Yoga and your knees

A very relaxing pose. Good for relieving tension in the ankles.
This pose requires hip flexor length and good opening in the knees.

We can use the practice of yoga to maintain the health of our knees.** The gentle, continued practice of yoga is suited for many of the issues that we face due to the condition of our knees. Knees are strong: they support nearly the entire weight of the body. However, many people in modern society maintain a go, go, go attitude in their work life as well as their leisure time or athletic activities. Some of them eventually may require surgery. A variation of a kneeling yoga pose, with props, can help to maintain the health and longevity of the knees. This particular pose variation is a good place to start the practice of kneeling postures, as it is a preparation for an even deeper pose. Approached slowly and cautiously, one will eventually and comfortably access kneeling postures.

Knees: they are the strongest joints in the body. They are secondary only to the ankle joint in supporting the weight of the body. Although they are meant to be stable joints, the knees are sent through a variety of paces as we jump, twist, pound and sharply change directions; these movements, along with gravity, place a lot of biomechanical stress on the knees. As we maintain our activity levels into our later years, perhaps we might want to consider a little bit of preventative maintenance for our bodies, in particular the knees.

Our knees are comprised of several different components: ligaments (attach bone to bone), cartilage and menisci (serve to cushion the bones), tendons (connect muscle to bone specifically relates to the patella – knee-cap). The ligaments and cartilage are especially susceptible to wear, tear, impact injuries, shear injuries, and various degenerative maladies. Torn cartilage, torn ligaments, strains, sprains, etc. However extensive the compromised situation of the knee is, the possibility of developing arthritis always exists. The space between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (larger lower leg bone) will decrease and be a source of discomfort, if not pain.

A NYT article in April of 2006 states that many born between the years of 1946 and 1964 (baby boomers) are leading the charge in doctor visits due to sports injuries. The 50 plus generation, being more goal oriented and more active, is continually on the go. By wanting to stay active and fit, they are more likely to invite injury and/or to be active in spite of it. Knees take a lot of abuse. Some people undergo major knee surgery and continue to run, twist and pound the knees.

How to gently open up the knee joint.

So what do we do? What can we do? Gravity is not so easily overcome. As we live our lives, particularly in an active fashion, we continually compress our knees and compound any abnormalities that have been acquired over the years. Eventually, we may get to the point where we may need surgery.

Vajrasana, Zen Meditation pose, can be used to help ease the tension that we carry in the knees or to help with the rehabilitation that becomes necessary after surgery. This variation of the pose, is based on yin yoga. principles of (a) sustained stress, held in stillness, with no pain. This is a technique that I leaned from my Instructor, Kim Schwartz of Albuquerque, NM; it is also widely used in the Iyengar Yoga Community.

Why this is good for the knees.

Some props will be necessary: three cushions or books, about two inches thick, could work, some wooden doweling (start with a smaller diameter dowel first, say one inch and work your way up over time to 1.5 inches) or even a rolled up towel. Another option, in place of the dowel, is to fold up a really thin sticky mat if you have one. I use a yoga mat and a yoga block, as demonstrated in the clips.

This variation of Vajrasana is great for helping to open up the knee joint. Due to accidental mishaps or continual wear and tear, the knees need periodic maintenance. This particular pose is something that you can do at home, while you are watching T.V.

This variation of Vajrasana is a preparatory pose for “Hero Pose”. B.K.S. Iyengar claims that “Hero Pose” can . . . create the proper arch in the feet due to stretching of the ankles and the feet. He recommends a daily practice of a few minutes for several months. He also notes that “those suffering from pain in the heels or growth of calcaneal spurs … will get relief and the spurs will eventually disappear.” 1

A demonstration of ‘Hero Pose’ (Virasana).

Although kneeling postures are great, for many practitioners, due to tightness in the knee joint, compression of the knee joint or because of operations on the knees, full ‘Hero Pose’ is a daunting challenge. The variation of Vajrasana will gently and slowly create more opening in the knees. Unless your knee issues require forgoing ‘Hero Pose’, this practice will eventually help you to open up the knee joint, relieve excess tension in the calves and, over time, bring the hips to the floor (for ‘Hero Pose’).

Use care when practicing yoga, be careful in the pursuit of health and wellness. Yoga can be a major component in the maintenance of our health and well being, particularly as we age. The buoyancy in our steps can be with us throughout our lives if we want it to be. If surgery is necessary, it need not mean that we will eventually become sedentary. Utilizing Vajrasana with props is a fine way to gently maintain the health of our knees. This is a technique that can be used whenever we are going to be in one spot for a length of time.

Namaste.

**This post is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Before attempting these maneuvers, please consult with your physician or your therapist.

Footnotes:

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, page 122

References/Resources

Livestrong site article on using yoga for knees health

Techniques used by physical therapists to help open up the knee joint.

Yin yoga article on using yoga for knee health

Links to articles on symptomatology of knee injuries

Osteoarthritis 101

Osteoarthritis

After ACL Surgery

Meniscus/Cartilage Tear

Knee Injuries

ACL Surgery