Since we started this blog in September, we have covered quite a bit of territory. Yet when I went back to look through our archives today, I was surprised that I had not dedicated a post to the subject of our knees! Our knees are one of the body’s most amazing architectural feats, allowing us to stand upright each morning, walk, run, jump and participate in life’s many and varied activities. And at the same time, the human knee, by virtue of the immense loads and stresses it endures each day, is also subject to the slow wear and tear of aging as well as the sudden vulnerability to injury, which many of us have encountered in our lives.
My own knees have allowed me to run races, bike long distances, climb mountains and hike incredible valleys, play basketball, baseball, tennis and a myriad other sports over the years, and for the most part have done a commendable job. But I have also suffered periodic flares of pain and swelling, especially in my left knee, stemming from an initial twisting incident on an icy ski run back in my thirties. X-rays show evidence of narrowing of the medial side of the joint, which implies I may have done some damage to the medial meniscus, the spongy cartilage pad designed to cushion the femur and tibia bones as they stack one on the other. And I have a family history of arthritis in hips and knees on my mom’s side of the family. Mom had both knees replaced in her seventies.
There’s a lot we could say about knees, but today I just want to start out our exploration of knees by considering how your yoga practice can ensure healthier, happier knees for you, especially for the athletes out there who enjoy running and biking. Although the stresses and demands on knees differ with the two activities, yoga’s dual benefits of strengthening and stretching around knee joint can prove helpful for both activities. In addition, the more essential skill of increased concentration and overall mindful awareness that yoga fosters can improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injury while enjoying these sports. And in the unfortunate circumstance of injury resulting from running and biking, yoga can be a part of your rehab program to get you back in action in a timely fashion. On top of all that, a well-rounded, balanced yoga practice can address issues above and below the knees, in the ankles and feet as well as hips and lower back, which can have significant impact on effective running and biking.
A few of my favorite poses and practices for runners and cyclists with a focus on the knee joint include Dynamic Reclined Hip Stretches (see here), Reclined Leg Stretch pose (Supta Padangusthasana), and Sun Salutations, as well as standing poses such as Warrior 1 pose, Triangle pose, Extended Side Angle pose, and Standing Forward Bend. For runners, I like to throw in psoas muscle stretches, such as drop knee lunges and Half Frog pose, from which cyclists can get some benefit as well. For cyclists, due to the tendency to have the spine in forward flexion (rounding forward), I recommend a passive backbend over a roll or block.
In future posts on the knees, I will discuss yoga for arthritis of the knees, as well as how to address certain injuries that can arise in this essential joint! In the meantime, I’m teaching two workshops that may be of interest to those concerned about their knees. In Oakland, I’ll be teaching a workshop at Mountain Yoga called “Knees if you Please,” on Saturday, June 9, from 2 to 5 (see Mountain Yoga for more information). And in Cincinnati, Ohio, I’ll be teaching a workshop at The Yoga Bar for runners and cyclists Saturday, June 16, from 1 to 3 (see The Yoga Bar for more information).