For anyone who lives an active lifestyle, maintaining healthy knees is crucial. But the knee, a hinge joint designed for a simple forward-and-back motion, is prone to injury. Many sports injuries occur when the joint is torqued or twisted, and even minor structural misalignments in the knee can lead to injuries and arthritis later in life.
Focusing on strength, suppleness, and alignment in your yoga practice can help keep your knees working the way they should, says Tias Little, the founder of Prajna Yoga in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Little says healthy knees start from the ground up: "If the ankles are weak, it's like walking around with flat tires. It tends to put more compression into the knee." Little suggests lifting the inner arches and pressing the outer edges of the feet firmly into the floor in standing poses, which strengthens the muscles of the ankle and lower leg, giving more support to the knee.
Tightness in the hips and buttocks also affects the knee, Little says. "When people are tight in the buttocks, the knee tends to turn inward in lunging poses. When doing any lunge, the knee should track directly over the ankle."Knees tend to stiffen with age, says Little, particularly for athletic people. The quadriceps muscles are often well developed, but they're tight where they attach to the knee. He recommends practicing Virasana (Hero Pose)—supported with a block if you're tight or if you experience knee pain in the pose—to keep the cartilage and tendons surrounding the knees limber. "Virasana shares the same root with the word 'virile,'" says Little."In the Asian tradition, the knees are connected to life force. When they're healthy and supple, with good circulation, it indicates good vitality."
1 Virasana (Hero Pose) To keep your knees aligned, your feet should be parallel to one another and right up against your outer hips.
2 Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) Press the outer edge of your back foot down firmly; activate the inner arches of both feet. Keep your front knee aligned over your ankle.
3 Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch) Activate the arches of both feet; lift your inner knee and kneecap.
4 Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) Lift the kneecap of your standing leg and activate the arches of both feet. For help with balance, press your back heel against a wall.
5 Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) To align your knees, you can fasten a strap around the top of your thighs.