Don’t feel like you need to be a ‘yogi’ to benefit from yoga poses. Yoga is gentle and easy to start at home with little prior knowledge. Many of the positions will be exercises that might already be in your routine. And if you are already a yoga guru, you will know just how valuable yoga is to strengthen your core and rebuild knee stability.
The warrior pose is especially great at building your inner thigh strength, targeting those muscles that can be hard to isolate with general strength training. Yoga is an excellent compliment to your exercise routine to gently stretch tendons to maintain elasticity, helping to prevent further injury.
These are the 5 top poses that I used, and continue to practice, to build my knee stability after surgery and maintain core strength. Before starting any exercise post knee injury, you should always seek advice from your health professional to get the all clear.
Supported Bridge Pose – This pose helps to properly align your knees while strengthening your back, glutes and hamstrings. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and walk your feet towards your bottom until you touch your heels with your fingertips. Step your feet out hip distance apart and place a block horizontally on the floor between your feet. Press your feet into the four corners of the block, the inside and outside edges of your feet as well as the heel and the balls. Draw your navel in toward your spine and press your lower back into the ground. Tuck your tailbone in and lift your hips from the ground. Lift as high as you can without compromising your position. To get an added stretch in the chest, you can roll your shoulders under your body and interlace your fingers underneath you. Hold this pose for a few breaths then release the upper back first, then mid back then finally lower your back and tailbone to the floor. Repeat a few times.
Supported Chair Pose – You can do this pose away from the wall, but since it requires more strength which your knee may not be able to handle, use a wall to support you. Place your feet hip distance apart. Lean your back up against a wall and slide down until your knees and ankles are parallel with each other. Pull in your abdomen and hold the pose for a few breaths then slide back up. Repeat several times. As your legs get stronger, increase the number of breaths you hold the pose.
Supported Half Moon Pose – When you perform this pose for the first time, use a block to avoid putting too much weight on your knee. Stand with your back to the wall and rotate your right foot so that the outside edge of the foot is parallel with the wall. Place the block in your right hand, bend your right knee and shift weight so you’re balancing on the right leg. Set the block on the floor a few inches in front of your right foot and press your right hand into it and raise your left hand and leg. Hold for a few breaths and increase the amounts of breaths as you get stronger.
Mountain Pose – This pose will make you aware of the muscles you need to engage to protect your knee. Stand with your feet hip distance apart, lift all your toes up, spread them wide and then rest them back down on the floor. Press into the floor with the four corners of the feet to evenly distribute the weight of the body. As you press your feet into the floor, engage your calf muscles and quadriceps and internally rotate your inner thighs to widen your sit bones. Tuck your tailbone in and engage the glutes. Tighten your abs, pull your shoulders back and down. Make sure your shoulders are aligned over your hips and ankles. Lift your chin and pull it back slightly in parallel with the floor and relax the muscles in your face. Notice the muscles you have engaged as you as you breathe deeply. Hold this pose for 10 breaths.
Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend – This pose will help in stretching out the whole back of the body, hips, inner thighs and groin. Straddle your legs out in the widest stance and flex your feet to activate the leg muscles. Place your hands on the ground in front of you and slowly walk forward until you feel the stretch while keeping your spine straight and elongated. If you feel that your spine creates a C shape when you start to fold, place a blanket under the sit bones to lift yourself slightly off the floor. Hold this pose for 8 to 10 breathsbreaths. Follow it up by pulling the legs together and hug the knees.
Warrior 1 – This pose opens the front of the body, extends the spine and builds strength and balance. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. With an exhale, step your left foot back toes angled at 45 degrees, keeping both heels in line with each other. Inhale and raise your arms above your head. Exhale to soften the shoulders away from the ears and bend the front knee at 90 degrees while keeping the knee in line with the middle toe. Try to square your hips as much as possible to the front and gently draw the thighs in toward each other. Balance the weight between your feet as you lift up and out of the pelvis with a slight back arch. Stay for a couple of breaths and inhale to straighten the front leg then exhale and step the back foot to meet the front with your hands in prayer.
Dolphin Pose – Awaken the front of the body to open your heart and build shoulder strength,
whilst getting a deep stretch. Lower to the floor on your forearms and knees with your knees directly under your hips and elbows under the shoulders. Leave your hands pressing firmly into the mat with active fingers or clasp the hands together – hands clasped makes this pose easier for tight shoulders. With your toes tucked under, exhale to lift your knees off the floor to straight legs. Let your shoulders open as you soften the armpits towards the mat and your head between your upper arms. As your heels press down, lift your inner thighs up toward the pelvis.
Plank – Lie on the floor face down. With hands by shoulders push up your body off of the floor. Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending. Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor. Hold this position for 10 seconds to start.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose – From plank, hug your shoulders blades in firm against the back ribs,
bring your tailbone toward your pubic bone. Exhale and slowly lower yourself to hover a few inches parallel to the floor. Prevent your bottom from poking up by pressing the tailbone towards the back. Hold for 10 or 30 seconds.
Boat Pose – Sit on the floor with straight back and legs forward toes pointed. Grip your hands behind your thighs close to your knees and hug the thighs into the hips whilst lifting the chest forward and up. Lean back a little to balance on your sit bones and keep length in the torso throughout the pose. Exhale and lift your feet off the floor so that the thighs are at 45⁰ angle to the floor. Press your belly gently towards the spine. Hold here or for a stronger action straighten both legs and if you can maintain a straight back extend the arms parallel to the floor. Do this for 10 or 30 seconds.
There are many benefits of yoga beyond the physical strengthening. Focusing on your breathing will help you to connect to your emotional energy and calm the nervous system. By focusing on your breath you can start to look inwards to really listen and become attuned to what your body is saying. The slightest repositioning in a pose will give you different feedback. Start gently and build up the duration and position of your poses as your body heals. Practicing with awareness will enable you to become more attuned to what you really need.