Category: Ask a Yogi

knee pain

Ask a Yogi: How Can I Recover From Knee Pain?

Knee Pain?
Get some tips to strengthen and assist your knees.

Understand factors that contribute to chronic knee pain, prevent further knee pain during your yoga practice, and learn some exercises you can do for healthy knees.


Risk Factors for Chronic Knee Pain

Obligatory Discretion Advised Always consult a doctor with any chronic pain you might be experiencing.

  • Previous injury.

    Having a previous knee injury makes it more likely that you\'ll injure your knee again. You may also experience knee pain due to a previous injury in your hips or feet, because of muscle imbalances.

  • Excess weight.

    Being overweight increases the likelihood of osteoarthritis by accelerating breakdown of joint cartilage. You might even experience pain in your knees after walking or going up and down stairs.

  • Lack of muscle flexibility or strength.

    Weak leg muscles and lack of mobility are among the leading causes of knee injuries. When muscles are tight or weak, they offer less support for your knee. Your knee ends up absorbing all the stress. (Mayo Clinic)

  • Certain sports or overuse with exercise.

    While exercise is typically encouraged to prevent injury, some sports are associated with greater stress on your knees than others. Alpine skiing with its rigid ski boots and potential for falls increases the change of knee injury. Tennis and basketball with the high amount of jumping and pivoting may also be potentially damaging to knees. Repetitive movement such as running or cycling also can contribute to chronic knee pain-- these two sports in particular have high rates of tendonitis and IT band syndrome. (WebMD).

Tips For Avoiding Knee Pain During Yoga

  • Avoid poses that aggravate your knees - Depending on where your knee pain is coming from, certain poses can make knee pain worse. Be careful with poses like pigeon, reclined hero, or camel.
  • Don't lock your knees or hyperextend - Locking out the knees can be healthy if you aren't suffering from any knee pain. However, if you are recovering or rehabbing your knees, locking out can put a lot of tension on ligaments in the knee. Try using a rolled up mat under your knees in forward folds if you tend to lock out your knees.
  • Think about lifting the arches of your feet - Try lifting your toes while your ground through the balls of the feet in standing poses like Warrior I. You'll feel small muscles in the legs engage and help align the knee over the ankle.
  • Track your knee with your middle toe - You should be able to see you big toe and pinky toe in any standing pose for healthy knee alignment. (Yoga International)

"Standing poses can strengthen and stabilize your knees, helping you to overcome structural imbalances that might otherwise lead to chronic wear and tear (and ensuing pain) in your knees." -- Yoga International

 

 

Yoga Poses & Exercises For Strong Knees

If you are experiencing acute knee pain or recovering from an injury, some of these options may be too intense. Start slow and remember to RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) your injury.


outer thigh lifts

Inner thigh lifts (not pictured)

From a side lying position, lift and lower your bottom leg to activate the inner thigh muscles.
Keep the foot flexed with toes towards your face. Be sure to rotate your leg open so that you are lifting from your inner thigh.
Do 12-20 repetitions of inner thigh lifts.

Outer/Hip thigh lifts

From a side lying position, lift and lower your top leg to engage your outer thigh and hip muscles. Make sure the foot is flexed. Keep leg completely straight. Do 12-20 repetitions of outer thigh/hip lifts.
Don't switch legs just yet! Continue to the next exercise below.


outer thigh circles

Hip circles

Continue lying on your side. Begin to circle your leg in a clockwise rotation.
Keep the leg completely straight and try not to roll open your hips.
Do 10-15 circles clockwise and 10-15 circles counter-clockwise.
You should feel the outer thigh and hip engage.
Try pointing your toe as you circle backwards. You'll definitely feel a burn at this point 🙂

 

 


quad lifts

Quad activation lifts

Lie onto your elbows. Keep one knee bent with the foot flat to the floor.
Raise your extended leg to almost knee height, then lower it to hover over the floor.
Again, the leg should be completely straight with the foot flexed.
Do 12-20 repetitions of quad lifts.
Bonus: add a pulse halfway up and down for 10 reps.

 

 


low lunge knee lift

Low lunge knee lifts

Enter a runner's lunge. Place hands on the floor or on blocks.
Make sure you are on the ball of the foot with the heel pointed to the ceiling.
Lower your back knee so it hovers above the floor, then extend through your back heel to straighten the leg completely.
You should feel your thighs activate. Repeat 5-10 knee lifts.

 

 

 

 


high lunge knee liftsHigh lunge knee lifts

A more advanced version of low lunge knee lifts. Be sure you can comfortably balance on one leg before attempting these.
Keep your front knee stabilized over the ankle and centered with your middle toe.
Lift and lower your back knee a few inches above the floor. The front knee should not move.
Engages your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Repeat 5-10 knee lifts.

 

 

 


bridge poseBridge with block

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place the block between your knees.
Engage your hamstrings, not just your glutes, to lift your hips and back off the floor.
Squeeze the block to activate your inner thighs. Hold the position for at least 3 slow breaths.
Slowly release your back and hips to the floor and repeat up to 5 times.

 

 

 

 


chair poseChair with block

From a standing position, place a block between your knees and inner thighs.
Begin to sink your weight back into your heels to engage the backs of the legs and glutes.
Squeeze the block between your legs and draw your navel to spine.
Option: lift your arms upward to engage the back. Hold for 3 slow breaths and repeat up to 5 times.

Ask a Yogi: What is the purpose of yoga?

Ask a Yogi: What is the Purpose of Yoga?

Some students of yoga are focused on flexibility and mobility.
Others are concerned with building physical strength and an exercise regimen.
Maybe they start a yoga practice looking to relax and de-stress from their busy lives.

Everyone has their own intention for practicing yoga. The purpose is different for everyone.

However, yoga's original intent is actually self-refection. The word "yoga" has been translated from the Sanskrit root word yuj which means to contemplate. Yuj has also been translated to the English root word yoke, which means to join or unite.

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Ask a Yogi: What poses can I do to ease low back pain?

Whenever I teach yoga at workplaces, low back pain seems to be a common problem area.

In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visiting MDs, the top for chiropractors, and leading cause of disability of people under forty five. Doctors used to recommend bed rest to treat low back pain--ironically, not moving to prevent further strain is actually counterproductive. The longer you stay sedentary, the more muscle mass you lose. The best treatment uses gentle movement and strengthening.

Yoga examines posture, strength, mobility, and emotional states to treat back pain with a holistic approach.

The low back supports the weight of the upper body and provides mobility for everyday motions such as bending and twisting. Our lower back is the area with the most nerve endings in the back. It also produces the largest range of motion in the spine, so when we back bend our lower back does the majority of the bending as it compresses. To maintain good posture, we must encourage a healthy curve of the low spine. Our backs require certain amounts of compression, strengthening, and stretching. Yoga does all three to maintain the physical health of your back. It also helps develop the mind-body connection that brings awareness to the subtle signals in the body. For instance, we might catch ourselves slouching at our desks or notice how mental stress translates into physical stress in our backs.

WHAT CAUSES LOW BACK PAIN?

Everyone's back pain stems from unique causes. There are 4 main causes (and perhaps more!) of low back pain.

  1. Weak core and leg muscles - muscles in our abs, back, and legs play a critical role in supporting your lower spine.  And 100 crunches is not a cure-all. Your core will not be worked by doing crunches alone, there are a lot of muscles there that support the spine. Obliques and low back extensor muscles are especially helpful for holding an upright posture.
  2. Stress (in every context of the word) - When we are mentally or emotionally charged, the body responds with tension. Prolonged physical stress on the back also leads to chronic tension and pain. Back pain is connected to psychological stress. Breathing and relaxation techniques help calm stress related responses.
  3. Tightness in legs - The health of your lumbar spine is directly affected by the action of the hip flexors (aka psoas) and hamstrings. Everything is connected!
  4. Misalignment - Hunching shoulders and forward neck position can lead to back problems. When we sitting for prolonged periods, the natural tendency for most people is to slouch over and sit with the pelvis tilted forward. This posture can overstretch the spinal ligaments and cause the low back to round. That's why some compression and strengthening is necessary to maintain the curve of the lower back. I've also heard so many stories about people with complications in their knees and hips that end up with back pain while trying to favor one side of the body. If you do encounter an injury in your body, be aware of movement patterns that could lead to injuries elsewhere in the body.

POSES/STRETCHES THAT WORK

Strengthen

Locust pose

Baby Cobra

Warrior 3

Bridge pose

Triangle

Compress

Sphinx pose

Dancer pose

Reclined hero pose - not for acute pain

Stretch

Lying hamstring stretch

Spinal twist

Forward fold

Low lunge

Reclined pigeon pose

Cat/cow

Thread needle with arm reach

Restorative Poses to Ease Back Pain

Child's pose

Supported shoulder stand

Restorative savasana with cushion under knees

Resources 

McCall, T. (2007). Yoga as Medicine. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.

Peloza, J. (2017). Low Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/lower-back-pain-symptoms-diagnosis-and-treatment

Ask a Yogi: What are the best stretches I can do at my desk?

It's 3:00 and you've been sitting at a desk for about 6 hours. Your back is starting to hurt from hunching over your computer screen. Your shoulders are rounding forward. Your neck is aching from being a prolonged state of flexion.

You start to wonder if the Hunchback of Notre Dame's condition was a result of endless hours at a desk job.

Want to get rid of those work pains? Don't think you have time today for a workplace yoga class? Try these simple yoga stretches at your desk. Just taking a 5 minute stretch break every hour can counteract the effects of prolonged sitting or standing. Reduce back, neck, and shoulder tension with yoga at work! *Added bonus: like our bodies, our brains benefit from multiple short breaks helping us be productive and do Deep Work.

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Ask a Yogi – What’s a quick meditation I can do anytime?

Just being aware of your body and the surroundings can be a meditation in itself. Moments of awe happen on a daily basis, the challenging part is stopping to see them.

Last week, I was driving to class consumed with thought. Mindlessly driving thinking about how I felt stagnant. I slowed down as I approached the longest stoplight ever on Lindbergh and zoned out looking at the trees nearby. They almost looked like glitter against the backdrop of crystal blue sky. In that moment, I felt like time slowed down and suddenly I didn't mind waiting at the light. I stared at the tree leaves brushing against each other in shades yellow green, and orange thinking how lucky I was to live in a place with trees (Kansas City folks, you're really missing out).

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Ask a Yogi – How do I set an intention for my yoga practice?

A goal is different from an intention. A goal focuses on a future outcome, an intention focuses on what is of most value to you in the present.


When I first started my practice, my teacher would often instruct us to “set an intention for the yoga practice”. Not understanding quite what that meant, I usually ignored her and wrote it off as just another “woo woo” aspect of yoga.

As I grew more interested in the philosophical aspects of the practice, I realized intention setting is a way to tune into my physical and mental wellbeing. Between teaching classes and working on my business, I sometimes forget to stop and check in with myself. Setting an intention each morning encourages me to self-reflect. How do I feel physically? What’s lingering on my mind? Is there a strong emotion present? Introspection helps me set an intention that will guide me toward action that’s directed and purposeful.

Steps to Creating an Intention:

  1. Relax into a calm state. Notice how you feel physically and emotionally. Identify what you’re feeling: Exhausted? Anxious? Lonely? Peaceful? etc.
  2. Focus on a word that resonates with you. It can be as simple as 1 word. Find a positive word that supports your current emotional or physical state. The word can be a specific action like energize or relax. It can also be a more abstract feeling like love or gratitude. A few other options are listed below.
  3. Repeat the word to yourself. Use every exhale to repeat the intention out loud or internally. Whenever you negative feelings arise, come back to your intention. Recalling the word throughout the day breaks the stream of unconscious thought and mental stimulation. It reminds us to live intentionally— providing a framework for decision-making and action.

FEELING –> INTENTION

Fear –> Comfort

Weakness –> Strength

Sadness –> Joy

Doubt –> Peace

Insecurity –> Confidence

Instability –> Balance

Betrayal –> Truth

Indifference –> Compassion

Constraint –> Freedom

Emptiness –> Fulfillment

Loneliness –> Community

Ask a Yogi: How Do I Start Meditating?

Recently, I’ve seen a surge of requests for meditation instruction.

Fast-paced lifestyles, high-levels of anxiety – it’s no wonder people are looking for ways to slow down.

Learn the basics here: why start meditation, benefits to your mind and body, and meditation methods.

Yoga first started as a meditation practice with only 1 pose – seated meditation. Gradually, poses were added to enhance the meditation experience. Asanas (poses) help the body connect movement to breath, which can be it’s own form of meditation. As well, it’s easier for many people to find stillness in a seated meditation practice after moving. That’s why I like to practice a still meditation after the physical yoga practice.

Yoga: the practice of observing the fluctuations of the mind and achieving relaxed, focused attention.

Why Start a Meditation Practice?

Continue reading “Ask a Yogi: How Do I Start Meditating?”