why can't i pull both my knees to my chest?
February 19, 2012 2:34 PM   Subscribe

I started a new yoga class and have found that I am unable to pull my knees to my chest. No one else in the class has this problem and I'm generally fairly limber. What do you think this could be and how can I work on it?

So, this pose is lying on your back, you pull your knees to your chest and attempt to grab each of your elbows as you wrap your arms around your knees. I cannot even get my hands to touch each other without my back rounding and falling over. This is only when trying to pull my knees straight to my chest, if I pull my knee outwards of my ribcage I can nearly get it to touch my shoulder, while keeping my back straight.

The instructor said she had never seen anyone with this problem, but she thinks it is because my back is tight, since I can't keep it straight while I pull my knees in.

To me it feels like it's my hips, as though there is actually something blocking my leg in my pelvis when I try to pull my knee in to my chest. She told me to just keep trying to do it, but it's not really possible since I just topple over when I try to get into the posture.

Any ideas on the source of this inflexibility? Any stretches I can do to work increase flexibility in this area?
posted by abirdinthehand to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do one leg at a time. Don't rush it. Progress slowly.

Personally I would see a physical therapist and get their take on it.
posted by facetious at 2:39 PM on February 19, 2012

Not trying to be sizeist here, but how skinny are you? There is no way in hell I could get my knees to my chest without rounding my back because my gut is in the way. I can get them as close as possible - (totally compressing my abdomen, which incidentally I don't recommend doing right after lunch, ugh) - but there's no space for further motion and I can just touch my hands.

(I'm not experienced with yoga, so it's possible there's some nuance I'm not seeing, but I have had the irritating task of trying to explain to skinny people that no, I can't actually do that, there's no room there.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:41 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

This might depend on your build. I'm pretty flexible, but because of my body type (v. curvy) there's not physically the space to put my knee like that. Also because of how busty I am, my back IS tight, so when I try to do the modified pose, I do generally fall to the side.
posted by spunweb at 2:42 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're gonna want to warm up your back a ton, and then maybe try a modified pose.
posted by spunweb at 2:43 PM on February 19, 2012

I am a skinny 20-something lady, but I have always had very tight hips. I also can't do that yoga pose. It feels, like you say, there's something blocking. It does loosen up slowly but surely. Try one leg at a time, that always helped me a lot. Maybe also research other hip flexibility stretches?

Don't overdo it, but work slow and steady and you will see an improvement.
posted by katypickle at 2:48 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are a bunch of muscles in the lower back that overlap and can get inflamed or knotted up. My massage therapist showed me this stretch (the first one on that clip) which has helped loosen my lumbar area.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 2:50 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

All our bodies are wired a bit differently. Spend a minute or so every day (or other day) working on the pose. Don't over stretch to the point where you hurt yourself, but after a month you should notice some improvement. I'd guess it's got to do with a tight back as well, and you definitely don't want to force that to do something it can't yet do.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:09 PM on February 19, 2012

I'm a skinny, flexible, tall dude. I used to be able to do this pose, but then a few years ago I suddenly couldn't. I assumed it was my hips not being as flexible, but as Hardcore Poser has said, it was probably my lower back. Gonna try that stretch!
posted by hermitosis at 3:09 PM on February 19, 2012

You should ask your teacher and see what she recommends. Ask if you can learn some easy back stretches and practice them outside of class.

If it doesn't get better, though, it's not the end of the world. I've always heard that practicing yoga is about finding out what your body can do, getting it to that point, and holding it. There will always be poses you find difficult at first, if not impossible. Be patient and let your body adapt, don't push yourself.
posted by fight or flight at 3:13 PM on February 19, 2012

Yeah, if you're apple-shaped, this is much harder, regardless of how limber or strong you otherwise are. I remember taking pilates classes a year ago and there'd be these senior citizen ladies who were being super gentle with themselves but when it came to that, they had no problem and I did.
posted by ifjuly at 3:37 PM on February 19, 2012

there are lots of yoga poses I can barely do - I have to sit on like four blankets to have any hope of doing seated poses. I just decided that the point of yoga is to so my version of the pose; not to make my body do a certain thing.
posted by yarly at 3:58 PM on February 19, 2012

Best answer: I'm guessing tight hip flexors or tight hamstrings or both. I have both of those, and the stretches my PT gave me for them do seem to help a bit.

Hip flexors: this one needs a foam roller. Put it under the small of your back. Stretch one leg straight out. Make sure your hips are not "following" that leg and arching upwards, which arches your back. Tilt your hips back downwards (think of tilting the front of your hips just a bit in the direction of your rib cage). Now take the other leg in your arms and pull it towards your chest as much as it wants to go. The stretch occurs in the other hip.

Youtube video that shows this hip flexor stretch

For tight hamstrings, get a theraband, scarf or cloth belt. Lie on your back. Raise one leg straight up, hook the theraband over the sole of that foot. Raise the leg and pull gently towards you.

Youtube video of hamstring stretch

As to the "doing your version of the pose" - this is why I love Iyengar yoga. It is all about using props and doing the version of the pose that is correct for you.
posted by lyra4 at 4:00 PM on February 19, 2012

I agree that it sounds like tight hip flexors, where you say "it feels like it's my hips, as though there is actually something blocking my leg in my pelvis when I try to pull my knee in to my chest." I have the same problem and it's really very painful to try to do child's pose.
posted by HotToddy at 4:14 PM on February 19, 2012

Best answer: Whoops, meant to say that you can also do a stretch where you are in a lunge with, for instance, your right knee on the ground and your left leg bent 90° in front of you, then you lean forward and tilt your pelvis until you feel it in the problem spot.
posted by HotToddy at 4:17 PM on February 19, 2012

I am also a pretty flexible person who feels congestion in my hips in similar positions in yoga. Do you also have the same sensation in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana? I found out that when I have that congestion, my hips are actually stuck rotated forward or backward (my physical therapist figured it out). To relieve it, try moves where the hips are working together, like squats, and strengthen the muscles around the hip.
posted by *s at 4:59 PM on February 19, 2012

Best answer: Can you do child's pose? If you bring your knees together under your chest from there (as if you were doing knees-to-chest upside down), do your hips feel the same strain? You might find gravity helps you get the stretch here. You might also try using a strap to help you wrap your arms around your knees while lying on your back rather than trying to grip your elbows - just grip as far along the strap as you can.
posted by judith at 7:06 PM on February 19, 2012

If this seems odd to you for your size and age and physical condition, you should see your doctor for a physical examination. It's not likely, but it's possible, that you have some internal problem in your abdomen that's making this position impossible. As I said, the odds are against it - you're probably just out of shape or your back/hips are out of place in some way, but if it seems odd - just go ahead and get checked out. My good friend had ovarian cancer and had absolutely no idea until she began to "stiffen up" and get a bloated-type feeling in her belly and some numbness in one of her legs; she was 38 and physically fit.
posted by aryma at 10:42 PM on February 19, 2012

Best answer: The most likely problem is in your hips. Many people are tight in the muscles that surround the hip. A few that are likely involved include piriformis, proximal hamstrings, and quadratus femoris. What these muscles will do in this position - when tight - is limit your ability to bring your knees to your chest. This may be felt as a painless limit to motion, or may also include an uncomfortable "pinching" feeling in the front of the hip hear the groin crease. You may find that allowing your knees to travel away from each other as you bring your knees towards your chest helps.

This may be one of those things that will loosen up over time with gentle stretching. If it does not, then you may have some tightness in the hip socket itself, or possibly a difference in the way that your bones are shaped (acetabulum, femoral head) that will always limit motion for you no matter how much stretching you do.

Allow the problem to slowly unwind itself with gentle stretching, and apply the hack of allowing the knees to separate as they come towards your chest. If this is not acceptable to you or your symptoms do not improve, worsen over time, or begin to irritate you with other activities, you should get a professional medical opinion on the matter.
posted by walmerhoz at 6:06 PM on February 20, 2012

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