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The Anatomy of Knee "Locking", Bikram Style...

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To begin this conversation we need to consider that each individuals definition of what "lock" actually means can vary because I can assure you that there will be a number of different interpretations. Common interpretations of “locking” the knee include but, are not limited to the following (as I have heard many people discussing this individually and in groups:

1.      Concentrate completely on the front muscle above the knee so that it is fully contracted.

2.      The leg should have no bend in it what-so-ever like a straight lamppost. (A very good analogy)

3.      There needs to be an undetectable micro bend in the knee.

Rather than attempting to point out which persons perception is “right” or “wrong” let’s skip ahead and chat about the physiology of the structures, pure science. The focus of "locking" the knee should not completely be on the quadriceps (the muscle at the front of the thigh above the knee cap) as this would exclude the rest of the supporting muscles. ALL muscle groups of the leg need to activate in order to safely and securely support the knee structure. Most importantly is the gastrocnemius (calf muscles) and hamstrings (back of the thigh) in synchronicity with the quadriceps (front of the thigh). So, the front to back (push - pull, agonist - antagonist) relationships of these muscles is what keeps the knee joint 100% stable in flexion and extension. Laterally (side to side), the Adductor (inner thigh) muscles and the Abductor (outside thigh) muscles will work similarly helping to stabilise the knee in side to side planes of movement. Admittedly it's not as important as front to back but, it does set the tone for total engagement of the thigh. Where your mind goes energy will flow and in terms of maintaining a perceptually engaged (locked) knee there has to be complete commitment and activity of the entire leg to gain the most amount of safety and stability from the structure.

Moral of this story is that there cannot be any hyper-extending nor can there be any bending (flexion) of the knee. Rather, in a complete lengthened engagement (locking) of the leg you will find that the knee will be totally balanced with all muscles activated in synchronicity. The knee is a complicated joint.  It is a hinge joint and a screw joint (pivot). Leaving the knee in a hyper-extended position or even the opposite bent (flexion) or "micro" bent position can leave the knee in an incomplete articulation between its surfaces. That's not an ideal position for "extended" lengths of time or for a joint working to support your entire body weight. That being said, I believe that not all people can be treated exactly the same and in a more advanced individual assessment we might find that the perfect leg position is minutely different for any one individual. I have seen this on a number of individuals because not only does each person’s capacity to recruit different muscles vary but, their individual structure will also be different depending on their life history, meaning that either the structure that they were born with is slightly different or occurrences in their life have created a point of difference in their structure.

In the end, any individual can find success in “locking” their leg for such postures as “Standing Forehead to Knee” or “Standing Bow Pulling” provided they expand their sense of awareness to include the entire leg and the complete supportive structures of the knee and foot.  Individual assessments tend to be much easier when you have an outside individual looking in helping to assist in your own individual proper alignment.  However, keep in mind that for the most part only you can really feel what is happening on the inside not only in the structure but, in your mind.  Working together with an instructor you trust is most valuable as you interpret their suggestions and blend them with your deep inner awareness to create an outward expression of beauty, function and form.  To your success…   Dr. John Surie