Yoga is a practice that often involves adapting your routine to your life circumstances, whether that is a pre-existing injury or poor flexibility. For a lot of individuals, weak knees can prevent them from taking their progress on the mat to the next level. In this article, we will dive into poses that you should incorporate in your practice to strengthen your knees along with some tips to protect your knees outside of yoga. As always, make sure to consult your physician before attempting any of these poses, especially if you are plagued with a chronic or acute knee injury.
Bridge pose, or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (pronounced Seh-too ban-dah sar-von-gas-san-ah), is known for its versatility in helping yoga practitioners develop strength and stability in their knees, legs, glutes as well as back. Why is it such an effective pose? The main reason is that it puts your head and neck in a very uncompromising position in which it suppresses the sympathetic part of your autonomic nervous system. This allows your muscles to relax as you ease into the position.
How to Get Into Bridge Pose:
- Being by lying on your mat face up.
- Start to bend your knees and walk your feet towards your glutes. Keep the spine on the ground and feet flat on the floor and shoulder width. Knees should be pointed toward the ceiling.
- Extend your arms down by your side with palms facing the floor.
- Begin to press through your feet and lift your thighs away from the floor. Focus on lifting the thighs and your glutes should naturally lift without you having to squeeze them. You can place a block underneath your hips for additional support.
- You can keep your arms flat by your sides OR interlace the fingers and bind the hands underneath your back.
- You’ll feel your chest shift toward your chin. Ground your neck against the mat and lengthen your neck towards the back of the back.
- Press your shoulders into the Earth to create an opening in your chest. Continue to press the thighs towards the ceiling.
- Hold it for 15 breaths then slowly lower out of the pose.
Supported Chair Pose
Don’t let the simplicity of this asana fool you. The supported chair pose, or Utkatasana (pronounced oot-ka-ta-san-ah), is a great pose to engage your leg and core muscles which support your knees. It also supports blood flow to your lower body, which can help with the fluidity of movement. Try practicing this position supported by a wall and gradually move up to a chair pose with no assistance.
How to Get Into Supported Chair Pose:
- Start in Mountain Pose/Tadasana with your glutes and shoulder against the wall.
- Inhale as you bring your arms above your head, palms facing inward and arms parallel.
- As you exhale, slowly lower your body by bending your knees until they are parallel to your feet.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds while inhaling and exhaling. Repeat this pose daily.
Mountain pose, or Tadasana (pronounced ta-dah-san-ah), is a simple yet powerful pose. It’s the foundation of many yoga poses and is a great place to start. When done mindfully, this pose can really help to engage muscle groups that support your knees in everyday life.
How to Get Into Mountain Pose/Tadasana:
- Stand upright with your toes touching. Make sure your feet are evenly pressed on to the mat.
- Rest arms alongside your hips with your palms facing forward.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and then draw them down your back.
- Shift your sternum/chest forward and up.
- Find your drishti, or point of focus, at one point in front of you. Keep your gaze steady and glued to that one place, but do not gaze too sharply.
- Most importantly, be mindful of your breath as you inhale and exhale through your nose. Be here for 30 breaths.
More Tips to Prevent Knee Injury in Yoga
Here are some additional tips that can be helpful with preventing knee injury in yoga and beyond.
- Use a knee pad when practicing on a hard surface or wooden flooring. I use a YogaRat pad that is made out of durable foam. It’s great for my knees, elbows and even top of my head during inversions. You can also fold your mat to create a pad for your sensitive knees and joints.
- When in a pose, engage your muscles by flexing them. When you flex your muscles in a pose, you’re getting your muscles to create the pose rather than the bone alignment. So often we rely on bone alignment to get into our poses and just relax our muscles. It’s important to isometrically flex (flexing muscles without movement) in poses so that your muscles do not fatigue and build muscle memory over time.
- Ice your knees after a heated yoga practice. Heat can cause inflammation (this happened to me!). I always ice my knees after a regular AND strenuous practice now. I use a cold/heat therapy pack that can be left in the freezer when not in use.
- Lift your legs above your head! Any chance you can get into legs up the wall/Viparita Kirani pose, do it! I find a blank wall, bring my spine to the floor and prop my legs up the wall. This reduces pressure on your knee and hip joints and gives them some space to relax.
Injury Prevention Off The Mat
Most recovery or injury prevention programs take a multi-faceted approach so that you can cover more ground and increase the likelihood of being injury-free. Knees are one part of the body that are used every day, without compromise. That is why it’s important to address any imbalances or potential injuries. One way you can do this is by protecting your knee with a knee brace. The best knee brace for your situation may not be the best knee brace for another individual’s situation. So make sure you choose one that will support you in your daily life. These devices can be worn to both prevent injuries and protect your knees from being re-injured.
Make sure to give yourself adequate rest between sessions on the mat if you feel like your knees are becoming irritated or inflamed. It’s always best to trust yourself and take a step back even if that means your practices’ progression may stagnate. The goal of yoga is not to progress as fast as you can, it is to progress at a rate that allows you to do so safely!
We hope this short guide has given you the tools you need to strengthen your knees and prevent injuries. By maintaining a personalized practice that focuses on strengthening your weaknesses, you will undoubtedly make the progress to take you from a beginner to advanced yogi. Namaste.