Yoga For Knees

Last time I went to see Super Physio she told me I really needed to do my knee exercises -- that she could "see" some sore knees in my future. And a few weeks ago, I wondered if she was in fact psychic, because out of the blue I started to get twinges of pain below my kneecaps.

Turns out she's not psychic. She's just an excellent physio who can see these things coming from a mile away. I've been so much better pain-wise recently, which is a whole topic for another post (I'm just trying to figure out how to write it without sounding more loony than usual), that she could see that I might start upping the activity on other fronts. And after my month of sitting on my bum trying to write a novel, I scuttled off last week to three yoga classes, which made me realize why it was that my knees were getting sore.

Before I reveal this exciting piece of information, let's go back a step. One of the reasons that I have had such a struggle with my body over the past decade or so, is that I'm hypermobile, which is a fancy way of saying very flexible. And contrary to popular belief, being very flexible isn't a good thing. Being incredibly stiff creates problems as well, but being hypermobile means that you have longer ligaments than the average person. This means that you need to have more muscle strength to control and support joint movements. (If you want to read in more detail about my posture and pain struggles , it's all properly explained in The Whole Story.)

When I tell people that I practice yoga, many say, "Oh, I couldn't do that -- I'm not flexible at all." But they're very wrong. Yoga is actually much safer when you not flexible. When I do yoga, I spend the whole class trying not to go too deep into the postures that are easy for me, and focus instead on building up my muscle strength. But what I didn't realize was that I was actually hyper-extending my knee during class. When the teachers say "lock your knee," what they really mean is pull up on your quadriceps muscle, which locks your knee cap into place and keeps the joint safe. But I can easily lock my knee by hyper-extending through the joint, without switching on my quadriceps muscle: Something that I also realized is a habit for me while standing. And although this hasn't been much of a problem in the past few years, (I've had bigger fish to fry in my neck and back) over time, it will become a problem.

I saw Super Physio a few days ago and we discussed this. She also explained to me that when I do the exercises for my knees (called "static quads") that I am hyper-extending through the joint. So why is this O.K.? Because they are non-weight-bearing exercises and also because my quadriceps muscle, and all my muscles for that matter, need to be strong enough to bring the joint through full moment in a controlled manner, otherwise, the joint is unstable.

It's so complicated!

Which reminded me again about the fact that our society could avoid spending so much money on knee and hip replacements and time off work due to back and neck pain, if only people really understood proper posture and physiology. It is complicated, but it's not rocket science. I really need to keep bugging her and her business partner to write their book! (If you go see one of them as well -- as many of you readers do, please do the same.)

Before they write their bestseller, what to do in the meantime, if you want to improve your posture? If you live in London, ask me for their number. It's possible -- and much easier in fact -- to improve your posture before you end up in pain. But otherwise, I still think that Bikram yoga is the best exercise I've come across to improve alignment and muscle strength. And it's truly a beginner's series with no weight bearing exercises on your upper body, which can be a recipe for disaster. But you really have to listen to what the teachers say; Even with everything I know about my body, I was not paying enough attention when it came to my knees. Most studios now provide beginner workshops, which I think is a really good thing, as there's a lot to take in at first in a voice-led class.

For now, my yoga practice is all about the knees. Although Bikram, if you're listening, please change the dialogue to "pull up on the knees, pull up on the knees." The command to lock the knees clearly isn't a helpful phrase for us bendy people.

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