THE BEES KNEES THROUGH YOGA ASANA
This fall I went on a clandestine night adventure with a friend here in New Orleans. Our journey entailed exploring a secret park and ended with me ninja jumping (or so I thought) from a chain-linc fence breaking one foot and spraining the other. It was the first time I had ever broken a bone or had a sprain. For me, it was a really big deal! My orthopedic doctor set me up in two knee boots for a 6 week stretch. As I hobbled to and from work each day in excruciating pain I came to understand injuries in a new light. After the first few weeks I allowed myself to start up a gentle home practice again, no jump backs or chaturangas. I spent a lot of time looking at images of the bone structure of feet and then visualizing my metatarsals re-attaching in correct alignment. I also made it a habit to do a nightly session of Ayurvedic Abhyanga paying special attention to my feet. In my asana practice I worked the four corners of the feet and moved in the modality of an optimal blue print of skeletal alignment. When I returned to the Dr. after 6 weeks he asked me suspiciously if I had been moving around without the foot boots. I guiltily admitted that yes, I had been working on my feet gingerly through yoga and conscious walking. To my surprise, instead of chiding me he congratulated me for my work. He took one last x-ray, squeezed the balls of my feet and told me I had speeded up the recovery and I was good to walk freely. He even told me for Christmas I would be allowed to jump off of things once again. Wohoo, not planning on trying anymore high jumps at the moment.
This experience has greatly enhanced my understanding of injuries as a yoga practitioner and instructor. With yoga therapeutics so much deep healing is accessible for all of us in an every day format. While I have had mostly good results with chiropractic, massage and acupuncture work for previous injuries I have found that what helps me re-align and heal the quickest is Yoga Therapeutics.
I have had several students both at Balance Yoga Wellness Studio and back home in Albuquerque make inquiries recently into healing and preventing knee and leg injuries in yoga. While yoga can be an incredible tool, yoga asana also leaves many opportunities for injury if not done with full mindfulness and refined instructions. I have learned from my teacher Bea Doyle that Yoga therapeutics can take me a long way in a healthy and strong recovery from almost any injury. Below are some short tips for making your body stronger and working towards freedom from pain.
Skin to muscle to bone – When we move in yoga imagine the skin hugging into your muscles which then hugs into the bone. The sweetness of this embrace from the inside out stabilizes the body. You may also hear this idea expressed when an instructor says, “hug into the midline.”
Tracking the knee over the shin bone – Whether in seated or standing poses make sure that your shin bone and your quadricep is in line with your patella (your knee cap). Check out this quick tutorial to see how.
Creating safe space in the knee joint – Often times we feel pain in seated poses like Virasana or Padmasana when the knee joint is closed. Make sure you add in poses to your practice that increase the space in the knee joint. For example, try rolling up a mat and placing it deep in the knee jouint while breathing into Utkatasana. Here is a great video on a knee opening exercise.
I have found in my own practice that nine times out of ten I need to work on another part of my body to make my knees feel super happy.
Strengthening the quadriceps and calves – work on strengthening your standing poses, in particular Triangle pose. Use a block for the bottom fingertips and work the quadricep muscles up and ground down through the four corners of the feet. You can also work on the knee with bent-knee standing poses but make sure you follow them up with a straight leg pose.
When your ankles are strong and engaged, your knees are happier – It is really easy to bliss out in seated postures and forget about the ankles and feet. Wake up! When we engage fully in the ankles and feet we muscularly support the knees.
Range of motion in the hips matters – The flexibility in your knees is directly related to your hips and how open or constricted they feel. Don’t press yourself to go into a deep knee asana without first warming up the hips with some straight and bent knee lunges or our favorite, pigeon-prep pose.
If you are looking for more detailed instruction on how to protect, strengthen and heal your knees and legs then check out the amazing and FREE Yoga Therapeutics YouTube tutorials by Bea Doyle. She has created these short videos with incredible expertise and care.
If you are interested in more personalized work then schedule a yoga therapeutics private with an instructor at your studio today. These sessions are worth it. You will leave with a handful of exercises that you can continue to diligently practice at home.
I believe through my own personal experience that Yoga heals when practiced with dedication, education and articulation. I hope you have gleaned a few kernels for your own dynamic and safe Yoga Asana practice!