Knees are pretty awesome. They help us move, groove, and do yoga! They are the largest joints in the body and are comprised of bones, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Because of this complexity, the knees are prone to injury and it is up to us to protect them in our yoga practice.
Standing balance poses need the knee to help stabilize the body. It is common to overextend or lock the knee to create a sense of balance. This habit may not hurt the knee right away, but it can lead to short-term issues such as pain and swelling and long-term issues such as arthritis.
The good news is that you can take steps to protect your knees during your practice. Our knees do a lot, so let’s do something for them! Explore these pointers to protect the knees and strengthen standing balancing poses.
1. Develop Body Awareness
Standing balancing poses require balancing on one leg, potentially putting stress on the knee. Keep the knee safe by developing awareness of your body, including how it moves in certain poses.
A body scan is a great way to develop body awareness. Come into Tree Pose and scan your body from the bottoms of the feet to the top of the head, noting which muscles are active and which are not. Be aware of bad habits and make an effort to correct them so you stay aware and engaged.
2. Raise the Foot Arch
Locking the knees is a common error when practicing yoga, and can cause serious damage over time. Standing poses focus on stabilizing the legs to create balance, but it is easy to default to locking the knees to create this stability. Locking the knee puts stress on the joint instead of engaging and strengthening muscles.
Instead of locking the knee to feel stable, focus on pressing through the foot and allowing the muscles to engage, strengthen, and stabilize. Come into Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose and press the toes, ball of the foot, and heel into the ground. Allow the arch of the foot to rise away from the ground.
Although pressing the entire foot into the ground makes you feel stable, it is most likely accompanied by a locked knee. So get your arches up and your feet engaged, and start protecting your knee from the bottom up!
3. Engage the Leg Muscles
Strong leg muscles work together to help protect the knee. Their contraction helps to stabilize the body and builds strength with consistent practice. In Warrior III, engage your quad muscles to lift the kneecap and avoid locking the knee. Press into the toes and activate the calf muscles, simultaneously raising the arch. Start balancing and increasing strength by engaging the legs, all while protecting the knee. Stay strong and stay protected!
4. Keep Knees and Toes Pointing in the Same Direction
A healthy knee can move in four ways: extension (kicking out), flexion (bending), and, when the knee is flexed, medial and lateral rotation (slightly turning in towards and away from the body respectively). Unnecessary twisting can aggravate tendons over time, and keeping the knee pointed in the same direction as the toes is a good way to prevent this.
In Lord of the Dance Pose, take the focus away from the backbend and be aware of your toes, keeping the knee pointing towards the front toe.
5. Use Props to Check Yourself
Releasing bad habits can be hard at first, so don’t hesitate to reach out for some support! In Half Moon Pose, line up your back against the wall. Feel free to grab a block to “raise” the floor. Come into the pose and engage the thighs, lifting the arch of the foot. Allow the wall to support you. Observe how your body feels, and areas you can focus on to improve. Eventually, move away from the wall to test your balance.
Knees are amazing and allow us to do many yoga poses. Taking appropriate precautions to avoid injury will protect the knees and strengthen your yoga practice. Keep the legs strong, arches up, and toes and knees in the same direction, and use props when needed to stay mindful and engaged in standing balancing poses. Your yoga practice and your knees will thank you!
Image Credit: Odette Hughes