I look forward to answering your questions in this blog. Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barbara asks: What are some knee strengthening exercises and/or exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knees?
This question, like most, has many facets. Yoga postures can help improve some knee issues. The trick is figuring out how to do those poses in a way that doesn’t further harm the knee while we’re trying to heal it. This challenge isn’t unique to yoga. When I met with a surgeon over 20 years ago to determine whether my own knee condition warranted surgery, he told me that physical therapy exercises for knees had changed, because some of the traditional exercises damaged the “good” knee while rehabbing the injured one.
Therefore, when we work therapeutically with knees, we first must obey the old adage “do no harm.” This sometimes means adapting poses so that the practitioner doesn’t perform poses in a kneeling position. Chair adaptations work wonderfully for this.
Then we must make sure that the practitioner uses proper body alignment for her own structure. Contrary to some yoga philosophies, there is no “right” standard of alignment that can be universally applied. It must be discovered via observation and experimentation with each individual.
Beyond that, the goal is to make sure the muscles that support the knee joint are balanced: that the hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are flexible and strong in a balanced way. Simply strengthening one muscle group over another may do more harm than good, especially if we ignore the opposing muscle groups and don’t pay attention to overall flexibility.
That said, below are a couple of my favorite postures for strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings. Please be aware, however, that unless I work with a client one-on-one and observe their specific condition, I can’t know for sure what is needed to help this complex and surprisingly fragile joint. Therefore, proceed with caution and please discontinue these postures if they cause any discomfort in your knee or anywhere else!
Strengthening poses for knees:
Note: Please remember that Viniyoga is a dynamic practice. Even though the pictures below show static postures, each should be repeated dynamically, and each repetition should be connected with the breath.
Half Squat Against a Wall: This pose strengthens the quadriceps, hamstrings and hips. When doing this pose, please stand on a non skid surface. As you move into the squat, make sure that your knees track over the center of your feet and do not extend beyond your toes. Also make sure to keep your hips higher than your knees.
Bridge, gently squeezing a blanket or ball between the knees: This pose also strengthens quadriceps and hamstrings, along with other muscles. As with the squat, do not let your knees go behind your toes. Squeezing the blanket engages the inner thigh muscles and promotes correct positioning of the feet. Always keep both edges of the feet and all ten toes on the ground.
Cobra, bending the knees: This back strengthener also promotes mobility in the knee join and builds strength in the hamstrings. You can either bend one knee at a time or both. Flexing the foot as you bend the knee and imagining that you are wearing an ankle weight deepens the work.
Thank you for your question, and I hope this helps!
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