Today, I want to focus on another joint: the knees. As an instructor, I find that knees come second only to backs in terms of areas people seem to have chronic or acute problems with.
Your knees are, obviously, super important. Plenty we do can cause damage: running, lots of types of sports, being overweight, over-using them, under-using them, cycling, dancing, gymnastics, yoga, etc. Yes, I said it: “Yoga can damage your knees.”
“But wait. Isn’t yoga supposed to be good for your knees?!?!” you ask.
Of course. The trouble is many people maintain poor alignment in their postures and do more harm than good.
When it comes to the joints, we want to build the muscles around the joints to make them bear the load, not the joints, and we want to protect the joints from wear and tear.
Generally, in most postures, we want to work with the knees in no more than a 90 degree bend. You can certainly have them less bent (a more obtuse angle) than that, but more (a more acute angle) can be cause undue stress on the joint.
Most of the time, this adjustment is easily made by moving the foot away from the body and/or by shifting the weight into the heels.
I am going to review a few standing postures with you here, and there is also a 10-minute video I made that talks about these postures as well as some therapeutic positions to help maintain your knee mobility.
With your low lunge, high lunge, warrior one, warrior two and side angle bend, the message is all the same: Keep the knee over the ankle with no more than a 90 degree bend.
INCORRECT: In each of these photos, notice that my knee is tracking forward over my foot. This is putting more weight forward in my knee and less in my legs and gluteals.
CORRECT: Notice in these photos how my bend is not quite as deep (it could go deeper if I wanted), but the knee is over the ankle. This is making my legs and gluteals fire on to support me. It is FINE to go deeper and get the thigh parallel to the floor and the knee at 90, but don’t feel like you HAVE to do that.
Next we will look at chair pose and goddess pose. These are both incredibly hard postures! I definitely don’t do them “perfectly,” but I am always practicing and striving to build strength and work with good alignment to protect the joints.
INCORRECT: Notice whether my legs are together and parallel or wide and turned out, in these photos, my weight is forward in my toes. My knees are coming out over my feet and my gluteal muscles and quadriceps are barely doing anything.
CORRECT: Notice in these photos that my weight is shifted back. The large muscles around the knees have to work, and that protects the joint.
This video tutorial includes more detail about each of these postures as well as some stretches for the knee. I hope they help you be safer and stronger in your practice for years to come!
Feel free to reach out with questions or comments! Happy practicing.
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