The largest joint in our body is the knee. This hinge joint connects the thigh to the lower leg allowing for flexion and extension. The knee is the junction point of many ligaments and tendons to keep the bones, and muscles connected. It also contains shock absorbers known as the meniscus which prevent bones from rubbing on one another. However, if the knee is forcefully rotated or bent it can be cracked or torn (en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Knee). The knees play a large role in our mobility, and it’s important that we be mindful of their role in our yoga practice.
5 Ways to be Mindful of the Knees during Your Practice:
1. Align your knee with the ankle in leg bending poses. If you’re in Chair Pose think of pushing your sitting bones behind you, as you fold from the hips drawing your knees over the ankles. Look down, if you see the top of your leg instead of your toes continue to push the sitting bones back. A mirror is a wonderful tool to check for knee over ankle alignment.
2. Track your knee in the same direction of your toes. In Warrior II the front leg works towards a 90 degree angle while the back leg extends with feet turned in about 45 degrees. Often the front knee will roll inward, or outward depending on your flexibility in the hips. Simply correct this alignment by tracking your knee the direction your toes are pointing. As you get more comfortable with this task, begin to track the knee with the second toe for even better alignment.
3. Slighty bend the knees in straight leg poses. While working towards Forward Fold it’s more important to focus on lifting your sitting bones, so the stretch may be felt more in the belly of your hamstring not the back of your knee. Remember there aren’t any knee opening poses in yoga! While you’re working towards straight legs in your practice, know that it’s perfectly fine to have a slight bend in the knees. Your knees and hamstrings will be grateful for your kindness.
4. Lift the knee caps in standing poses. This simply means draw your thigh muscles up as if you were sucking them into the bones of your leg. This action will help to build strength and stabilization overtime, and practice. Mountain pose is the easiest pose to practice this action. Eventually with awareness you can begin to incorporate lifting your knee caps in all poses where the leg is extended. You can also try Mountain Pose lying down with your feet against the wall. As you press your feet into the wall feeling yourself grounded, begin to lift the thigh muscles drawing them up and into your thigh bones. Take a moment and notice any sensations you may experience.
5. The knees face up with the toes in seated poses. Often times in seated poses such as Staff Pose, where your legs extended straight out in front of you, it’s common to allow the knees and toes to roll out losing all awareness. Remember, in seated poses the legs can be just as active as they are in standing poses. So, face your toes up along with your knees. Engage the muscle of the thighs and feel a line of energy radiating from the crown of your head through the heels of your feet. Practicing such alignment cues without bearing weight will be easier, and will give your body the opportunity to practice awareness. In time, these actions will translate more easily into your standing poses.
The next time you roll out your mat for your practice take these tips with you. Be playful and curious….just explore what your body’s abilities are today. Take pride in knowing that with your knowledge you’ll be protecting your knees, as well as building healthy habits for yourself, along with your yoga practice for years to come.
(Photo created by bayswater.ca)