“. . . 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

A Tip for Helping to Correct Alignment in Hyperextended Elbows and Knees in Yoga

Aligning the bones accesses their inherent strength so that yoga poses ultimately require less muscular effort to maintain. For example, in our last post we gave a tip on using the big toes to correct the tendency for the pelvis to drift back in standing forward bends and one-legged standing poses like Warrior III. This correction brings the leg bones upright and perpendicular to the floor, which better supports the body weight. Aligning the bones in this manner also has the benefit of increasing joint congruency and spreads the joint reaction forces more evenly across the articular cartilage. Conversely, engaging the muscles that align the bones has been demonstrated to have a protective effect on the joint cartilage.

hyperextension in downward dog pose
Dog Pose showing the direction of force through hyperextended elbows vs aligned elbows.
Hyperextending the knees or elbows in yoga poses can be disadvantageous because it misdirects the forces that create the form of the asana. For example, if the elbows are hyperextending in Dog Pose, then the force of the hands pushing into the mat is angled inward. Ideally this force should be directed through the long axes of the forearm bones, humerus, and shoulders and then through to the trunk and pelvis. Aligning the bones of the arms helps to create the proper form of Downward Facing Dog. Pressing the body back in this manner then synergizes the stretch of the muscles at the backs of the legs. 

Hyperextending the elbows also has other undesirable effects, such as potentially overstretching the capsule at the front of the joint and concentrating the joint reaction forces abnormally. I will go over the various causes of hyperextended joints in a future post, but for now . . .

On to the Tip . . .

biceps and brachialis in downward dog pose
Attempt to drag the hands towards each other
to engage the elbow flexors.
Warm up first with several Surya Namaskaras (Sun Salutations). Then take Dog Pose. Relax the triceps and, with the hands firmly fixed on the mat, gently attempt to drag the palms towards one another. This engages the elbow flexors—the biceps and brachialis muscles—and bends the elbows to counteract hyperextension. Keep the elbow flexors engaged with this cue and then gradually dial in contraction of the triceps to straighten the elbows. The biomechanical term for working in this manner is “co-contraction” or “co-activation.” This concept of simultaneously engaging an agonist/antagonist muscle group is discussed in detail in the Mat Companion series. Click here to see how to use co-contraction to correct hyperextended knees—and a quick tip on using the big toes to refine this action.

elbow flexors and extensors in downward dog
Co-contraction of the elbow flexors and extensors.
If you’re teaching this to a student who is hyperextending their elbows, demonstrate the technique first, and then talk them through it. You can also have your student try it with the knees on the floor first—like a modified Child's Pose. This takes the weight off the hands, making the cue a bit easier to access.

A key to integrating these cues into your yoga is to try them once or twice to align the bones in the pose, and then use them again the next time you practice. This trains proprioception and muscle memory so that within a few sessions, practitioners can engage the muscles directly without attempting to drag the hands towards one another. The cue remains as a resource, however, and can be used to refine the movement. This is true for accessing nutation, engaging the tensor fascia lata to stabilize the knees, using the accessory muscles of breathing to augment the diaphragm, and so on. Once used several times, these techniques become automatic.

Here’s the Anatomy . . .

The biceps brachii muscle has a long and short head. The long head originates from the supraglenoid tubercle of the scapula—a small protrusion of bone at the top of the shoulder socket. The short head originates from the coracoid process of the scapula—a beak-like extension of bone at the front of the shoulder. Both heads combine into a single tendon that inserts onto the radial tuberosity of the radius bone of the forearm. The biceps acts to flex the elbow and supinate the forearm and to flex the shoulder forward. In addition, it acts to adduct and internally rotate the humerus. The long head of the biceps also aids to stabilize the humeral head in the shoulder socket.

The brachialis muscle originates from the distal half of the front of the humerus and inserts onto the ulnar tuberosity, also known as the coronoid (crown-like) process at the front of the elbow. It acts to flex the elbow.

The triceps muscle has three heads. The long head originates from the infraglenoid tuberosity on the bottom part of the shoulder socket. The medial head originates from the back (posterior) part of the humerus, below the radial groove. The lateral head originates from the back part of the humerus above the radial groove.  All three heads combine into a common tendon that inserts onto the olecranon process of the ulna (at the back of the elbow). The tricep
s acts to extend the elbow. The long head also adducts and moves the arm backwards and can aid to stabilize the scapula.

An excerpt from "Yoga Mat Companion 1 - Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses".

An excerpt from "Yoga Mat Companion 4 - Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions".

Thanks for stopping by. See you for the next post when we’ll discuss a practical application of satya, the second of Patanjali’s five codes of ethical behavior. Also note that volume two of our free interactive e-book will be available with the next post! Be sure to tell your friends about our blog and visit us on Facebook for your free poster and Anatomy for Yoga Tips and Techniques, Volume I e-book.


Ray and Chris


  1. ray, re "Aligning the bones accesses their inherent strength so that yoga poses ultimately require less muscular effort to maintain" -

    my first thought was, so is muscular strength and endurance lost by being more efficient? - not "fair" was my second thought ;-)

    but then i remembered i'd thought i'd read that bone growth is stimulated via compresson, and, with the greater/better compression via better joint congruency, there should be better bone growth

    would this be correct?

    if so, then proper alignment has even more importance for anyone wanting or needing less bone loss

    and if it's possible with less muscular effort (save that for running after grandkids!) then so much the better

    but let me know as you can if i'm thinking right re the more efficient bone compression = better/more bone growth

    thanks ray

  2. Hello Adan,

    Good to see you again. In general, forces that are applied to bone are seldom purely compressive, tensile or sheer--they are usually a combination of the three. The subject of bone remodeling in response to stress is fairly complex (thanks for giving me an idea for another post!). For example, resistance training has been demonstrated to be beneficial in strengthening bone. The converse would be studies in a weightless environment which demonstrate bone resorption.
    If you look at some of the interpretations of the Sanskrit word "Asana" it is said to mean a comfortable easy position--usually in reference to seated meditation. Practicing the asanas makes seated meditation easier, so they are inter-related. As a result, we gain strength and flexibility and also probably strengthen the bones. All of this leads to a better "quality of life" for activities of daily living.

    All the Best~Ray

  3. re "idea for another post!" - well i'll be lookin' for it ;-) thanks ray

    1. Hi Adan, Idea for another post is very Good. Very well.

  4. Ray and Chris, I love you guys! I enjoy reading your article so much. I learn a lot and it helps me to be a better teacher. Thank you, Namaste

  5. I look forward everytime I get one of your articles in my email. As a person who has 'done' yoga on and off for many years-I have never gotten it. I am now in my 50's and want to get 'it'. Meaning-learn proper position; enjoy. Thank you for your info.

    1. Hi, Mary. For me the key was finding a small yoga studio, one with small classes and a spiritual component. At my age I only take Level 1 classes, or restorative yoga. Good luck!

  6. Bone density decrease or loss is reported commonly by medical science in seniors. Is this asana recommended to strengthen bone density? Many like me (76 years) take Calcium and Vitamin D supplement, whether there is improvement in bone density is not yet demonstrated. On another note, any article on Surya Namskar?

    1. You might check out Loren Fishman, Md. He is a long time yoga practitioner who has been doing some research on the effects of Yoga on as regards osteoporosis and osteopena.

  7. This is really good to know and it has been helping my students. Do you have any article on strengthening calf muscles for the knee. What would teach to a client whose knee cap is not moving because of the inflammation around the knee.

  8. Great article thank you so much. I'm always learning from your posts. Blessings

  9. I teach Yoga and alignment is primary as an Iyengar teacher. Personally, I found that with the greater alignment my body had gained over the years of practice, my muscles work more efficiently. I feel balanced much more integrated in much of my practice but I think I have lost muscle mass because of this efficiency. But I am also 56 so that could be it too.. Do you think that is what has happened?

  10. is there a similar effect when rotating the from wrist and shoulder points so the inner elbows better face each other?

  11. Hola, agradecer la información tan seria, quisiera saber si mat compañero,series, no esta traducido al español. gracias,cariños