This was originally posted on April 28, 2013. Since my knees are feeling a little wonky lately, since we have new routines to bring the focus to, and since I was TED-consumed in the past few days*, I thought I’d bring this popular post back.
“You can mess with God, but you can’t mess with your knees.”
– Bev Wann, Nia and Mindfulness Educator
For the past week or so, my knees have been feeling tight and sore. I’d love to tell you that my in-depth knowledge of anatomy led me immediately to the source of the discomfort. But I had no idea why my knees weren’t feeling right. I’d also love to tell you that I was calm and at peace with the ache in my knees. While I wasn’t exactly panicky, I was sincerely not chill with it.
Knees are sensitive spots. At just the sight of someone who looks unstable or likely to fall, my empathetic husband’s knees tingle. Think about the way we talk about knees idiomatically:
– Weak in the knees
– Knocking knees
– Up to my knees or knee-deep
– Cut off at the knees
– Fall on the knees or bring to the knees
– On bended knee
– Knee-high to a grasshopper
All of these sayings reveal the vulnerability of knees. Whether it’s love or fear, overwhelm or a heartfelt plea, when we talk about our knees, we are talking about helplessness.
The largest joint in the body, knees are a complex hinge or condylar joint which are essential for movement. Knowing the anatomy of the joint can help in understanding the importance of alignment. For example, when you stand up or squat down, do your knees fall in toward each other? If so, you are straining your Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). If your knee juts out in front of your foot when you lunge forward, you are stressing the ligaments around your patella (knee cap) that connect the muscles from the thigh to the shin bone.
There are many good resources for learning about knee health (for example, click here for a good article about knees and yoga), but we can learn particular things from the practice of Nia (click here for an article from the Nia White Belt Manual about Nia and the Knees and here’s another on Knee-Locking Syndrome).
Both in the studio and in life, I’ve discovered the following four keys to knee health and comfort:
Knee-Ahhh! Tip #1: Always step silently and cleanly
This is the A-number one, most important focus when it comes to happy knees. First, step softly (with cat-like tread!) and silently. Stomping and walking heavily strains the feet, ankles, knees and hips and dulls awareness (see Knee-Ahh Tip #4). And step cleanly, without dragging, shuffling, or twisting your feet on the floor. Imagine the floor is slightly sticky so you have to lift and place your feet – every single time. This is particularly important when turning. The Body’s Way is to step rather than spin on the feet which protects not just the knee but the joints above and below. Which leads to…
Knee-Ahhh! Tip #2: For happy knees, look to hips and ankles
Whenever you experience discomfort in the body, look above and below the place of pain. One of the best ways to keep knees healthy is to keep the hips and ankles strong and mobile. Most people are unable to execute a walking turn in Nia because their hips do not have the range of motion to allow the turn. And commonly, people shuffle or drag their feet because of stiff or weak ankles. Practicing any of the first eight movements of the 52 Moves of Nia will condition the ankle joints while Moves 19 through 29 are all particularly good for the hip joints.
Knee-Ahhh! Tip #3: Breathe & Relax
Given that they are particularly sensitive and vulnerable, one tendency is to hold tension in the knees. This week, I’ve noticed that while sitting at my desk, watching baseball (Go Twins and Red Sox!), and even when I’m in Savasana, I’m often holding some level of tension in my knees! One of the best things I can do in movement and in stillness is relax and breathe into my knees.
Knee-Ahhh! Tip #4: Listening & Awareness
The more I practice Nia Principle 5, Awareness, the more I learn about what is supporting and what is taxing my knees… or any part of me. This week, I noticed that I am very precise with my foot placement when I’m in Nia class, but when I’m working in my kitchen, I tend to twist on my feet especially on the rug in front of my stove. Use awareness and deep listening to find even the small changes that can make happier knees.
What makes your knees happy? Share your body wisdom and Knee-Ahhh! experiences below! May this week leave you knee-deep in knee health!
* Interested in checking out some of the TEDx Charlottesville talks that happened on Friday? You can see the whole day by going here http://livestream.com/tedx/events/4498792 . All the talks are aMAZing and are inspirational, thought-provoking, surprising and moving. If you’d like to see the speakers I’ve been working with for the past few months, you can find Elliott Woods at 6:19 and Leslie Blackhall at 6:48.