I'm 50 years old. I'm a runner and started doing Ashtanga Yoga about a year ago. I had surgery last week to repair a meniscal tear in my knee. Once you have had a meniscal tear repaired, are there any asanas that one should avoid?
—Dave S., Princeton, IL
Tias Little's reply:
Since you've had surgery, I suggest designing a practice that supports your recovery and following it for the next year or so. Meniscus tear surgeries are tricky. Sometimes they are effective and sometimes not. Ashtanga Yoga was developed for young boys and is most appropriate for twenty-somethings. Given your need to rehabilitate your knees, I do not recommend a lot of jumping in your practice. Instead, develop a practice of standing poses that will strengthen the structures around your knees.
It is very common for men of your vintage to experience problems with their knees. My father recently had his knee reconstructed due to arthritis. In my experience, many men lose stability in their right knee. The right side of the body is associated with being the male side, and men often carry their burdens—the mortgage, the business, the finances —over and above their knees. We are all familiar with the expressions "buckled at the knees" or "weak in the knees."
The knee is highly susceptible to distortion because of its weight-bearing capacity and its complicated design. In yoga practice the knee must be set just right. You can strain ligaments from doing yoga postures incorrectly—I have seen it happen again and again. As part of your recovery program, practice standing poses with careful attention to the alignment of your feet and knees.
Practice the standing poses in the Ashtanga Yoga sequence (with the exception of the half-lotus variation) to strengthen around the knees. Focus particularly on the lunge positions where the knee is bent and directly aligned over the ankle. These poses (Parsvakonasana and Virabhadrasana II) reinforce the tendon, ligament, and cartilage around the knee.
Avoid variations on Padmasana (Lotus Pose), Virasana (Hero's Pose). These poses place added pressure on the joint. I would also minimize the amount of running you do—it could be that your gait is not aligned when you run, and upon each step you are slightly distorting the structure of your knee. A swimming workout is much better for knees.
Tias Little brings a wonderful play of metaphor and imagination to his yoga teaching. He is trained in the Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa systems and his perspective clearly reflects the Buddha's teachings. He is a licensed massage therapist and has studied extensively in cranial-sacral therapy and Rolfing. Tias earned a Master's in Eastern Philosophy from St. John's College. He currently co-directs Yogasource in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife Surya and leads yoga intensives throughout the country. Tias' teaching schedule is available on his web site at www.yogasource-santafe.com.