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Addressing Stiff Knees and Hips

I have several new students with stiff knees and hips, and they all struggle with stepping into Warrior from Down Dog. My approach is to just have them bend their knees, come to standing, and step forward. Are there any other ideas for this transition? There aren't any injuries in this group. — Jackie

Read David Swenson's reply:

Dear Jackie,

Having the students come to standing and then step forward is a good option. Without seeing the students in person, it's difficult to give specific advice—but another possibility is to have them step forward as far as they can, then take one hand from the floor and place it on the knee to help them come up to standing. Then they can step the foot as far forward as is reasonable.

In addition, there are methods of Sun Salutation that do not require Downward-Facing Dog at all, and you could explore these options. Remember also that the breath should be an integral part of the practice. With proper breathing, their internal heat will increase, which will enhance the slow opening of the joints. Within the practice of Ashtanga, the breath and movement are woven together in a very precise manner. Every movement has a prescribed breath attached to it. As a general rule, whenever the body is expanding or lifting that action is attached to an inhale and exhales are applied whenever the body in lowering or contracting.

Stiffness in the hips and knees can take a long time to loosen, so my best recommendation is to instill patience and use the most appropriate alternatives you can to help your students keep moving.

David Swenson made his first trip to Mysore in 1977, learning the full Ashtanga system as originally taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. He is one of the world's foremost instructors of Ashtanga Yoga and has produced numerous videos and DVDs. He is the author of the book Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual.

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Reader Comments


I personally think that ashtanga (note this is a different system from that explained by Patanjali) is not suitable for people who are stiff. They would benefit much more from more holistic methods. The problem with this kind of system is that it forces the body to its limits and beyond, but what for? The most important thing is to stay safe, by putting yourself in your students shoes. Practice compassion and non-violence with them and then you will be able to offer appropriate modifications.


One of the best and safe knee strengtheners I know is to sit in dandasana and contract the quads then lift one leg up just an inch or two and hold and breathe. Alternate sides. If you want to strengthen the inner quad more, rotate the thigh outwards then contract and lift and hold. Balance this strengthening with hamstring strengthening by practicing salabhasana (locust) variations. Experiment with strengthening the calf muscles (one of these crosses the knee joint) by coming up onto tip toes when you can throughout the day. Knees are tricky as there are lots of muscles involved so one size never fits all, but hope this helps some :) Oh, and keeping the legs stretched is also very important for the knees but never overstretch. Instead, visualize the knee joint as floating bones, imagine the bones floating with the support of the muscles. In savasana circulate energy around the joints.
Bessings and thanks,

Vicki Wiese

I have put together a class for older adults. One of my students has both knees replaced. I realize poses on the knees will not be possible for her. I would appreciate any help in teaching this class.

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