Yoga to Protect Your Knees

Yoga is a practice that asks us to pay attention, to listen to the body’s messages. This, in turn, can help us notice our habitual patterns—off the yoga mat as well as on. For example, do you tend to always cross the same leg when you sit? Do you lean into one hip when you stand? How much time do you spend in a chair, without getting up to walk and stretch frequently?

And how is all of this affecting your knees?

According to Christopher Holmes, a bodyworker, anatomy expert, and Kripalu School of Yoga faculty member, many knee conditions—from soreness and crackling to osteoarthritis—are caused or exacerbated by both our movement habits and the sedentary lifestyle of our modern age. Sitting in cars, slouching over handheld devices, and staring at computers for hours all take their toll on the body. To combat those effects, Chris says it’s crucial to develop consistent movement practices that warm, lubricate, and protect our bones, muscles, and joints. Mindful movement—movement that nurtures and nourishes—“build us up, not wear us down,” Chris says, inviting more ease into the body, so we can cultivate more ease in our lives.

In his Kripalu R&R workshop Yoga for Safe and Healthy Knees, Chris emphasizes the importance of good alignment: When the ankles, knees, and hips work in unison, it promotes balance and stability; misalignments occur with the daily wear and tear we experience due to repetitive physical patterns. This is why yoga can be so beneficial to maintain healthy knees and keep them safe for the long haul.

Chris offers movements that can help release the areas of the body that affect the knees—hips, quads, hamstrings, glutes—without force or strain, and that generate heat, open the connective tissue, and gradually increase range of motion. He suggests exploring the following yoga poses, which, when practiced together, offer an empowering and accessible sequence that can keep your knees stable and supple. 

Windshield Wiper. Lie on your back with your feet mat-width apart, knees together, arms out by your sides. Connect to your breath. Imagine that you can breathe into your pelvis and low back. Breathe into the sensations of the inner thighs and inner knees. Imagine the tissues around the hips softening and melting. Initiate movement to rotate the femur, moving your knees side to side, like a windshield wiper, warming up the hips.

Low Lunge. This Low Lunge variation, with the hands pressing on the front thigh, can be done as both a dynamic and a static stretch; Chris encourages doing both. The dynamic variation—where you gently pulse in and out of the lunge—lubricates the hips, while staying in place during the stretch opens the deep groin muscles. If your back knee is tender, Chris recommends placing a blanket under it for support. To take pressure off the back knee, press the top of the back foot into the floor.  

Chair pose. Chair pose works all the major muscles of the legs—strengthening the thighs, stretching the hips, and stabilizing the ankles—which is beneficial for creating strong knees. “Initiate the movement from the hips,” Chris says, “and track the knees behind the ankles.” This encourages the bulk of the loading to happen in the legs, hips, and glutes, rather than the delicate knee joints.

Bridge. Lie on your back with your feet planted on the mat, knees hip-width apart; aligning the knees with the hips before entering the posture creates a solid base that encourages stability. Lift your hips on the inhale, reach the tailbone toward the knees, and expand the sternum toward the chin, opening the front of the body. Isometrically draw the knees toward each other; this action stabilizes and strengthens the knee joints.  

Take your time, slow down, and tune in to your experience in these postures. Ultimately, as Chris points out, the key to maintaining safe and healthy knees is breath, movement, and balance: Pay attention to the quality of your breathing, and let your breath guide your movement with mindfulness and presence. Notice how these actions encourage you to find balance—not just in your knees but also in your entire being.

Find out about yoga programs and trainings with Christopher Holmes.

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