Jessica Hartmann, PT, PYT, E-RYT
Revolved chair pose, parivrtta utkattasana, is a beneficial posture to build strength, detoxify the body and create an energetic sense of grounding. I’ve consistently heard the cue to “keep your knees together” in revolved chair pose, but based on the biomechanical principles of the body, this is not a safe or proper cue. Let’s consider the range of motion available in the spine and pelvis.
Spinal motion occurs at joints called facet joints, which allow for flexion, extension, side-bending, and rotation. When we consider the spinal rotation available in the body, the cervical spine is going to have the most rotation available with about 60 degrees of motion (AAOS, 1998). The thoracic spine has about 45 degrees of rotation available (AAOS, 1998), with more rotation in the upper thoracic region (T1-T6), but this rotation decreases as we move further down the spine (T7-T12). The lumbar spine on the other hand, is very limited in isolated rotation with an average of only 3-18 degrees (Magee, 1997), due to the orientation of the facet joints. The sacroiliac joints, or the SIJ joints, are created by the intersection of the sacrum and the R and L ilia, and have limited movement overall. The primary movement of the sacrum is nutation and counternutation ( a “nodding” movement), as well as slight side-bending and rotation.
That being said, when we move into revolved chair, we initiate our twist in the thoracic spine, taking up the available rotation, more in the upper thoracic spine, less in the lower thoracic spine. We then move into the lumbar spine to deepen the twist, keeping in mind we only have an additional 3-18 degrees available to us. If we chose to rotate further, such as to hook the elbow around the outer knee, we must rotate the pelvis in order to prevent a shearing motion at the SIJ. Rotating the pelvis will bring the knee slightly forward – AND THIS IS OK! If we force the knees together, while attempting to rotate deeply into a twist, the SIJ will shear, leading to instability of the ligaments that stabilize the joints and breakdown of the joint surface, I.E. osteoarthritis.
In order to keep the spine, hips, knees, and ankles safe as we rotate, we need to create stability through the spine and lower body. This will involve an active breath that employs the respiratory diaphragm, the transversus abdominis muscle, the multifidi muscles, and the pelvic floor. We can further support the spine and pelvis in this posture by recruiting the internal and external oblique muscles to avoid collapsing into our twist as well as the internal and external rotator muscles of the hips to support the lumbopelvic region and the lower extremities. Allow your “knee to be free” as you revolve your chair, promoting long-term spinal health and a life-long yoga practice.null
Jessica Hartmann, PT, PYT, E-RYT is a physical therapist, medical yoga therapist, and educator in Wilmington, NC. She is the owner of Integrative Rehab and Wellness Inc., a lecturer at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and a faculty member with the Professional Yoga Theraoy Institute.