5 Things I did to Heal my Knee Pain in my Yoga Practice

You've heard the quote: 'Practice and all is coming.' It turns out that this is true. ALL is coming...the good, the bad...and for me, the knee pain.

To have chronic knee pain was a surprise for me. You see, I've been practicing yoga for a long, long time. I first started 2 decades ago. For the last 5 years, I've maintained a daily Ashtanga home practice of full Primary and now Primary & Intermediate. Never before have I had knee issues. My knees have no prior sport-related injuries. I'm particular about checking my alignment to protect my knees. I don't wear heels very often. So...My knees were fine. Until they weren't. 

As crazy as it sounds, what a gift this pain has been for my practice...but I'm jumping ahead of this story. 

My knee pain started rather suddenly. First in one, and then in both knees. I couldn't point to one particular posture or any injury that caused it. It just appeared. It would seem to get better and then it would get worse. I only see my teacher intermittently at workshops so I didn't have anyone to ask. So what did I do?

I figured it out...one practice at a time. This is what I learned: 

1. Slow way, WAY down. Listen & then, modify.  My practice became an exercise of slow movement and constant attention to the tiniest whisper of discomfort. I added breaths...lots of breaths...to many asanas. If anything felt the least bit uncomfortable, I stopped. If I could relax the muscles and then proceed without pain, I would. If not, I would modify the shape of the asana. I practiced what I could WHILE remaining pain-free. For a time, Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Forward Bend) became Tree pose or a Balancing Figure 4 Hip stretch (see photo). Janu Sirsasana C was not possible for a few weeks. In fact, neither was Janu A or B or Tirangmukhaikapada Paschimattanasana or Padmasana...and least not until I implemented the next suggestions. 

2. Keep the thigh bone in hip socket. By slowing down and paying very close attention to the subtlety of my body, I noticed that I was pulling my right thigh bone out of the hip socket in many of the postures. By visualising the bone and socket joint, I imagined pulling the bone deeper into the socket instead of pushing it out.  If I did this, I found that I triggered a tiny muscular engagement in my hip that eased some of the knee pain. This muscular engagement also helped to deepen my engagement of Mula Bandha. Brilliant! But this wasn't the complete answer. 

3. Microfibre cloth roll in knee crease.  I also started to place a small rolled microfibre cloth in my knee crease any time I deeply bent my knee. The cloth roll seemed to create space in the knee joint which helped transfer any muscular stretch to my hip, where I needed it. Suddenly, Janu Sirsasana A, B & C became possible as did half lotus. (Note: I tried using a regular wash cloth, but this was too thick for me.) 

These two adjustments, used in combination, worked for a while, but then the knee pain started to return though not to its original intensity. 

4. Bandhas and more bandhas. By again slowing down and paying attention, I noticed that I could relieve knee pain by engaging my bandhas. In fact, any knee pain was a sign that I was not using my bandhas as deeply as I could. Bandha engagement helped to lift the weight of my torso out of my hip and knee, freeing it to move without pain. particularly in any forward bends. 

5. Soft ball rolling. No matter how pain free my practice might be, my knees would often tighten up throughout the day. I now keep 2 soft squash balls under my desk. I roll my feet over these balls several times a day and this helps to release muscular tension in my knees, legs and hips. Though golf balls are the same size, I found them to be too hard and harsh on my foot. There is something about the softness of the squash balls that works miracles. 

And 6. (I know...I promised 5! You get an extra bonus tip! :) ) LOTS of hip stretching. This sort of ties into the soft ball rolling. The more I stretched my hips and rolled my feet, the happier my knees seem to be. 

So why did I have knee pain? And why now?  The honest answer is that I don't really know. I do have a theory. I suspect my work in Intermediate has something to do with it. NOT because I'm mis-practicing the postures during my practice, but because I need more internal connection and strength to progress in them. My patterning issues (I have a slight scoliosis and so am lopsided...as we all are in one way or another...) could no longer be left unaddressed. My knee pain has made me aware of how I engage and use my shoulder girdle, my bandhas and how I need to adjust for the scoliosis. I've learned a LOT in these last 3 months. And I feel stronger and lighter in my practice as a result. 

So yes, practice and all is coming. My knee pain was the best thing that happened to my practice. 

Please note: I am not a doctor or a physical therapist. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider. 

Yoga Portraits in the Park

Meet Kelly Ludlow. British Wheel of Yoga teacher. Ashtanga practioner. A soul full of kindness and quiet light. And oh yes…able to pull off Urdhva Dhanurasana without any warm up.  

There is nothing I love more than combining my two passions of yoga & photography. Yoga portrait packages available. Email me for details. 

The Core of the Matter....

This week is core week in the studio. Love it or hate it, having core strength is important in everything that we do with our physical bodies. 

Love it or hate it, our core beliefs have everything to do with how we live our lives. Our conscious (and unconscious) thoughts, become our words. Our words become our deeds...Together our thoughts, words and deeds combine to form our life. And this, as they say, makes all the difference. 

RETREAT DAY: If you would like to explore the power of thoughts, words and deeds in manifesting intention your life, I will hosting another retreat day on this topic. During the day we will share the quantum physics behind the principles of and steps in manifesting intention. We will use yoga, japa meditation and breath techniques as manifesting tools. And, of course, there will be wonderful, organic, healthy (but delicious), vegetarian food provided. If you are interested in joining...3 spots left. Thursday, 4 August, 10.30-4pm. Here in the studio. 

Last but not least, some of you have asked me to share the short blessing from the loving kindness meditation that we used to end each class this week. Here it is: 

May I be happy. 

May I be healthy, 

May I ride the waves of my life. 

May I be at peace

No matter what I am given. 

Why I practice Ashtanga yoga...

Ashtanga yoga is my daily practice…my sacred space. It is my moving meditation: an invitation I extend to myself to be present and grounded every day. This practice is how I check-in with myself. And it's how I come to know and understand myself better than I ever have before. It has given me greater health, a stronger body and a much more peaceful mind. It is how I connect my individual self with the Universal Self. This practice has changed how I live and be…both in the physical world and within myself.  

How can so much come from 90 sweaty minutes of moving my body into shapes…at 5.30am...on a rectangular mat that is usually squished between my bed & my dresser?...This is the MAGIC of Ashtanga yoga. 

Yes, Ashtanga yoga has a magic in it, but also a science, a culture and a lineage of teaching that goes back a few thousand years. It had the dedication and commitment of one special man, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who made it his life's work to share Ashtanga yoga with the world. Because it is systemised, it offers a blueprint for anyone wanting to undertake this journey. But it is not a journey that is simple, easy or short. We are told that this practice requires sustained effort, commitment and belief over a long period of time. (perhaps…many lifetimes?) 

Ashtanga yoga is based on the knowledge that the body & the mind are connected. The physical body is an expression of the mind and the spirit. By working with the physical body, we also indirectly, but powerfully, work with our minds and our spirits.

The goal of Ashtanga yoga? Very simply, the goal of this practice is mind control. By quieting the mind, by making the body supple and strong, we are then able to sit and approach a state of meditation. It is from the state of meditation that sometimes, without trying, we slip into a state called 'Samadhi'. In Samadi, the meditator and the object of meditation become one. All that is left is pure consciousness…bliss…or, said another way, a connection with the divine. 

How does practicing Ashtanga asana work? How does a physically demanding practice become a meditation leading to transformation of the body, mind and spirit? The magical key lies in something called the Tristana method. In Ashtanga, the breath, the posture and the drishti (the looking place or gaze) are linked. Ignore one of these three and the practice breaks down. Unite these three and the asana practice reveals itself to transform the practitioner. What does Tristana really mean in the practice? 

1. Posture or movement - the physical placement of the body into a shape. In Asthanga the sequence of postures is defined and each prepares the body for the next. It is important to master the first posture before moving to the second. It is also important to truly understand the technique of each posture. By practicing this way, it is possible to avoid injury.

2. Breath - free-breathing with sound, sometimes called Ujjayi (but not the practice of Ujjayi pranyama). In Ashtanga, we breath in through the nose and out through the nose. By breathing this way, we work with prana (energy) and we heat the body. By heating the body, and working with breath, we are better able to move deeply, but safely into the postures. The breath helps us to work on both a physical and emotional level. It becomes a metronome for the practice. If the breath becomes laboured, it is a sign to ease off, rest and work gently until that posture is mastered. 

3. Drishti - Gaze or looking place. Every posture has a drishti. By focusing the eyes on the drishti, we begin the process of concentrating the attention and directing the mind to a single point. Along with the breath, drishti is another way of accessing meditation. Physically the drishti, also has a purpose as where we look affects the physical manifestation, intention and energy of each posture. 

This week in every class, we will be exploring Ashtanga yoga. I can't wait to share this with you. See you on the mat! 

What is good yoga?

What is good yoga? What is strength? Is good yoga, strong yoga? 

After working with the theme of shoulders in class this week, I find myself thinking about these questions. We have such a perception in our society that we have to be perfect. That we have to be the best. That we have to continually improve, grow, gain...

But often this striving for perfection becomes the downfall, the block, the barrier...Trust me, I know. I have done this to myself. For most of my life. And, I am still learning that today is good enough. That showing up with full effort and releasing the result is perfection. No matter the outcome. 

Pattabhi Jois used to say, "Yoga is possible for anyone who wants it. Yoga is universal." He did NOT say, yoga is possible only when you can do a handstand or when you have the strongest chaturanga. He did not even say that you need arms and legs that function. (Jois is famous for teaching Ashtanga yoga to people will all manner of illnesses and disabilities...) 

No one knows your back story. No one knows if you are healing from an illness or an injury, recovering from several nights lost sleep, nursing a broken heart, been super stressed at work...or just starting on this yoga journey and slowly finding your way into the practice. On the mat, it matters not what anyone else thinks of your practice (to be honest, if they are practicing yoga, they are probably internally focused haven't even noticed what you are doing...) 

So what is it that you are carrying that you can put down? Our shoulders are strong and are meant to carry...but not everything. By letting go, by putting down, by NOT pushing, by NOT expecting or demanding perfection, we make space for possibility. We make space for the practice...and the life...that we really need.

...this is YOUR practice. For YOUR body, your mind and your heart...as they are today. This is enough. This is good yoga.  

 

Like Water....

Water: Fluidity. Formlessness. Possibility....

For a moment, think of water in all of its forms and functions: At once it can be soft and hard. Life-giving and a force of the greatest destruction. It moulds itself easily and without complaint to its container. And simply with its presence, it can cheer even the most intractable child. 

How perfect on this day when we have both the Summer Solstice and the full moon (an occurrence that happens about once every 70 years or so...). In yoga, the sun represents something fiery, bright and hot with a masculine energy. The moon is cool, reflective, calm and represents the female energy. We are often too much one or the other. In our practice, we strive for balance between the two energies. We must flow (like water) between the two to find our equilibrium. 

On this day of the summer solstice and the full moon, we are invited to release the old and embrace the new. We are invited to set our intentions and plant seeds for the next 6 months. And so, a practice embodying the fluidity of water helps us to find what it is that we want & need. It welcomes us to add flexibility to places that feel tight and stuck and it invites us to contain those areas that are too unstructured and without support. 

Wishing you all a beautiful start to summer with energy of this very special summer solstice/full moon. May you find a fluid possibility in the next few months....

See you on the mat! 

 

A poem: Unravel

Shh…

let your voice be quiet.

and listen to the sound

of the air moving your lungs.

Through this self-made silence

grow up

around a stillness

like a vine up a trellis

moving only into the places

where there is space,

moving until the very air feels twisted around you.

Wait...

and this air in your lungs

will unravel you

to make more space

for you to grow again.

denise balyoz. 11 june 2016

 

 

Unravelling...

Have you noticed that life is actually a practice in the unravelling of knots? This may be a simple thing for a fisherman, or a weaver, skilled in knot-tying. But not so simple for the rest of us. 

As a species, we tend to get ourselves tied up into one knot, after another, after another. Stress, injury, emotional dilemma, traffic, national tragedy...large or small, these things tie our bodies, our minds and our hearts up into convoluted contractions that are slow to dissolve. 

Ironically, the process of twisting ourselves (albeit mindfully) further into something that feels like a knot, can help to dissolve the tied-up tension in our minds and our bodies. Twists wring us out. They are great for the back and the spine. They get our blood moving, our energy going and they help our digestion. Twists build core strength and...they teach us something very important about the tying and untying of knots: In order to twist fully and deeply, we must go slowly. We need our breath. And before we start to revolve into our twist, we must find length upward. 

When faced with difficulty, my first instinct is to react...strongly! At first, I want to yank, pull, push, work...harder and harder...to get it resolved.  And yet, by yanking on a knot, we only make it more, well...knottier.  Hmm....

See you all on the mat this week where we'll be twisting and turning to unravel tension in our hips, backs, shoulders, hearts and minds... 

Spaciousness

Space. Emptiness. Nothing. Or, to say it another way, no thing. In photographic design, this is called the use of negative space.

But why negative? Apparently, we are all mostly empty space. 99.999% of empty space, in fact. Atoms are filled with it. Our galaxy is filled with it. But take away matter and energy and you have this thing called nothing. This nothingness is infinite, eternal and indestructible. 

But what does this have to do with the practice of yoga? Our breath is energy (prana). Our bodies are physical in their movement. Our minds forever chatter with our thinking. And our lives?...these days most of us would say that our lives are full to the brim. 

In yoga, we practice with our breath and our body....with the energy and the matter that we have, right now today. We practice with these things and eventually, an awareness grows, a spaciousness arises, even in the midst of the busiest of days. 

If no thing can't be changed, it is always there. Always present. Always constant. Always everywhere. Without realising it, we are filled with the space of nothingness. We are filled with stillness. And this is really something

See you on the mat.