Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 2: Protect Ya Knee

(Apologies to the Wu-Tang)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Mysore Practice
6:30 – 8 a.m.

Slept better last night but woke up feeling a little 'clumsy'. It took me a little longer to get out the door because I kept forgetting things. Maybe it was the cold. Or the pitch darkness of 5 a.m. out in the boonies where there's no ambient light. It makes for some beautiful stargazing, but can make finding your way out the door and down the stairs a little difficult when you're trying to not wake up the house by turning on any lights and stumbling around by the light of your iPhone.

It was just me and Deborah at the studio this morning. As this was an 'unled practice' day, she was busy doing her thing, and I attempted to do my practice without any cues or prompting, save the blurry printout of the Primary Series I had laid on the floor in front of my mat. Trying discern the difference between postage stamp sized illustrations of Utthita Parshvakonasana and Parivritta Parshvakonasana at 7 a.m. in a dimly lit studio can prove to be quite a challenge.

You try it:

Overall my practice felt just "okay". My left knee has been aggravated, due in part to my hyperextending it in the forward folds lately. Over the past month or so I've increased the flexibility in my hamstrings, back and hips quite a bit, which has allowed me to go deeper into my forward folds. It has felt great, like some real progress, but I think I've been a little overzealous and pushing it too far without protecting my knee, which has made it pretty tender this week, slowing down my standing postures quite a bit.

I was also struggling with feeling like I needed to stop the sequence at a certain point, as it was just getting to be too much with my knee (there was no way I was making it through Marichyasana gracefully), but I wasn't sure if that's frowned upon. I had this idea that once you begin a sequence, you must finish it or else your body would be completely out of alignment and your nervous system thrown off the tracks.

I talked to Deborah after practice about all of this, and of course, she pointed out that it is traditionally accepted that a new student should stop at the point their practice is at, skip to the finishing sequence, Padmasana, Uth Pluthi and Savasana. That made me feel better. She thought that Janu Sirsanana would be a good place to stop, then work on knee and quadricep strengthening exercises. Phew. It was a relief to hear this.

I also bought the book "Yoga for Healthy Knees", written by Pixar's in-house yoga instructor (I wonder what Woody's favourite pose is... Tree pose?), Sandy Blaine (Amazon link). It looks to be a great resource and I'll be sure to post some exercises from it and updates on my rehab progress.

Having an injury resurface can be very humbling, and I think it's important not to get discouraged by what may seem on the surface to be a setback, as I think we can learn so much about our bodies, our alignment, our bad habits, and it's a good reminder to never forget the basics. It's also been a great reminder to never take another Bikram class. Instead of screaming "LOCK THE KNEE" at their hapless "students" who are coaxed into pushing their knees into Barbie-esque positions, they really need to teach people how to "PROTECT THE KNEE" by always maintaining a micro-bend and lifting the knee cap by stabilizing it with an engaged quadriceps. To someone used to hyperextension of the knee joint, a micro-bend can feel like a huge bend and thus, "cheating", but it's not really. Checking yourself in the mirror will confirm this. Get it "straight" alright?


I did work on a few exercises today that I think will be helpful:
  • Chair pose against the wall with a block between my knees, held for as long as possible. You'll know when it's enough. This will help strengthen your quads and ankles, helping to stabilize your poor knees.
  • Sitting in Danadasana (Staff Pose) with knees lifted slightly off the ground, quads flexed with a Carnac-like focus on your problem joint, making sure everything stays engaged and protected.
  • In poses where the knee is bent and compressed, placing a rolled-up washcloth in the "knee pit" will relieve some of the pressure there, allowing you to hang out in Sukhasana and reap the hip-opening benefits without the screaming knee. "Easy Pose", my ass. 
By the way, having more open hips will ease up on a lot of the torsion that can exacerbate an already weakened knee joint. So do your best to include these kinds of poses in your practice and exercises outside of practice whenever possible.

YogaJournal.com has plenty of helpful and detailed articles on all the poses and yoga anatomy. Here's a great one dedicated to the hyperextended knee syndrome. You should totally read it.

Postscript: I did get to do my first "adjustment" today, which was really me just moving Deborah's feet where she told me to as she contorted into Supta Kurmasana. Still, it was good to get "hands on" for the first time.



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