The Benefits of Engaging the Quads in Forward Bends (and the risks of misguided cautions)

In our last post we mentioned that true caution is based on accurate knowledge and wisdom; practicing it in yoga enhances benefits and minimizes risks. In this post, we talk about misguided caution and provide a couple of examples. This type of caution is usually based on fear: If you do “this”, a bad thing will happen. In fact, misguided cautions can enhance the risks and diminish the benefits of yoga because following them, among other things, diverts your focus from what is important. Think about it like this: You’re driving along the freeway and, for no reason, your passenger gets scared and yells, “STOP!” So you put on the brakes when you should apply the gas. The result is a pile-up. It's a type of passive aggressive way to decrease benefits and increase risks.

Two widely circulated examples of misguided caution relate to engaging the quadriceps in various yoga poses. One is that people with strong quads and misaligned kneecaps experience rapid progression of arthritis, and the second is that we should avoid contracting the rectus femoris in forward bends because it can cause “congestion”. Neither of these misconceptions has any basis in science, yet they are prevalent and have been incorporated into the curriculum of yoga, creating a conflict among teachers and practitioners. This has resulted in many teachers discouraging students from engaging these important muscles for fear of potential injury. I’ll address each of these “cautions” in turn later in the post, but in order to help resolve this conflict, let’s go over some of the basic science for the muscles and joints and then look at the benefits of engaging the quadriceps in a forward bend like Marichyasana I.
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