A regular Yoga practice helps develop physical strength, robust muscles, tendons and ligaments, and improves bone and joint health. It helps enhance overall mind-body balance, improves body awareness and increases the levels of the feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. Unlike other physical activities, Yoga is not demanding on the joints but sometimes a preexisting injury or body condition such as knee or joint pain may refrain us from practicing Yoga easily.
Yoga is an ancient holistic practice, which includes physical asana practice that allows our bodies to get into all sorts of stretches, bends, and inversions. Research indicates that Yoga may improve overall leg strength, which can benefit your knees, but certain postures may actually put stress on your knees, especially in Yoga styles like Vinyasa that require you to maintain pace and move from one asana to another. With consistent practice you can increase your pace, but at times physical conditions like weak knees may restrict your movements such as deep stretches, kneeling or bending.
The knee is a joint formed, stabilized and given mobility by the articulation of bones, ligaments and tendons.The knee is the largest joint of the body and is often the site of pain and injury in athletes or the elderly. Knee joint allows us to do all the possible activities, and despite the best of design many people today are facing severe knee joint issues, chronic pain, and orthopaedic surgery. With the holistic approach, one can treat the knee condition, but it is essential to learn which Yoga asana is good or bad for your knees.
Below are details on Yoga poses that help strengthen the knees, tips to use asana variation and alignment to avoid knee injuries and benefits of Yoga practice. These points are also covered in detail during anatomy sessions at Yoga Teacher Training Courses (YTTC) and anatomy workshops. Thus, practicing under the guidance of an experienced and certified teacher helps prevent knee injuries.
Yoga helps improve awareness
The practice of Yoga works at all levels and has the ability to ward off the effects of aging by helping you maintain a healthy body and immune system, strong bones and joints, and most importantly, helps you cope with anxiety and daily stress and keep the mind calm. But in some cases, excess stress to the joints leaves people with extreme pain and leads to arthritis. The situation can be prevented if done in a controlled environment under the guidance of trainers. There are certain postures which are apt for the practice and make joints stronger, and there are certain that can even create a problem.
Awareness about physical postures and their correct alignment helps you make adjustments where needed and also avoid certain asanas with acute stretching or deep knee bends that can damage cartilage.
Yoga philosophy and practice understands and respects the fact that every body is different and thus today, even after thousands of years, the practice of Yoga continues to evolve to best suit today’s environment and lifestyle. Yoga asanas come with detailed instructions on how-to-do, benefits and caution. The practice not only helps improve overall awareness but also teaches self-acceptance. Thus accepting and respecting one’s limitations and working around it can never do any harm. In fact a mindful approach will help you heal and enjoy optimal health.
When can yoga be bad for the knees
The practice can be harmful or bad for the knees and joints when people are not trained adequately to try complex poses, or when they repeatedly perform the pose without proper alignment or when they try to get deeper into the Yoga stretches and hence harm themselves. Proper guidance is required to prevent any sort of Yoga injury, and along with that proper knowledge of Yoga anatomy, training of adjustment and alignment also helps immensely.
“Extreme postures like acute deep knee bends, particularly for people who are not used to doing these postures, it is definitely harmful to them in terms of the abnormal stresses, and damage to cartilages. In that respect it is harmful.” says Dr.Ashok Rajgopal, Orthopedic Surgeon, India, who has performed knee replacement surgery on many yoga practitioners.
Yoga classes in which individual attention is not possible may also lead such injuries because the Yoga teacher can easily overlook an individual’s need. Public events, or classes overflowing with students or classes which fail to discriminate beginner level from advanced level can lead to people performing complex poses without building up a strong foundation or core-strength and balance, and end up harming their joints. People with knee or joint issues are strictly prohibited from doing certain poses and carelessness can worsen the condition.
These are the reasons that can make Yoga bad for the knees, but if done right and under the guidance of an expert, then the holistic art proves to be the best cure for knee and joint problems. As knee osteoarthritis is very common among middle age women, a tailored arthritis-specific Yoga program for women was conducted to measure the effectiveness of these exercises on knee osteoarthritis. Findings showed that pain and symptoms were significantly decreased and scores of daily activities, sports, spare-time activities, and quality of life were significantly increased in the yoga group.
How to practice yoga with bad knees?
Yoga is known for getting our bodies into a pretzel with gradual and constant practice, and it is no wonder that bad knees or a stiff spine make bending, kneeling, stretching or crouching not that appealing. Many people stay away from the mat due to knee or joint issues, which make them stay away from a healthy lifestyle. But there is a way! There are certain tips and tricks that help you to hit the mat even with knee pain.
Be careful with the practice and focus on building muscles slowly without putting too much pressure on the knees. Start with simple poses like Vrikshasana (Tree Pose) and Tadasana (Mountain Pose), as these poses may help to slowly strengthen the knees, and also make the glutes, hamstrings, thighs, hips and lower back strong which protect the knees from unnecessary strain during the practice.
Yoga is the best form of exercise for the knees because apart from providing physical benefits, Yoga heals you at the spiritual and mental level as well. Root Chakra (Mooladhara) blockage is one of the reasons for weak knees, and with Yoga you can balance this chakra, develop both inner and outer strength, enhance willpower, build courage and all this helps in facing challenges with utmost ease.
Yoga helps you restore the health of the knees, heal and recover from a knee surgery and soothes chronic knee pain. Following are some tips that you can keep in mind to alter your practice and protect your knees.
Try not to apply pressure directly on the knees, and to avoid that use extra blanket or knee cushion under the knees while practicing poses like Cat-Cow Pose (Marjariasana), Tiger Pose (Vyaghrasana), Crescent Moon Pose (Anjaneyasana) and other similar kneeling down and balancing poses.
Know your limitations, respect them and be very patient with the body. Avoid overdoing the practice and instead focus on doing it regularly.
Stay away from going too deep into the poses like Pigeon (Kapotasana), Warrior (Virabhadrasana) or Chair pose (Utkatasana).
Alignment is the key which allows you to practice safely without putting unnecessary strain on the knees.
Modify poses if you feel uncomfortable doing any particular pose like Warrior 1, Half Pigeon, Child Pose (Balasana), Deep Side Lunge, Lotus pose (Padmasana), and more.
5 Yoga poses for stronger knees
Asana is the first step to start your Yoga practice, followed by pranayama and meditation. The purpose of asana practice is to slowly help you build a strong foundation, mentally and physically.If you are suffering from chronic pain or knee issues, you must consult an experienced trainer and your doctor before practicing any pose.
Chair Pose (Utkatasana) – The pose is amazing for knee health and makes the functioning much better. Utkatasana puts the body weight into the hip sockets, preventing the knees from being over pressurized.
Peaceful Warrior (Shanti Virabhadrasana) – This pose strengthens the knee muscles while keeping them in good shape.
Bridge Pose (SetuBandhaSarvangasana) – This is an easy pose that is great for overall wellness and is beneficial especially for those who have knee pain.
High Lunge (Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana) – This is a pose that strengthens the glutes, calves, and quads, which makes it less taxing on the knees, and furthermore stretches and strengthens the muscles that support the knees.
Eagle Pose (Garudasana) – This fierce pose is for those who find it difficult to balance their body, which can lead to injuries. The asana helps improve overall balance which keeps you safe from injury and also works on the inner thighs and calves, making them strong.
There are other easy and simple poses that prove restorative for you and are surely good for the knees. But certainly, there are some poses which shouldn’t be practiced if you are suffering from a severe knee problem. Avoid asanas like Camel Pose, Twisted Triangle, Hero Pose, Lotus Pose, Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose, or any other complex pose that can hamper knee condition.
Ayurveda approach for healthy knees
Ayurveda is the medical philosophy of Yoga and is equally beneficial in improving your physical and emotional wellbeing. Like how Yoga helps in keeping your knees healthy, similarly, Ayurveda contributes a lot towards maintaining health and relieving pain.
So here are some tips you can practice for healthy knee joints:
If suffering from knee pain, you can make turmeric paste and apply on the joint or drink turmeric milk daily before bedtime. Turmeric treats inflammation, relieves pain and helps with arthritis and prevents other issues.
Ginger is another amazing Ayurvedic ingredient that you should consume daily to prevent various ailments. You can either use ginger oil over the knees or drink ginger herbal tea.
Usage of herbs like Ashwagandha, Shatavari, and Triphala proves beneficial for inflammatory conditions.
Avoid drinking water and other liquids while standing as it proves bad for knee health.
Yoga is actually beneficial for those with knee pain or suffering from weak knees. The key is to use asana variations, yoga props and most importantly, being consistent with the practice. So perform Yoga carefully to maintain and restore knee health and other knee joint issues. Keep practicing and maintain knee health for overall well being.
Bipin Baloni is a passionate Yogi, Yoga Teacher and a Traveller in India. He
Yoga Teacher Training not only refine your teaching skills or become an eminent Yogi but also makes you learn Yoga intensely. During the course, you learn about asanas profoundly, understand the importance of learning adjustment and alignment, and learn about yoga props and asana modification. The course also covers