Virasana, Hero's pose, is a classic yoga posture that can serve as a stretch for the quadriceps and top of the feet, as a resting position between more active asanas, or as a great alternative to other seated postures for pranayama and meditation. However, there's a bit of controversy over the alignment of the feet. Should they point straight back? Or angle outward a bit, as illustrated in the attached image?
In the following video, which was shot during a recent ASFYT course in NYC, Jason makes the case for the latter by showing with the bones how maintaining a straight line along the anterior tibia through the top of the foot helps prevent rotation of the tibia relative to the femur and preserves a healthy alignment between the femoral and tibial condyles. Please note that the video doesn't really dive into some of the other common concerns in Virasana, such as how much medial rotation is healthy (too much can cause compression in the hip joints and varies from one person to the next), or how to modify for tightness in the quadriceps or top of the feet using blocks and blankets. However, in general we're fans of preventing compression in the joints, being comfortable, and using props... as you'll see in the video. Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
A common instruction in Virabhadrasana 1 is to ground the outer edge of the back foot. However, if this instruction is coupled with the cue to wrap the outer back thigh forward it can create rotational torque at the knee joint and stress the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). The ACL attaches from the underside of the femur (posteriorly) to the topside of the tibia (anteriorly), and has two main functions: 1) to prevent hyperextension of the knee, and 2) to prevent excessive rotation between the femur and tibia when the knee is flexed. It's important for a flexed knee to be able to rotate a little bit, as this is what allows a person to pivot and change direction when walking. However, when the knee is straight the ACL becomes taught to prevent hyperextension. If a rotational force is applied to a straight knee, the already taught ACL will be overly stressed, potentially leading to pain within the knee and over-stretching of the ligament that causes subsequent instability in the joint.
In the above video we offer alternative cues for the back foot, leg and thigh that help prevent rotational torque and keep the knee safe.
In both Agnisambhasana (Firelog pose, or Ankle-to-Knee pose) and Gomuhkasana (Cow-Faced pose), one of the key anatomical factors is that the thighs need to laterally/externally rotate in order to keep the knees safe. If the thighs don't laterally rotate enough in these postures then the medial condyle of the femur will dig into the medial meniscus of the knee and overstretch the lateral collateral ligament (for a more detailed overview of this, be sure to check out the video Keeping the Front Knee Safe in Pigeon). A great hands-on assist in both postures is to manually press the outer thighs down to help facilitate the lateral rotation. For more flexible people, you can also deepen the stretch in these postures by adding a little bit of your body weight to the top of their pelvis to increase anterior tilt. Check out the video to see these assists, and then practice them with a friend or in class!
One of the things that I always used to freak out about when teaching was seeing someone's knee go past their heel during Warrior 2, because I was initially taught that it could be dangerous for the knee. And I've heard that sentiment repeated in other yoga classes by countless other yoga teachers. But is it really unsafe? If so, then why do we allow the knee to travel forward of the heel in Malasana? When preparing to kick up into handstand? For that matter, what about when we climb up or down stairs, or squat in front of the refrigerator? What's the deal with the knee and the heel?
When coming into pigeon pose, if a student is unable to laterally rotate the thigh at the hip joint sufficiently they may inadvertently overstretch the ligament on the outside of their knee (the LCL) and/or compress the soft tissue on the inside of the knee (the medial meniscus). In the video below we explore how this might happen, and offer a few suggestions that can remedy the issue.