Many aches and pains that we suffer – in our yoga practice and in daily life – come not from acute injury but from doing something over and over with poor alignment. The cumulative stress builds until eventually, the smallest straw breaks the camel’s back.
Yoga classes amazing for stretching and rehabilitating your body, but you still need to make sure you are not adding any additional stress by practicing poor alignment! Your joints are particularly at risk because of their delicate nature and their supporting of your body weight in many different poses. It’s important we take care to prevent injury!
These tips will help ensure you keep your joints safe while practicing yoga.
1. Always keep your knees pointing in line with your second toes.
This is a good rule-of-thumb for all poses — whether your legs are straight or bent, bearing weight or not — track the center of your knee in line with the second and third toes.
2. In bent-knee standing poses, keep the weight in the heels; in straight-legged standing poses, shift your weight forward towards the toes.
3. Use props to eliminate knee pain from deep flexion or pressure.
If you experience pain when your knees are bent deeply, use a prop to reduce the severity of the knee angle. In Virasana or Hero Pose, sit on a block between your heels, and in Balasana (Child’s Pose), roll a blanket and place it behind the knees.
If kneeling puts too much pressure on the kneecap (like in Tabletop or Anjaneyasana), use a blanket to soften the surface.
4. Get out of hyperextension in the knees and elbows by engaging the muscles for support.
If the knee and elbow joints hyperextend, it means that the ligaments are lax and are allowing them to move “beyond straight” into a locked position.
Put a micro-bend into the joint, and then firm the surrounding muscles to bring the bones to “truly straight” and supported. For the knees, draw all the thigh muscles up towards the hips, and for the arms, engage the biceps and triceps.
5. Make your Chaturanga arms 90 degrees and hug them in.
When you lower into Chaturanga Dandasana, it’s very important that the upper arm and forearm bones create a 90° angle. This means keeping the elbows directly above (not behind) the wrists, and firming the upper arms into the side body.
6. Create a stable and safe foundation with the hands.
In weight-bearing poses (like Downward Facing Dog and Plank), position your hands so that the wrist creases are parallel to the front edge of your mat. Spread your fingers wide, and press firmly into each knuckle to avoid slamming your weight into the base of your wrists.
7. Give your wrists a break by modifying.
If you’re caring for an injury, or your wrists feel sore, consider moving onto your fists (in Tabletop) or forearms (Plank, Downward Facing Dog) to give the wrists a breather.