Strengthen and Stabilize: 3 Poses for Healthy Knees
A yoga student recently asked: “What are some knee strengthening exercises and/or exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knees?”
This question, like most, has many facets. Yoga postures can help improve some knee issues. The trick is figuring out how to do these poses in a way that doesn’t further harm the knee while we’re trying to heal it.
Protecting Your Knees in Yoga
This challenge isn’t unique to yoga. When I met with a surgeon over 20 years ago to determine whether my own knee condition warranted surgery, he told me that physical therapy exercises for knees had changed, because some of the traditional exercises damaged the “good” knee while rehabbing the injured one.
Therefore, when we work therapeutically with knees in yoga, we first must obey the old adage “do no harm.” This sometimes means adapting poses so that the practitioner doesn’t perform poses in a kneeling position. Chair adaptations work wonderfully for this.
Then we must make sure that the practitioner uses proper body alignment for her own structure. Contrary to some yoga philosophies, there is no “right” standard of alignment that can be universally applied. It must be discovered via observation and experimentation with each individual.
Beyond that, the goal is to make sure the muscles that support the knee joint are balanced—that the hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are flexible and strong in a balanced way. Simply strengthening one muscle group over another may do more harm than good, especially if we ignore the opposing muscle groups and don’t pay attention to overall flexibility.
That said, below are three of my favorite Viniyoga postures for strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings. Please be aware, however, that unless I work with a client one-on-one and observe her/his specific condition, I can’t know for sure what is needed to help this complex and surprisingly fragile joint. Therefore, proceed with caution and please discontinue these postures if they cause any discomfort in your knee or anywhere else!
Strengthening Yoga Poses for Your Knees
Note: Please remember that Viniyoga is a dynamic practice. Even though the pictures below show static postures, each should be repeated dynamically, and each repetition should be connected with the breath.
Half Squat Against a Wall
This asana strengthens the quadriceps, hamstrings and hips.
Stand on a nonskid surface (a yoga mat will do).
As you move into the squat, make sure that your knees track over the center of your feet and do not extend beyond your toes.
Make sure to keep your hips higher than your knees.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), with a blanket or ball:
This yoga pose also strengthens quadriceps and hamstrings, along with other muscles.
Lie on a nonskid mat with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor.
Place a folded blanket between your thighs and press your thighs into your blanket.
Press your feet into the floor and extend your knees out away from you to lift your pelvis.
Press your arms into the floor to help lift your upper body, and relax your throat and neck.
As with the squat, do not let your knees go beyond your toes.
Squeezing the blanket engages the inner thigh muscles and promotes correct positioning of the feet.
Always keep both edges of the feet and all ten toes on the ground.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), bending the knees:
This back strengthener also promotes mobility in the knee joint and builds strength in the hamstrings.
Lie face down on a yoga mat.
Bend your elbows and place your hands underneath your upper chest, lining your fingers up with the tops of your shoulders.
Keeping your ribcage on the floor press down with your hands to lift your upper body off the floor.
Lengthen the back of your neck so that your head and neck follow the natural trajectory of your spine.
You can either bend one knee at a time or both.
Flexing the foot as you bend the knee and imagining that you are wearing an ankle weight deepens the work.
This article originally appeared on the Whole Life Yoga site. Reprinted with permission.
Tracy Weber, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT is the owner of Whole Life Yoga in Seattle as well as the creator and director of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. A practicing yoga therapist, she is also the author of the Downward Dog Mystery series, which won the Maxwell award for fiction. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any way possible.
Tracy and her husband Marc live in Seattle with their crazy new German shepherd pup, Ana. When she’s not writing, Tracy spends her time teaching yoga, trying to corral Ana, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.
For more information on Tracy and the Downward Dog Mysteries, visit her author website: http://TracyWeberAuthor.com/.