With asana practice, or with any other physical movement for that matter, we should always be mindful of the knees. Putting extra pressure on them, twisting or turning them in any way they are not designed to may greatly damage the knees.
So when doing standing yoga poses, it's important to keep a few safety tips in mind. Read on and let's go through some of these reminders.
Effects of Locking Your Knees
Before we go any further, let's first answer the question: what does it mean to lock your knees, and why can this be harmful?
When you lock your knee, you fully extend the knee and the weight is on the knee joint instead of on the muscles. Knees are not really meant to take this much pressure, and it can be damaging to the cartilage in the knee on the long term.
The cartilage can eventually wear out, and cause conditions like arthritis. In yoga, locking your knee may also prevent you from gaining the full benefits of a pose. So how can you avoid this?
Useful Tips for Keeping Your Knees Safe
- Notice your natural tendency. Are you locking the knees often, or are you perhaps hyperextending the knees (when the leg moves past a straight line)? To have awareness of your body and your knees during a yoga class, you can start by having this awareness throughout the day. Observe how you stand, and try to engage the muscles more by having a micro bend in the knees.
- You can practice engaging the leg muscles in Tadasana, Mountain Pose. First, find your balance by rocking forth and back, and then try to activate the arch of your foot, which makes it hard to actually keep the knees locked.
Keeping Your Knees Safe in Trikonasana
Poses like Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), where we stretch and bear weight on the same leg, can get challenging for the knees. The front leg is angled so that the knee automatically wants to move into a locked position. And as you bend your torso towards the front leg, this tendency to lock the knee gets stronger.
Next time you are in Triangle Pose, be mindful of the front knee, and actively engage the muscles around the knee and thigh. You should be supporting yourself with the muscles, not resting on the knee joint.
To help, press the ball of the foot down, this will help with unlocking the knee. If you are holding your hand on the shin, be careful not to push down. Otherwise, it's always good to have a block next to your front foot, and rest your hand on the block instead of the shin.
A good rule of thumb here (for all yoga poses) is to keep the knee and toes pointing towards the same direction. This is a general rule to avoid twisting or moving the knee in directions that it's not supposed to move.
Avoid Locking the Knee in Balancing Poses
In standing, balancing poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose) or Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), you can start with practicing on a wall to get additional support. It tends to be easier to balance yourself with the knee locked, so try first with some support how it feels to keep the muscles engaged and the knee micro-bent.
Again, focus on engaging the arch of the foot and lift it up. When the foot is completely flat on the floor, you'll have a feeling of more balance, but the knee is most likely locked.
What helps to protect the knees is strengthening the leg muscles. Poses such as Utkatasana (Chair Pose) or the Warrior I and II Poses offer a good way to engage and strengthen the muscles in the legs. When the knees are kept bent, the muscles have to work at keeping us balanced.
The stronger the leg muscles, the better you are able to support yourself without hanging on the knee joint.
Knees can get very vulnerable in yoga. Luckily, damage to them is easily avoided with a mindful observation of your body, your natural tendencies, and by keeping the mind in the body during the yoga practice.