By Narendra Maheshri
Yoga teacher training courses prepare us for working with a diversified population. Some graduates quickly forget that our mission as yoga instructors is to maintain a safe atmosphere in the classroom. Even more proactive action on our parts is prevention of student injuries. I am in agreement with the direction of Aura yoga’s doctrine of absolute safety for all students at all times.
People who suffer from knee pain and injuries are increasingly turning to Yoga as an alternative treatment rather than resorting to surgery and other intensive medical interventions. It has been shown through scientific studies that by strengthening the muscles that surround the knee, which are known as stabilizing muscles, yoga can end knee pain that has plagued practitioners for years.
How Yoga Prevents Knee Injuries
Although weightlifting and strength training offer the same advantages as yoga does when it comes to strengthening the knee’s stabilizer muscles, these disciplines often lack a focus on balance and flexibility in favor of an emphasis on dynamic movement and quick-twitch muscles. The result is often tight, weaker muscles in one area of the leg, such as the inner quadriceps, while naturally stronger muscles like the outer quadriceps get stronger and over compensate for the weaker side. This can lead to an over-rotation of the knee joint during flexion and impact activities, causing knee pain and increasing the risk of more severe injuries like torn ligaments and sprains.
Balancing asanas and deep stretching allow the muscles of the leg to strengthen in balance with each other. Balancing poses increase stability, and they do so to such an extent that physical therapists actually use modifications of balance poses as therapy for knee and ankle injuries. Thus, more and more athletes are becoming steady yoga practitioners in order to prevent these injuries.
Tips for Teaching Yoga to Prevent Knee Injuries
A focus on strengthening the body in balance is one of the most promising ways to prevent injuries. Practitioners should consider proper alignment, starting with the toes, as the most important thing to strive for during a session.
Emphasize to students that they should pay attention to any discomfort in the knee, since knee pain indicates internal damage of some sort. With tight muscles, students can get away with a little pain, but since the knee joint itself is made up of ligaments and bone, pain is generally considered a red flag.
Yoga Instructors who want to give students the ability to prevent knee injuries should really focus on training balance poses, as these are important to building strength and stability.
At the same time, if a student has a pre-existing knee injury, placing all of the body’s weight on a knee that needs time to heal is not recommended. Therefore, a cautious recovery from a pre-existing injury is more important than building strength.
During asana practice, practitioners should take care not to hyper-extend the knee as this can lead to premature wear and knee pain.
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A focus on strengthening the body in balance is one of the most promising ways to prevent injuries.
People who suffer from knee pain and injuries are increasingly turning to Yoga as an alternative treatment rather than resorting to surgery and other intensive medical interventions.
Come on now let’s get real. Namaskars and other repetitive, weight-bearing vinyasas are the worst for knees. Especially for aging or vulnerable students.
Yet we see/hear the virtues of these “flow” sequences all the time. The proper method to build yoga sequence in each class is to cultivate first flexibility, then balance and lastly strength… and “possibly” endurance after these are mastered.
I still find instructors “warming up” with namaskars without stretching or warming the body. I am a 62 yo E-RYT with a severed ACl (from skiing) who has rehabbed my knee, which I could put weight on for 4 months after my injury – with yoga. In my case I did not choose surgery and have 95% total use of my knee – except for quick lateral movements like basketball.
Through trial I have learned how destructive vinyasa are… and in my teaching I get students heated, sweating and safe with static poses designed to protect joints.