Knee pain is the worst! I recall a period of time where I would sit cross legged, and then after a little while my left knee was not only on fire, but I needed help from my partner Owen to actually get up. I then spent the next hour or so feeling as though my left leg was going to collapse from under me as I was hobbling around the house holding onto whatever I could for support. For those of you who think this might have been a long time ago, you are incorrect. This was actually only about 3 years ago that my knee was in such a bad state that I needed this sort of support and help to move around.
So what can we do to manage knee pain and use yoga as a way of helping our knees to regain strength and mobility?
Well there's a lot of things we can do. The first thing we can do is RELAX. And what do I mean by relax? I mean relax your mind! When we're in any sort of pain the first thing we tend to do is panic and think that we are going to be in this pain forever and ever and ever, and that if we do anything to move that knee (or that part of the body) then we're going to break ourselves! Does that sound familiar? I know this because I have been there many many times.
So once you're relaxed, and you've accepted that you're about to begin your yoga practice, (and that some things are going to be a little uncomfortable because as we know yoga is all about pushing boundaries from a physical and psychological point of view), then I want you to make sure that you have with you some props.
Props could include blankets, bolsters, blocks and straps. If you don't have any of those things with you, use a pillow from your bed. Sometimes the folding of your yoga mat is more than enough as an added cushion under the knees. My yoga mat has acted as a pillow many times under my knees.
How we support our knees will depend upon where the injury is, how long the injury has been there and how severe the pain is. For example, some people might have had full knee reconstructions, others may have issues with their AC joint. There is an array of things that can happen to the knee. So I'm going to speak to you from a very general point of view here...
One of the best things that we can do not only for our backs, our hips, and of course for our knees, is to sit in a cross legged position. If you have really tight hips and you find this really difficult to do sitting on the floor then just get yourself a pillow or blanket so you can sit upright for a period of time. NOTE: I don't recommend sitting for half an hour first off the bat. That would be silly and very unhelpful for you. You'll end up needing help to get up off the floor and will be hobbling around the house just as I was not that long ago.
So what I recommend you do is get a couple of pillows to prop yourself up in a cross legged position, then closing your eyes and placing your hands on your thighs or in your lap. Make sure that your hands are not resting on your knees because I can assure you after just 30 seconds to a minute suddenly your hands will start feeling like 20 kilo weights on top of your knees. What I do recommend you do is start small. And by that I mean sitting for one to two minutes at a time. You can then stretch your legs out open your eyes and that might be your meditation for the day. Plus it's great movement for your knees.
The beauty of being able to sit for this period of time, and gradually build your sitting tolerance, is this process is also conditioning your hips, your back and your knees to maintain this posture for longer. And what's so wonderful about being able to sit cross legged is it will open your hips, it will strengthen your back and it will release any tension that you may have in your knees. It will also start to improve your overall mobility of the entire body.
But I'm not going to lie to you here and pretend this is an easy process. It's not. At first this can feel very very very uncomfortable. You need to be prepared for the discomfort mentally hence why our first choice is to relax the mind. To trust in the process. We are not trying to win any awards here, and it is not helpful if we can prove we can sit for 10 minutes if that means that we are then crippled for the rest of the day or week. Rather we want to give our bodies a chance to open up and get used to being in this type of position.
Kneeling postures are also something to be mindful of. Note, I said mindful not weary of. It is important to have a blanket underneath your knees, or to fold your mat, for some support. If you don't do this then you'll be adding unnecessary pressure and load to your knees that could lead to a more serious, permanent injury which is absolutely not what we want to happen.
I've always maintained that yoga can be amazing for our bodies however this comes with a caveat that it must be practiced safely. All too often I've seen people push too hard too soon and ended up injuring themselves. And this is how we make yoga far worse for us than good.
As you begin your a practice, be really mindful that this is your practice and your practice alone. Don't worry about what other people are doing in the studio. Don't worry about the fact that you might have five times more blankets or bolsters than other people. This is all about you and what your body needs in that moment. It is when we start getting competitive about the practice that we can suffer more serious injuries. Believe me I've been there!
So if you're or somebody who has troubles with your knees then grab as many blankets, bolsters or blocks that you feel you might need in the class. Chat with your teacher beforehand and see what they have in mind because they will know what props you should have with you for that class. And gradually you will be able to to apply more weight on your knees, or remain in a cross legged position for longer. You will start to notice quite quickly, especially if you are consistent with your practice, i.e. a daily practice, that the tension or sharp pains that you feel in your knees will start to disappear. You'll go from noticing pain daily to maybe once every couple of days, to maybe once a week, too maybe once every 3 months.
Your body is using pain and injury as a way of finding balance. When your knees feel better, just be prepared that something else in your body is going to start to show itself to you. And that could also be an uncomfortable ache in your body. This is the reality of life.
Grant yourself permission to nurture your body and cultivate the right mindset for a strong and healthy practice, then before you know it your body will start feeling stronger, healthier, and you'll be feeling much happier.
If you're somebody who has any trouble with your knees, and would like some very specific advice around what you can do, feel free to comment below. I'd love to hear from you.
Sending so much love and hugs your way,