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Like other kinds of discomfort, knee pain can most commonly be traced back to a misalignment of some kind. The following poses can help you identify and correct these misalignments with daily practice.
1. Standing Mountain
Standing mountain prevents misalignment by protecting against hyperextended knees, improving posture and increasing body awareness. Square the toes forward, and evenly distribute your weight on all four corners of both feet. Next, lift up on the arches (this is a very subtle but important action — lifting the arches stabilizes the ankles and unlocks the knees). Then, pull the pelvic bones up and in towards the spine, soften the tailbone and the shoulder blades towards the heels, and lift up through the crown of the head.
2. Tree Pose
This pose strengthens the calves and shins. Standing in mountain pose, bring your right heel above your left ankle, and engage the right thigh to open the knee towards the right. Keep both pelvic bones squared forward, and lift through the crown of the head.
3. Hero’s Pose
Lengthens the quadriceps and squeezes synovial fluid into every nook and cranny of the knee joint. To get there, place a blanket or something similarly warm and fuzzy beneath your knees and bring your hips to your heels. Sit tall, lengthening upward through the crown of the head. Too much for the knees? Try beefing up the cushion beneath your knees and sitting on a block (or four).
Pigeon will lengthen the IT band, the archnemesis of many runners. Come to all fours (table), bring your right knee between your thumbs and your right heel to the left side of the mat. Extend your left heel back and distribute your weight evenly between both hips. Focus your attention on your exhales, releasing any tension in the body with each out-breath. Need a little less? Try lying on your back, cross the right heel over the left knee, interlace your fingers beneath your left thigh, and draw your left knee in toward your chest.
Lengthens the quadriceps. Begin on all fours (table), step your right foot between your thumbs, making sure your right heel is beneath your right knee and your left knee is beneath your left hip (so that both knees are at a 90 degree angle). Bring both hands to your right thigh, pull your right hip back just a little and pull your left hip forward just a little, then lift through the crown of the head. Too much for the knees? Try it in a chair – open your right knee towards your right, slide the left hip off the chair and let the left knee come straight down from the hip onto a pillow or several blankets.
Most importantly, remember that if you can’t smile in a pose, you’ve gone too far! Back off until you find that place in the pose where you can be comfortably challenged. Stay consistent in your practice of these poses, and enjoy your slow and steady improvement.