You hear the command a lot in Bikram Yoga: “Lock the knee, lock the knee, lock the knee!” Inspired by an Internet post that recently went viral, we’re taking a closer look at what locking the knee really means – and why it’s so important to your practice.
Many postures in the Bikram Yoga series – Half Moon Posture, Standing Head to Knee, Standing Bow, Balancing Stick, Standing Separate Leg Stretching, Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee and Tree – require you to have either one or both legs “locked out.”
For beginners, the idea of locking the knee may seem strange – even a little scary. You may have been told that any hyperextension of the knee joint is negative, especially when you’re running around or playing sports. But in Bikram Yoga, locking the knee happens in static position (i.e., when you’re holding a posture in stillness rather than, say, running around a soccer field) and, when you do it correctly, yields many benefits.
How to Lock Your Knee
Unlike hyperextension, where the knee joint may be overstretched or “bent backward” (often as a result of an involuntary movement), locking the knee in Bikram Yoga means consciously squeezing the quadriceps – the four prevailing muscles at the front of your thigh – to protect the joint so that you can safely and effectively straighten your leg.
Not only can you feel when your quadriceps is contracted, you should also be able to see the muscle definition form at the front of your thigh just above your knee when you look in a mirror. In other words, your entire kneecap will visibly “lift up.” If you can’t feel the muscles tightening or see the kneecap lift up, you’re likely not locking your knee correctly – this is where any pain or soreness in the knee may set in (especially if you’re just straightening the leg and “leaning” your weight on it).
When you lock out correctly, however, you provide tremendous muscular support to your knee joint. This, in turn, creates a locked-out leg that’s strong and powerful enough to support such postures as Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow. By repeating this process from posture to posture and class to class, you’ll strengthen not only your quadriceps but all the muscles in your legs, including your calf and hamstring. And, if you experience any soreness in your knees as a result of a past injury, locking it out correctly in the hot room will help to heal the joint and minimize the pain you feel in your daily life.