With the recent publication of our yoga actions book on legs and knees, I received a number of requests for help with eliminating knee pain. As we age, it seems our knees take the brunt of our daily stress and strain. From torn meniscus (knee cartilage) to osteoarthritis, the usual exercise remedies involve both strengthening and stretching the muscles that surround and support knee mobility — quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves. I certainly support this. However, I found with my own knee injury that the best way to repair and revitalize my knees was to create flexibility and strength in my hips — which also paid itself forward to the muscles surrounding my knees.
Below are some fun, relatively easy and supported yoga poses you can do at home to dramatically alter your current experience. As one of my students said, “When I do these poses in the morning before work, I spend the whole day pain free and mobile.” That was her experience after her first session! No magic involved, just the wonders of your body responding to a healthy regime. Try these six postures, and let me know your results.
Adho Mukha Svanasana with hands on chair:
In this variation of Downward-facing Dog pose, concentrate on moving the outer hips away from the hands and crown of the head. Your lower abdominal muscles (below your navel) lift up into your pelvis and scoop up along the face of your spine toward the bottom of your rib cage. Try to hold the posture for 10 deep inhales and exhales through your nostrils. Come out of the pose earlier if your body indicates the need.
Virabhadrasana II over a chair:
This is a significant hip opener, so be sure to rest your thigh and sit bone on the chair seat (with added support if you are taller). Try to align your head over your tailbone, and stay in the posture from 5 to 10 breaths (depending on what your inner experience tells you). Even though the head points in the direction of the forward arm and hand, the torso is twisting away from them. Remember to do the posture on both legs while you breathe evenly through your nostrils.
Prasarita Padottanasana forearms and forehead rest on a chair:
In this forward bend, your legs are straight with your toes pointing forward. Again, your lower abdominals lift and scoop up along the front of the spine. Try to stay in the posture for 10 even breaths (or however long your body says is right for you). Notice how the outer hips, outer knees and outer ankles are all in a line.
Adho Mukha Svanasana over a chair with feet on blocks:
In this version of Downward-facing Dog, the chair’s upper back presses into your upper thighs (not the pubic bone) to release your thighbones into the back of your legs. Notice how grounding the thighbones allows the torso and spine to lengthen away from the hips. Stay in this posture from 1 to 5 minutes based on what your body is telling you while you are in the pose.
Seated Baddha Konasana on a raised surface:
You can also sit with your back supported by a wall. If your front hipbones are level with or higher than your knees, when in the pose, you do not need to sit on a raised surface. To avoid overstretching the groins, place folded blankets under each outer thigh. Notice how the inner groins soften and release into the body. With this softening and release, the spine lengthens up out of the pelvis, through the torso and out the crown of the head. Stay in this posture for 3 to 5 minutes. Remember to come out of any pose if your body is experiencing pain.
Viparita Karani legs up the wall
In this restorative inversion, the bolster is placed 2 to 3 inches away from the wall in order for the sit bones to “drip” down between the wall and bolster to the floor. You can belt the legs, as in the photo above, or loosen the belt (approximately 24” across) and move it to mid-calf. This latter version is specifically for releasing the outer hips, and one of my favourites. Stay in the pose for at least 5 to 15 minutes in order for the body to complete a full circulatory cycle.
I hope you enjoy my holiday sequence for healthy hips and knees. As well, as strengthening and stabilizing your body and mind, you will notice many other worthwhile benefits like digesting the turkey, ham or tofu you are likely to ingest over the next few days.
Whatever special days you celebrate in December, may they bring you peace, love and joy.