"Pull Up Your Kneecaps" an Off-Kilter Cue?

Growing beyond the status quo and supporting others to do the same is what I like to do.   So I often ask yoga practitioners and teachers to question received wisdom, that second-hand information we assume to be correct because someone we trust (Yoga Teacher, Guru, Mother, BFF) told us “This is the way it is.”  

A common second-hand instructional cue, embedded within a variety of yoga asana teaching styles is: “Pull up your kneecaps to protect your knees.”  Repeated with authority and in good faith, the instruction seems to make sense.  It’s tempting to “pull up our kneecaps” without question when we are told to do so.  After all, who doesn’t want to protect her knees? Who doesn’t want to be a teacher who ensures the safety of her students?  

Pulling up on the kneecaps may have worked well as a cue back in the day when male teachers taught only men. The challenge here, once again, is that the teaching cue does not take into consideration female anatomy.  With slight variation, here’s a conversation I’ve had with hundreds of yoga practitioners and teachers.    

Me: How does pulling up on the kneecaps protect the knees?
S/he: It stabilizes the knee joint.

Me:  How does pulling up on the kneecaps stabilize the knee joint?
S/he: By tightening the quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh.  

Me: Why does tightening the quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh protect the knee? S/he: Because it pulls up on the kneecaps.  

Without an understanding of women’s knee joint anatomy, the instruction becomes dogma; something that seems to make sense and so becomes an established opinion.  Those defending this dogma often do so by good heartedly referencing the authority of their teacher or tradition. Yet it is this very natural action of deferring to authority that leads to the unexplored acceptance of second hand information in the first place.  

The way I see it, if Yoga is to remain a living tradition as it continues to expand into the world of women, we must learn to ask the tough questions of the very teachers that we revere the most.