“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Visualization, Biomechanics and Yoga: The Popliteus Muscle

Techniques of visualizing are employed in many disciplines. Elite athletes, from NFL quarterbacks to champion racing car drivers often integrate visualization into their training regimens. A racer will use this technique by entering a meditative state and picturing the details of the track they are going to drive, seeing every curve and bump and visualizing themselves driving a safe and flawless race. Then they go out and drive a safe and flawless race.

Visualization is also a powerful tool utilized by the medical field, particularly as an adjunct to cancer treatment. Patients relax and then picture detailed images of their immune system attacking and defeating the cancer. Indeed, visualization techniques were even utsed by my surgical training program; we were trained to conduct a mental “walk through” of the surgery we were preparing to perform, picturing each step going perfectly--with excellent results. And, as we demonstrated in our previous blog post on the piriformis muscle, an animation can be a powerful tool for integrating knowledge of the body into actual practice.

In this blog post we use visualization, combined with knowledge of function, to access one of my favorite “hidden” muscles—the popliteus. We will see how picturing the function of this muscle leads to engaging it. This engagement in turn provides additional stability for the knee in poses like Lotus, Baddha konasana and Janu sirsasana. First, let's look at the muscle itself.

Here’s the anatomy…

The popliteus muscle originates from the lateral (outside) surface of the lateral condyle of the femur (with a small slip to the lateral meniscus and fibular head) and inserts onto the inside of the back of the tibia, as shown in Figure 1. It acts to flex and internally (medially) rotate the tibia when the leg is not weight bearing and is a synergist of the medial (inside) hamstrings—the semimembranosus and semitenonosus—for these actions. It is here we will focus our attention for this blog post. The popliteus also “unlocks” the knee joint as we begin to flex it from the extended position, so strengthening this muscle can be beneficial for avoiding hyper-extending the knees. Overall, the popliteus is an important rotational stabilizer of the knee joint; engaging it enhances joint congruency. That is why I teach this cue in my workshops on Lotus pose.

Figure 1: The popliteus muscle viewed from behind the knee.

Here’s the cue…

The key to poses like Lotus, Baddhakonasana and Janu sirsasana is to obtain range of motion of the hip joint, while maintaining congruency of the knee (click here for an explanation of joint congruency). So before I practice these poses, I typically warm up with some asanas that release the muscles about the hip joint. Click here for Reverse Pigeon Pose, and here for a tip on protecting the knee in this pose.  Click here for a technique on releasing the internal rotators of the hip and here for a technique to release the hip adductors.

As a general consideration, when working on isolating smaller difficult to access muscles like the popliteus, begin with a couple of short duration visualizations. Don’t try too hard, but simply imagine the action of the popliteus in Baddha konasana as shown in Figure 2 and gently contract the muscle.  Then release and take the counter pose, Dandasana.  Repeat the process, picturing the popliteus muscle near the knee joint engaging to synergize flexing the knee and internally rotating the tibia.  Several short duration repetitions allows the brain to create circuitry to more efficiently access this important knee stabilizer. Do this process over several days, after which you will be able to engage the muscle at will and with increasing refinement.  Use gentle muscular engagement and “ease into and out of” your poses, paying attention to detail. If you experience pain in your stretch, then carefully release and come out of the pose.

Figure 2: Visualizing the popliteus muscle flexing and and internally rotating the tibia in Baddha konasana.

Muscles have evolved so that when they engage they not only move the joint but also stabilize it, maximizing joint congruency. Our books are designed to enhance the visual experience of this process for the reader. We use carefully designed vivid images that stimulate the visual cortex of the brain, in essence “lighting up” the muscles that are engaging in each part of the body during each pose.  In fact, many practitioners say that they can actually “feel” the muscles when looking through the Key Muscles and Key Poses of Yoga. The Yoga Mat Companion series deepens this visual experience by illustrating each pose in a step-wise fashion. This visual experience then translates to improvement in your asanas. Click here to page through all of our books.

Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to tune in this week for our next post. Also, many thanks for your support by sharing us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

Namaste’

Ray and Chris

19 comments:

  1. very useful really good information thanks for posting such a good information it will hepls the people a lot keep it up , Regards, obiee training in hyderabad

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    1. Nice and informative about hidden Muscle Popliteus muscle.
      Can be do more research work by EMG??
      Dr Mrithunjay Rathore
      M.S (Anatomy)
      AIIMS Raipur

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    2. Hello Dr. Rathore,
      That is an interesting thought--to use surface EMG to evaluate muscle contraction. I have looked into that a bit, mainly for the abdominal musculature. I will give it a try for this muscle, however it may be difficult in this particular position as there would likely be concomitant activity from the hamstrings. Let me know if you have any success from your side with this as well. Best~Ray Long, MD

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    3. Hello Anon--Thank you for your compliment on our work! Ray

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  2. Atmiya Ray, I have been in a yogi family for 5 generation, my 16 year old is the 6th generation yoga teacher/instructor or a practitioner..But thorugh your articles I am studying Yoga from a western medical point of view. Never went deep into the muscles and bones etc etc. Never tried to remember the names of muscles. But when I read your articles my Gurus sound into my brain through my eyes! Thank you so much. You are a blessing you can speak the language that western medicine understand. I am sure a lot of Yogi souls are smiling at you as you spread the blessings through a language they understand. May I get a chance to meet you in near future. Hari Om

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    1. please!! traduccion al españolllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

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    2. Gracias por recordármelo - tenemos a alguien que se ha ofrecido a traducir al español. He estado trabajando en otra cosa y la necesidad de poner eso de nuevo en una prioridad! Ramon

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    3. Hello Deepti--many thanks for your deep compliment on our work. Great honor from me to your Guru. I spent much time in India studying with BKS Iyengar and it has become a life work for me so my thanks go to the creators of this great art. Namaste' Ray

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  3. Replies
    1. you're welcome, PhuongPhuong~Ray

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  4. just started a yoga teacher training, I will recommend your articles to the group, thank you for your lightfull work Namaste

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    1. Glad to hear you enjoy our work, Martine and many thanks for recommending it to your group. All the Best with your teacher training! Ray

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  5. Ray~ Thanks for your series. I'm in massage school & getting ready for my kines practical exam. Your blog helps me understand the muscle functions more successfully than class. But also I am using 'analysis' more successfully. Now I just need to remember the muscle names!
    Murphy

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    1. Thanks Murphy--great to hear that you benefit from the posts. Also, that is good that you are using analysis; that is one of the purposes (to apply analysis). Don't worry, the names will come! Best~Ray

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  6. Thank you very much for the article. How do you stretch this muscle?

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    1. Hello Alejandra,

      The popliteus is a knee flexor, so any pose that extends the knee will stretch it (Uttanasana, Paschimottanasana, Janu sirsasana, etc). Thanks for asking--good question. Delighted that you enjoy the article~Ray

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  7. I appreciate this article. I seem to have damaged my popliteus when doing upavistha konasana. I have flat feet, tight hamstrings and very open hips. I was internally rotating my legs as I was trying to get my head to the ground, and when I did so I had three loud pops behind the right knee. Didn't hurt, swell or bruise, but over time it's become very stiff and painful not only on poses that stretch it, but also when lifting the knee or doing things such as parsva konasana. For me, baddha konasana is relatively easy, and as I do Ashtanga (and hurt this doing Primary) the two poses are next to one another in the series. It sort of makes sense now what happened. Thank you for this, though the popliteus interaction in upavistha konasana might be worth exploring as well.

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