Whether you are recovering from a knee injury or just passionate about staying young and healthy, yoga is one of the best forms of exercise to keep your knees strong and flexible. The knee is the largest joint in the body and is the most likely to be damaged from excess shock during impact or from osteodegenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis (OA). The destruction of the knee joint over time from repeated wear and tear or the onset of OA is characterized by physical changes that include articular cartilage erosion, loss of synovial fluid, inflammation, muscle weakness and bone hypertrophy. This physiological damage can be partially reversed with proper conditioning and toning of the muscles supporting the joint and stimulation of cellular regenerative processes.
Research has demonstrated that weight loss, diet and exercise can have a positive effect on individuals suffering from OA or knee injuries. One study in particular, observed a 24% increase in joint function with significant improvement in mobility in patients who combined exercise with dietary changes. Recent evidence comparing the results of electrical stimulation and ultrasound treatment of the affected knee joint combined with classical physiotherapy exercises or with an integrative yogic approach, points to the efficacy of yoga as a viable therapeutic method.
Adding yoga postures to your exercise regimen can help reduce knee pain, fortify supporting muscles and improve joint mobility. Five key poses performed daily can strengthen quadriceps and hamstrings, relieve physical joint stress, improve flexibility and increase blood flow to keep knees in great shape. View the list with photos and step by step directions on how to perform the yoga poses.
Use this series of yogic exercises daily to strengthen the muscles supporting the knee, improve flexibility and enhance proper skeletal alignment. For more poses that help repair the knee, visit www.yogajournal.com.
Supported chair pose
1. Supported Utkatasana (Chair Pose) - This yogic posture is the inspiration for the physiotherapeutic exercise often called “wall squat.” When executed with classic yogic breathwork (pranayama), chair pose targets the quadriceps, hamstrings and adductors and can increase blood circulation to the legs and pelvic region. To perform supported utkatasana, stand with your back against the wall. Step out about one to two feet from the wall. Inhale, and as you exhale, slide your back down the wall until your knees bend close to 90 degrees. Hold this position for one to two breaths. Inhale and during the exhale, slowly slide back to a standing position. Repeat this pose three to five times as your legs become stronger.
Supported warrior one
2. Supported Virabydrasana I (Warrior One) - Warrior one pose is characterized by leg and core strength. With the assist of a wall and upper body support, stretching in warrior can relieve knee pain and improve joint mobility. Rachel Schaeffer, former yoga instructor at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA, offers a unique sequence of warrior one for the knee: “Stand tall and place hands against a wall at shoulder height. Step right foot forward so toes touch the wall and bend elbows as though you're trying to push the wall away. Step left foot about 1 to 3 feet behind you, slightly bending left knee toward floor. Hold for 10 to 15 breaths. Slowly straighten left leg while bending right knee, ensuring knee does not extend past ankle. Hold for 10 to 15 breaths before stepping left foot forward to meet right and switching leg positions.”
Gentle knee bending pose.
3. Sivananda Knee Bending (Janu Naman) - Stretching the knee using physical manipulation can take pressure off the joint and increase its mobility. The Sivananda yogic tradition uses a series of stretches specifically designed to protect joints and prevent arthritis. In janu naman, the hands guide the leg through circular motions to carefully stretch the knee. Sitting down with your legs extended, slowly bend the right knee into your chest, keeping the left leg extended and flexed. Clasp both hands together under the right thigh, close to the knee. Inhale and slowly extend the right leg upward until straight and lower it extended in front of the body, hovering a few inches above the floor. Exhale as you bend the knee and bring it back toward the chest. Repeat this circle with the breath five to 10 times then repeat the exercise with the other leg. This exercise is contraindicated in persons with hypertension and cardiovascular problems.
4. Setu Bandasana (Bridge Pose) - Perhaps one of the best yoga postures for knee alignment and muscle strengthening is setu bandanasana. Bridge pose is performed while lying down in a supine position. Bend the knees and set the feet on the floor about hip distance apart, with the heels close to the gluts. Place a block between the inner edges of the feet lengthwise to keep the ankles, calves and knees in alignment during the pose. With the arms extended along the mat for support, inhale deeply. On the exhale, press the feet into the ground and slowly lift the tailbone and pelvis up while squeezing the gluts. With the tailbone tucked in to support the spine and feet squeezing the block so the knees remain aligned over the ankles, take one to three breaths. Exhale as you slowly lower the body down to the mat, beginning with the shoulders and ending with the tailbone. Avoid this pose if experiencing a neck injury or have glaucoma.
Assisted reclining big toe pose
Assisted Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose) - Reclining big toe pose is one of the most popular stretches used in physical therapy for knee injuries. It uses a strap to lengthen and stretch the entire leg while strengthening the knee. Because the pose reaches from hip to toe, it also relieves backaches and improves sciatic pain. Begin the position lying down in a supine position, with the legs engaged and the feet flexed. Place a strap around the arch of one foot with the arms extended holding both ends of the strap. Inhale and on the exhale, slowly draw the hands back toward the body as the leg rises, the strap tightens and the leg extends up toward the sky. Keep the feet flexed and legs engaged. Take three to five breaths here. On the exhale, slowly lower the leg to the floor while loosening the strap. Place the strap on the opposite leg and repeat the exercise. This pose is contraindicated in persons with high blood pressure or those experiencing headaches or digestive upset.