Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lock the Knee

We hear it almost every day.  It's spoken to million of students, in hundreds of studies, in every different language, in countries all over the globe.

But what's the big deal about "lock the knee"?

Number one, it's hard to do.  It's so hard to do, in fact, that everyone on earth is guaranteed to be unsuccessful when they start practicing it.  Standing head to knee is purely an exercise in locking the knee (the other parts are basically distractions), and it is the only "advanced" posture in the beginning series (other than savasana).  So it is first and foremost an exercise in patience and determination.  And self-control.  (Don't cheat.)  And concentration.  (Don't blink your eyes.)  And faith.  (It will happen if you keep trying the right way.)

That all sounds great.  But is that it?

There are so many interesting things that happen in standing head to knee, especially once it becomes accessible to your body.  I've found that the more physically capable I become in this posture, the more of a mental challenge it is.  That last stage, the part where you bring your head down onto your knee, really seems to give everyone a hard time, even if they have no difficulty getting their body into that same position when they're sitting on the ground.  I always have called it the "ultimate mind-fuck."  (Ahem.)  Because your mind goes crazy when you start advancing to a new stage (whether it's kicking out, elbows down, or head down). 

Lately I'm fascinated by that moment in the posture, because it tells you so much about yourself.  What I've often noticed - and I don't think that I'm alone in this - is that I experience a moment of absolute panic when I'm on the brink of success.  It reminds me of that famous quote: "Our deepest fear is not that inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."  There's this sudden, uninvited rush of doubt - "oh no, I'm not going to be able to do this" - and as soon as that happens, it's all over.

So how do you get through that moment, to find the thing that's waiting for you on the other side?  How do you overcome such an overpowering instinct?  It's shockingly simple.  You fill your mind with one thought only, the one thought that will lead to success, because it drowns out everything else.

Lock the knee.

That's it.  And you have to know - not think, but know - that it will work.  That you are ready.  That everything is in place.  You take a look in the mirror and tell yourself, okay, Self!  This is it.  Just concentrate and meditate, keep fighting for it, and don't be scared when it works

We've heard it over and over and over: the secret to success in life is just to lock the damn knee.  And you know what's funny?  I think it's actually true.


hannahjustbreathe said...

This pose is slowly but surely going to become my new obsession. I can feel it...

Anonymous said...

I tend to concentrate on "engage the thigh" more than "lock the knee". I know I can have what looks like a locked knee, and my thigh is not fully engaged (if I'm being lazy). Yes, I completely agree about each step being a new challenge! btw, I am fully engrossed in How Yoga Works (the novel), thanks for the recommend.

I don't like you said...

I can't help but think that the reason i have so much trouble with this posture is becasue i have in my head that i can't do it. lately i've been getting there and then falling on the way out, ugh! will think positive thoughts and lock my damn knee :)

Rebecca said...

I can't pick up my foot yet ...

bikramyogachick said...

I am soooo working on this posture right now! I have been kicking out for quite sometime, but had never attempted the head to knee part until recently. I fall RIGHT out as soon as I even just look down and start heading in that direction. I'm going to keep trying though!
Rebecca~ I couldn't even pick my foot up at first either. You will get there, I promise!

Duffy Pratt said...

Don't forget that the first purpose of locking the knee is to protect yourself. There are several things we hear over and over in Bikram that are for self-protection. Suck in your gut for a forward bend. Don't look to the side in third part of Locust or Rabbit.

The big difference with locking the knee goes back to your discussion about moving bones and muscles. When you first tell someone to lock the knee, they either have no idea what to do, or they hyperextend the leg and risk even worse injury than what would happen if you went into the poses without a locked knee. So, it requires further explanation. It's one of the few places where I think the shorthand that's in the dialogue really is not adequate for many people. And that's one of the main reasons there's so much attention paid to it.

On everything else, I agree. Even once you understand what you should be doing, its still really hard to do.

By the way, there are probably more poses where we are told to lock the elbows. And that instruction gets almost no attention at all, even though it may be almost as crucial to those poses as locking the knee is to the balancing poses. And even though there are probably even more students in class who make little or no real effort to lock their elbows when told to do it. (Just watch all the diamond shape gaps between peoples arms in Half Moon).

Rebecca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca said...

Yes, that's another problem I have, having bent arms in half-moon ... and just even being able to hold them up at all. I'm weaker in the arms than the legs. I'm afraid I have beautiful diamonds in halfmoon. Not because I don't know to lock the elbow, but because I can't hold that them that way for more than a few seconds. My teacher gets really mad about this for some reason. I just have to put my arms down. I can't help it. It's agony to try to hold them up there. I do my best, but I take breaks.

Duffy Pratt said...

See, locking the elbows may be just as hard as locking the knee. For some guys, its much, much harder. it's tough in Half Moon, but even harder with the first backbend, harder still in Balancing Stick and Standing Separate Leg Forehead to Knee. In terms of opening up the shoulders and the upper back, its invaluable, but it gets relatively little attention.

thedancingj said...

Wow! I have... almost nothing to add this time. Great discussion, folks, carry on. Glad to spark so many ideas. :-D

And Rebecca, yes!! That's where the posture starts, just trying to pick up the foot. Totally fine, totally normal, totally valid. I'm talking more about the later stages here only because that's where MY personal practice is taking me these days, but I've been doing this for a long time. I think that a lot of the same ideas apply to all the transitions between stages, even when you are still in stage one. And by the way, half moon was my most hated pose in the beginning, too. It really will get better, day by day!

Laura, hooray, glad you like the book! And you've got it. "Lock the knee" really is just shorthand for "push the knee back, pull the kneecap up, and engage all the quadriceps muscles." It's just that the former works much better as a mantra! ;-)

And this is my version of "not commenting" on my comments. Hah!

ActionJoJo said...

I totally agree with you J! I'm at a point in my practice where I'm steady all the way until I tuck my chin. And then 95% of the time, the pose all goes to sh*t and I fall out.

The is post is first and foremost physical. I still have to remind myself that my kicked out leg also has to be locked, my heel pushing out as if I want to press it against the mirror, my toes flexed back.

And the other half really is mental. My favorite teacher, right before she delivers the "tuck your chin" dialogue, she says, "Now this is where you commit and you fight for it!" I use it as an affirmation.

Now, whether I want to commit and fight for it, well, that depends on the day. On good days, when I don't give in to the self-doubt, the fear, and the hesitation, are the days when I stick the pose and feel strong. Again, this has happened all of 5% of the time so clearly I have much work left to do.

What I love is that all of us, no matter where we are in our practice, all struggle. And that it is our determination, strength, and faith...and oh, our breath, that gets us through. :)

ActionJoJo said...

p.s. I have a photo of Jason Winn doing standing forehead to knee on my desktop. It serves as an inspiration!

Anonymous said...

y'all who are falling out, really pay attention to your eyes. I fell out every time because as soon as I moved my head to tuck it I would close my eyes. When after TWO YEARS my teacher finally pointed this out I nailed part 4 then and there, and have ever since. Just really REALLY make sure you look at a point in front of you, then trace it down, the whole time. And follow it back up to get out too.
Try it, you'll like it!

Rebecca said...

I guess the intent of the post worked, 'cause I've been walking around with "Lock the knee" in my head since I read it!!

Shabs said...

Juliana, thank you for posting this. I've been falling out either on the way in or the way out of SFTK ever since my short break away from yoga. I read this 2 days ago, and tried out the mantra in classes the last 2 days worked! Still far from perfect but it's definitely helping me stay in the posture longer and more steadily. I really think you are destined to be a teacher :)

thedancingj said...

Aww, you guys make me blush. :)

I agree with my anonymous friend. Eye focus is a BIG one! I stick with my standing knee in the mirror for the 1st three parts, then switch to my big toe for the last part. Kinda funny, but it works really well.

The OTHER mantra that I use for the later stages (in case anyone is interested) is "KICK KICK KICK KICK KICK KICK KICK..." :)