“Try To Get Your Shin Parallel…”
I often hear this yoga cue as alignment instruction for one-legged king pigeon pose, eka pada raja kapotasana: “your shin should be parallel with the front edge of your mat.” If, after years of practice, you find yourself still waiting for the miraculous opening that will bring your shin to the edge, then this article is for you.
The problem with this cue is nestled in the bony structure of your femur (your upper leg bone) in your pelvis. In order to bring your shin parallel in pigeon pose you need a combination of external rotation and abduction. Both of these (abduction and external rotation) can be limited by contact between the femur and the rim of the pelvis. Some people can abduct and externally rotate more than others before hitting compression. (Note the difference in the area indicated by the arrow in the two x-ray images above). Once bone contacts bone: it’s a wrap. From this moment forward, all the joints around the bone-to-bone contact point (called compression) will need to move in order to adjust to increasing pressure. Bone isn’t going to give.
This anatomical truth, unlike Donald Trump’s stance on pretty much everything, is not going to change. So my heart breaks a little bit when students who have been practicing for years, decades even, some of them past dancers and gymnasts with thousands of hours of flexibility and strength training, approach me after class to ask what they can do to get their shins parallel in pigeon pose. It doesn’t pain me that this person won’t ever achieve “the ideal,” but that this ridiculous ideal exists in the first place! Yoga is about how the shape of the pose feels, not how it looks.
Yoga is also about the path, not the final destination. If you enjoy working toward “getting your shin parallel” then by all means, carry on. But imbue your practice with an awareness that you may never “get there.” Practice (and teach) in a way that lets others be different from you. And if you ever experience knee pain, come out right away.
If you want to safely feel what it’s like to work toward getting your shin parallel to the edge of your mat for a deep hip opener experience, try firelog pose, or its cousin from the yin tradition (called square pose in yin yoga, at left. The bottom image gives you an idea of what your shape might look like if you have hit compression). Other poses that set up the right conditions for the parallel-shin experience, without guaranteeing access to some “final” shape are baddha konasana (bound angle pose) and upavistha konasana (wide leg seated forward bend). If you feel a lot of sensation in your inner groin these poses, then chances are you might still have some layers of unwinding toward deeper access in pigeon. But if you’ve been steadfast and consistent (almost daily) in your yoga practice for two years or more, and you can’t get your shin parallel to the mat, then chances are you’re hitting a point of compression (bone on bone), not tension. Trying harder only shifts the point of tension down the line to the next available joint: most likely, your knee. Ironically, the cue to bring your leg parallel is often offered as a way to protect your knee.
This is why, when yoga teachers offer this cue as if they were honoring a sacrosanct safety code, I go a little bit apeshit. Unintentionally, they are broadly offering up as an ideal a shape that is absolutely unattainable to some percentage of the population. That just doesn’t sit right with me.
Thank you for meeting me here! As always, I would love to hear from you. Please connect with me via email or leave a message in the comment section. I am always happy to see what posts you like and honored when you share your favorites with friends.
If you missed part one, check out “Stop That Cue! Three Verbal Cues That Drive Me Bananas”
Stay tuned for the third cue arriving next week: “balance on the four corners of your feet” and why this yoga cue just drives me bananas!