ends of the femur stay inside the shallow supports of the tibia (while still allowing for movement to bend and straighten the knee as required in so many functional activities). Fortunately we have the menisci that create a deeper surface for the ends of the femur to rest in. However, we rely on our ligaments as well as the strength of muscles to really keep the knee stable. Without them, the knee would actually be as unstable as eggs on spoons. It just so happens that the structures around the knee allow for significant bending and straightening the knee, while rotation and side-to-side movement is limited. We rely on the strength of such structures to provide enough stability in the knee to hold us upright. In tree pose, you are standing on one leg and therefore stability in the knee is extremely important.

Placement in Tree Pose

Does placing your foot on your knee during tree increase, decrease, or not affect the stability of the knee? Two of the major supporting ligaments of the knee run along the inside and outside of the knee. As shown in the image (see image of the knee joint above) the lateral collateral ligament connects the femur (thigh bone) to the fibula. On the inside of the knee the medial collateral ligament connects the femur and the tibia. The primary role of the collateral ligaments is to prevent the knee from bending from side-to-side. Placement of the sole of your foot on the outside edge of your knee may actually play a similar role as the medial collateral ligament and therefore provide more stability to the inside of your knee. If you press your foot into the femur (foot above the knee), you may be pressing the femur away from the tibia. And if you press your foot into the tibia (foot below the knee), you may be pressing the tibia away from the femur.

 Stack two yoga blocks on top of each other at their greatest height. Imagine this is your knee with the top block being your femur and the bottom block being your tibia. Push onto the side of top block. It likely moved off the bottom block. Now restack the blocks and push onto the side of the bottom block. It likely moved, taking the top block down with it. Now restack the blocks and press equally into both blocks (at the crease where the two blocks meet). They likely remain stable. So it is possible that placing your foot onto your knee in tree may create support!

As with any yoga posture, the key to creating stability comes from well-aligned joints and muscle action drawing into the centerline. I suggest you play around with the placement of your foot in tree pose and determine what feels good in your own body. Consider that your body will feel most powerful if you ground down through the four corners of your standing leg; press your standing leg and lifted foot into each other; pull your low belly up and in to neutralize your pelvis; stack your shoulders over your hips, and reach the crown of your head up to the sky. After all, a strong tree has deep roots and a stable trunk that allows it to withstand the wind forces of even the strongest winds.

(c) Copyright. Patricia Corley 2017. All rights reserved. Reproduction and distribution of this material without written permission of Patricia Corley is prohibited.

Dr. Trish Corley is a Baptiste certified yoga teacher and a doctor of physiotherapy. She leads regularly scheduled yoga classes in Singapore and teacher trainings and workshops globally. 

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