So the bee is me (that’s what Michael calls me) and this bee’s knees had a rough three years. We expect our yoga to be therapeutic and I’d like to think that for the most part it is. Yet, there are certain practices that can be downright dangerous for some of us. It all depends on alignment and presence.
backstory: I tore my right meniscus in a hot yoga class in my last month of yoga teacher training trying to get into full lotus. It didn’t even hurt as it was happening but my knee has never been the same since that day. This was a really minor tear but was enough to cast out my pigeon from heaven and send her straight to hell. It also caused my knee to act up every time I ran. (Let's be honest, that's not often.) Still, it was a royal pain in the knee that was preventing me from feeling freedom and fun in my practice. Not so dope.
But through nursing it, researching and private instruction with Naime Jezzzney @ Dig Yoga, I learned great lessons about yoga and knee health that are now invaluable every time I need to help someone that struggles with this too. It was also humbling to pull back and turn inward with less outward expression of my postures. Its such a different way to practice: when you align yourself well, you breath and you wait. No forcing, just listening.
5 musts to benefit the bee’s knees:
1. Don’t sickle your ankle. Also, ground the big toe mound down. Basically, don’t create a little sickle while standing/walking/running/practicing. *because of the tear on the inside, I was pronating to the outer edges of my feet which makes this worse over time. If you injure your knee on the opposite side, you may do the opposite and pronate inward.
2. In hip openers, avoid pushing on your knee to get it down lower and avoid any and all assists that encourage your knee to drop deeper into “openness” by applying this type of pressure. You don’t need the knee to open; you want the hip to open. So instead, let all external rotation truly come from the source of the movement, the head of the femur rotating in the hip joint. (that being said, I quit full lotus for now.)
3. Strengthen the muscles that surround the joint: quads & hamstrings: wall squats, 1 legged bridge pose with pulsated hovers above the ground. the calves: classic calf raises (i do them on a block to make them harder and really focus on grounding my big toe mounds down). Doing these exercises was HUGE for my recovery.
4. Don’t hyperextend or “lock out” the knees in poses that ask for straight legs as in prasarita padottanasana, uttanasana and trikonasana. Instead, keep a little softness with a microbend.
5. Padding: under the knees and behind them. Blankets are awesome and I used them for years but even better is my new favorite invention: the yoga comfort knee pad, made locally by my dear friend Nancy Fischer who is making it her mission to protect our beloved knees. They come in lavender and black and are for sale at Onyx Yoga Studio in Warren. Rolls right up into your mat for convenience. Your knees are worth it.
These tips are mostly preventative (though many of them did prove to relieve my existing pain). Even so, on the side with the tear, I just don’t get as much external rotation any more. I’ll probably never do a full lotus and I’ve learned to not be insulted by that. If you are experiencing knee issues currently, these things should help and not hurt you but know knee health is a complex issue and there are many potential causes. You may need an MRI and certainly check with your doctor to diagnose the issue which will give your yoga teachers a better idea of how to help your particular kneed(s).