Hello, my name is Annie, and I am a knee hyper-extender. I will never forget my first session of teacher training that was assisted by at least 4 of my long-time teachers. At any given moment any and all of them were happy to yell, “Annie, watch that knee!!” across the room or to come over and *ahem* remind me with an *ahem* gentle love pat that I needed a microbend in my standing leg. How do you know if you are a hyper-extender? Extend and straighten your leg as much as you can. If the angle of your knee joint is past 180 degrees, congrats – you’re in the club.
My teachers were right. Knee hyper-extension leads to pain and suffering. I find that many of my students also tend to hyper-extend, so I teach this particular yoga-hack quite a bit. I forget where I learned this first, but it was either from the lovely ladies of Mala Yoga or my teacher, Tias.
Standing poses are the worst for me in terms of hyper-extension. Because of all of the weight you place on your legs, it’s so easy to get fatigued and forget to engage your muscles to keep the pose out of your joints. Triangle is a great place to practice awareness of hyper-extension because it is easy to feel and see when your knee joint is past 180 degrees. And, the “calf-trap” or using the block to help support your front leg is a great way to correct hyper-extension and make triangle pose feel amazing.
What you are doing is placing a block so it rests diagonally against the meatiest part of your calf and the floor. It does take a little practice to get this right – if the angle isn’t about 45 degrees the block can slip (or fly across the room – that’s always fun!). A little trial and error usually does the trick. You do need to lean into the block with your calf with enough weight so it doesn’t move. Note – I’ve done this with cork and foam blocks, but not with wood. Also, you need to do this on a mat or carpet – hardwood etc. can be too slippery.
Here is a pic of me placing the block:
I’ve got my legs set up in triangle alignment (approximately 3 feet apart, front heel to back arch line-up) but I’ve bent my front knee to place the block. Once I have positioned the block to my satisfaction, I straighten my leg, lean into the block and bring my torso and arms into the triangle shape.
As you can see, my calf is “trapped” up against the block so I can’t hyper-extend my knee. The block is also supporting some of the weight in my front leg so I can concentrate on opening my chest and finding length in my torso.
And then here is a pic of me smiling because my knee feels awesome!