A few weeks ago, one of my teachers asked us to “put a micro-bend” in our standing leg while we were in Warrior III. A micro-bend is a slight bend that is just enough to unlock the knee. What happens when you take this micro-bend, I’ve found, is that suddenly you have to engage your muscles in a totally different way. Also, what happens is that you realize the extent to which your locked knee (i.e. bone and cartilage) was bearing the weight of the pose, instead of your muscles. This instruction to take a “micro-bend” was one heck of a wake-up call for me. After having seen several people around me suffer some pretty serious repetitive stress injuries from yoga, I am being particularly cautious these days about maintaining good alignment in my practice.
In general, I think in each asana, particularly in ones that might involve long holds, we want to strike a balance between the amount of work that our muscles, our joints, and our bones are doing. The tendency is to dump into the joints and bones, and to allow the muscles to get lazy. This happens in so many one-legged standing poses, and my new M.O. is to take a micro-bend in almost every standing posture where my balance is entirely on one leg. These include, but are not limited to:
* Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon)
* Virabhdrasana III (Warrior III)
* Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Standing Split)
* Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana A
* Natarajasana (Dancer Pose)
I think the same micro-bend policy should apply in any pose that involves a straight arm or two. For instance, in Vasisthasana I or Vasisthasana II, the tendency is to lock the elbow of the lower, supporting arm. The reason we tend to do this, I gather, is that it makes holding the pose easier on the shoulder muscles, because we don’t have to work them so hard when the elbow locks and takes on some considerable burden of weight. Locking the elbow in this way may, in the short run, be a “good” thing in our minds because it makes the pose easier for us, but in the long run, this kind of intense pressure on the elbow will likely wear away at the cartilage and (eek!) bone. I’m no doctor, however, so I can’t say for sure exactly what the risks are of locking your elbow in this way, but I think I can pretty safely say that repetitive stress directly on the elbow joint cannot be healthy. Other poses where the elbows tend to lock in a potentially unsafe way are:
* Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog)
* Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Up Dog)
* Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)
* Eka Hasta Adho Mukha Vrksasana (One-Arm Handstand)
So, whenever possible and or/appropriate, I now try to take a slight “micro-bend” in the knee or elbow so as to avoid locking the joint and dumping into it. I think it is particularly important for those of us who hyper-extend in the arms and legs to be conscious of always taking a micro-bend if we want to avoid some serious pain and misery down the road.
Finally, one last reason to employ this micro-bending technique, even if your elbows and knees don’t hyper-extend, is that doing so makes the poses noticeably more challenging, and it does so in a way that is especially conducive to increasing stamina and building strength — all good things in my book.
Disclaimer: I am not a certified yoga instructor, and the ideas and opinions expressed here are not intended to be formal instruction on yoga poses. If you plan to start up a yoga practice, or if you have one and plan to do any of the yoga poses described in this blog, please seek out an experienced, living, breathing yoga teacher to guide you with hands-on instruction.