Yoga Practice Tips for Keeping Your Knees Safe
Our knees are a vulnerable joint in the body and stability around the knees is crucial when practicing yoga and participating in many of our daily activities such as walking, getting in and out of a seated position and climbing the steps. The knee is a hinge joint, and like the elbow, it only moves in two directions, flexion (bent) and extension (straight). Unfortunately many injuries occur when the knee is impacted from the side and the knee twists which puts stress on the meniscus, the disc between the femur bone of the upper leg and the fibula and tibia of the lower leg, or the ligaments that hold the knee together. This week we will discuss how stretching the calves and hamstrings and strengthening the quadriceps can help to build strength around the knee. You will also learn some tricks on how to deal with arthritis knee pain and hyper-extended knees while practicing standing postures in yoga.
Vyana Vayu Mudra (Marma Mudra)
Right Hand: Touch tip of thumb and ring fingers together, extend all others
Left Hand: Touch tips of thumb and middle fingers together, extend all others. Rest hands with palms up.
Benefits: Draws energy into the joints
Practice Tips: Good for arthritis
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)
Lie on the back with the legs straight.
Variation I: Draw your right knee into your chest and lengthen the left leg onto the floor. Wrap a strap around the ball of your right foot and extend the leg into the air. Reach the hands up the strap until the elbows are straight but the shoulders are still grounded.
Variation II: Hold the strap in the right hand and place a block on the outside of the right hip. Externally rotate your leg and as you exhale, lower the leg directly out to the side so that the outer thigh rests on the block. Extend the foot into the strap and reach the left arm out to the side keeping the left hip on the floor. To release, use the inner thigh to draw the leg up to center.
Variation III: Hold the strap in the left hand and slowly bring the leg across the body as you twist the lower body, keeping the shoulders on the floor and the right arm out to the side. To release, drop the right hip into the floor and allow the leg to follow. Hold each variation for 10-20 breaths.
Deviasana (Goddess Pose) @ Wall
Lie on the back with feet on the wall and knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Step feet wide apart and turn toes out, keeping knees lined up with the ankles. Press into the wall alternately with the feet, then press into the wall with both feet.
Supta Virabhadrasana II (Reclining Warrior II)
Lie on back with feet in Deviasana. Slightly turn pelvis towards the right and extend left leg out and straighten left knee. If you can turn left toes to face the ceiling or inward toward the midline of your body. Extend arms out to the sides as you would in a standing Virabhadrasana II. Press the feet into the wall, make sure there is no pain or pulling on either knee. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then change sides.
Virasana (Hero Pose)
Sit on block or blanket between heels. Ground front of feet and shins, thighs and sit bones into earth. Lift up through belly, heart and crown of head.
For Ankle Pain – Kneel on folded blanket with crease of ankles at edge of blanket).
For Knee Pain – Sit higher so knees do not have to bend all the way.
Malasana (Garland Pose) to Ardha Uttanasana (Half Forward Bend)
Begin squatting with feet turned out. If heels do not come to the floor, use a rolled blanket under heels. You may also choose to sit on a block for greater stability and you do not have to reach for the heels as shown in the picture. Place a block in front of your feet and as you exhale the breath, lift pelvis and drop the heels as you come into Ardha Uttanasana. As you inhale come back down into the squat. Repeat up to 5 times with the breath.
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) Variation
Stand with feet wide apart and turn right foot in and left foot out. Roll up a sticky mat and place it between the left lower leg and the wall as you bend the left knee and press knee into the rolled mat (rolled mat drawn in purple). Inhale and lift the arms to shoulder’s height and hold for 5-10 breaths, then change sides.
For Arthritic Knees: You may place a yoga wedge under the ball of the front foot so that the front of the foot is tilted upwards. This propping will take some of the pressure off of the base of the knee and allow the quadriceps muscles to work a bit more to hold you in the position (wedge drawn in purple).
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) Variation
Stand facing the wall and step the right foot forward and placing block between shin an the wall, bend the knee into the block. Step left foot back turning toes slightly back keeping hips width distance between feet.
Press hands into wall at chest height and then either bring hands to the heart or rasie arms overhead. Hold for 10 breaths, then change sides.
Trikonasana (Traingle Pose) VariationStand with feet wide apart. Turn left out to 90 degrees and right foot in 30 degrees. Inhale arms out from shoulders. Exhale and cock hips to the left. Reach left arm parallel to floor to lengthen the left waist and bring left hand on block, foot or floor. Rotate the chest towards the right and reach right arm towards ceiling.
Hold 5-10 breaths then release and change sides.
For Hyper-extension of Knees: Sllightly bend front leg and place small face of block against calf, then re-straighten leg catching block between leg and floor so that you cannot hyperextend the knee.
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
Stand with feet wide apart. Bend forward from hips placing hands between feet. Release spine forward with crown of head facing floor.
Hold up to 1 minute, then return to standing by drawing hands onto hips and lifting entire torso up as a single unit.
Supported Constructive Rest
Lie on back with balls of feet on edge of folded blanket and a second blanket under the head. Place looped strap around lower thighs hips width apart and place block between knees. The leg props should be placed so that the legs can completely relax. Rest 5-10 minutes.
Cheryl found yoga in 2001 as a way to ease chronic back pain and became instantly enchanted by the subtle connections between the breath, body, mind, and emotions. She has trained with master teachers from Piedmont Yoga Studio and the Integrative Yoga therapy schools and she blends both traditional Hatha teachings and alignment principles with subtle energy work and healing. As a Yoga Therapist, Cheryl sees clients privately and has taught over 2500 public classes and workshops in studios and cancer centers around the Bay Area. She serves on the faculty of the Niroga Institute’s Yoga Therapy teacher training program, offers workshops and retreats for cancer survivors. She also conducts research on the benefits of yoga for reducing side effects of cancer.