Foot on Knee in Tree: Yay or Nay?

We’ve all heard from yoga teachers to never put your lifted foot on the knee of your standing leg. But can you safely put your foot on your knee in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) without catastrophe? The short answer is … probably. 

A Stack of Blocks in Vrksasana

Recently, an article addressed this very issue in yoga. The article basically says that centering your lifted foot on the inside of your standing leg can possibly act to provide stability in a way that’s similar to the stabilizing qualities of the collateral ligaments on the sides of your knees.

The article uses the image of stacking two yoga blocks on top of each other to illustrate potential problems of placing your foot on your thigh or shin. The author writes that placing your foot on your thighbone is like pushing the top block from the side and placing your foot on your shin is like pushing the bottom block from the side.

She suggests that pushing the bottom block would be like pushing your shin out and creating forces that make your knee bend sideways, which we all agree would not be good! So then pushing the top block would be like pushing your thigh and bending the knee to the other side. She concludes that pushing on both blocks at the same time in the middle (knee) should be safe, and can also provide support at the joint.

As long as you are not pushing really hard directly on the joint, I agree that your foot on the inside of the knee is probably safe. My reasoning is a little different though. I feel that we have forgotten about a very significant force—the weight of the rest of your body! That “stack of blocks” (the shin and thighbone) has a big weight on top of it! This is a huge part of what causes a knee injury. If all your weight is coming down on your standing leg and you “kick out” that shin, the weight comes crashing down on the ligaments on the inside (medial) of the knee. If you push out the thigh, the weight would crash down on the outside (lateral) of the knee.

Enter the Hips: Balancing Your Weight in Tree Pose         

I think this becomes a hip stability question. If you can keep your weight balanced on your standing leg (which means your hip muscles are strong and working) a little push on the knee won’t do much. You can’t even push that hard because the leg that you are pushing with is attached to you and not pushing off a wall or the ground from outside your body.

In fact, for you to be able to push with your lifted foot at all means that the standing leg hip muscles must contract to give the lifted leg something to push into, so more stability would be created when you are pushing your foot onto your standing thigh. That said, the inside of your shin is probably the least desirable place to hold your lifted foot since there is not much muscular support keeping the shin from getting pushed out of place like at the hip and thigh.

Even then though, a little push from the lifted foot shouldn’t be too big of a deal due to the angle of the push changing as your foot gets lower and other factors. So, I guess my answer to the question is: put your foot wherever you like! Just make sure the hip and core muscles are properly engaged to keep the weight from swinging around too much on top!

More from Dr. Nolan Lee – check out his series on Yoga Asana for Hip Mobility.

Restoring Prana: Key Roles of the Diaphragm in Health and Vitality a course with Robin Rothenberg and YogaUOnline.

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Nolan Lee.

Dr. Nolan Lee is a yoga teacher and physical rehab specialist in Chicago, IL with an extraordinary passion for understanding how the body moves and functions. Nolan has the unique ability to blend the science of anatomy with the art of yoga. With an active practice at this clinic, Balanced Flow Wellness, he practically applies yoga to restore and maintain health. Dr. Lee also holds a Master of Acupuncture degree and is a NASM certified corrective exercise specialist (CES). He enthusiastically shares his knowledge of yoga and anatomy in lectures, workshops and on his blog.

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