I don't blame her for asking either, I've asked this question for years and no-one has been able to tell me exactly what to do. As I said, I've been told to 'lift the kneecaps', but this just has not helped. I'm double jointed, with hyper-extension in my knees and elbows...and hands and fingers strangely! Lifting the kneecaps did just as it says on the tin, it 'lifts the kneecaps', nothing else.
Anyway, for hyper-mobile people, hatha yoga postures are more difficult to execute safely because we tend to lock the hyper-joint without any contraction of the muscles around it.
I'm no expert in anatomy and physiology, although a very debilitating knee injury which occurred following a weeks yoga retreat, which took me probably around 18 months to recover from (and never completely), made me focus my teaching on safe practice, correct alignment and mindfulness during practice. I'm still practicing (obviously) and still learning and I do struggle with the practice, which is why I like to try to pass on any insights to fellow 'struggling yogis'!! Not one bit of this practice has ever come easily for me.
So, my advice to Savannah is taken from my favourite teacher on Anatomy and Physiology, Ray Long, from his website Bandha Yoga (or The Daily Bandha website). And below are a few excerpts from Ray's post on engaging the quads in forwards bends which I do hope will help.
Next, let’s take a look at the cascade of beneficial effects that ensues when you do engage the quadriceps of the extended knee in Marichyasana I. This includes: 1) improved joint alignment and stability at the knee; 2) release of the hamstrings through reciprocal inhibition (so that lengthening occurs in the muscle belly, rather than overstretching in the tendons); and 3) the rectus femoris synergizes the psoas in flexing the hip and tilting the pelvis forward. This aids in preventing hyperflexion of the lumbar spine in the pose through joint coupling (lumbar-pelvic rhythm). (For those who tend to hyperextend the knee, use co-contraction of the quadriceps and hamstrings to maintain alignment).
|The rectus femoris synergizing anterior tilt of the pelvis.|
This is only one example of one muscle benefitting a pose; obviously we don’t engage all of the muscles at once in any given pose and may even relax completely in certain restorative poses. What I recommend is incorporating periodic muscular engagement into your practice—I call this “walking around the pose”. In addition to the benefits described, practicing in this way establishes the mind-body connection and focuses attention, thus creating a meditative state within a hatha yoga practice.
I also suggest reading this post:
It covers the postures where I started to really feel the engagement of the quads. Up until a couple of weeks ago I realised I was hyper-exending in these postures, even though I was consciously 'lifting the kneecaps'. The steps in this post are how I began to feel the connection between the tops of the quads and the lower abdomen.
Savannah - I hope this helps :)