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Joints

Halloween marks the space between the harvest and the darkness. It’s a time when it’s thought that the line between life and death is softer. Much of our time in our culture is spent focused on here and there, now and then, you and me. But what happens if we focus on the space between?

If you’re interested in inbetweens, you might enjoy this post from a couple of years ago…Neck & Waist: The Spaces In Between

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(originally posted April 28, 2013)

Not long ago, my friend Dinah sent me this video. It was a mesmerizing 16 minutes. I could not tear myself away.

And the whole time, my knees would not stop shaking.

Spending 16 minutes with my knees rattling, made me realize how vulnerable I’m feeling these days – in all realms. So this week, I’m revisiting a piece about knees that was originally posted in April 2013. EnJOY.

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You can mess with God, but you can’t mess with your knees.” – genius facilitator and friend, Bev Wann

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 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!

spring loaded fern

Spring is loaded with energy, growth, potential.

We can load the joints – our body’s movers – with the same quality.
Joints allow for power, grace, change … and they can be vulnerable.

To cultivate spring-loaded joints, offer space and support.
Breathe into the buoyant openness between the bones.
Concentrate on supporting that space with connective tissue and muscle.

Our hearts and minds can also have a responsive, easeful, spring-loaded quality.
Offering harried minds or difficult emotions space and support can free up stuck or drained energy and get things flowing again.

Body, mind, emotions: offer them a wide pasture with a strong fence.

Redbud FlowersRight now in central Virginia, spring is springing like nobody’s business.

Everything is blooming. Ev. Ery. Thing. (Just ask my allergy-tormented husband.) The place is awash in color: white and pink and purple and yellow and tons of tender baby green. Pollen notwithstanding, it’s a wonder to be outside. I can practically watch the world grow and bloom.

Spring!

Word geek that I am, spring is my favorite season name. It’s such a rich, multi-faceted word: spring forward, spring out of bed, a fresh water spring, a sproingy spring in a clock, springing the news, springing for dinner, springing someone out of prison. Spring is loaded with energy, life, potential. (In Spanish the word for spring is primavera or first green. In French it’s printemps or first season. Both are descriptive but in English, spring is an action, a movement, a feeling.)

Spaciousness

Spring is the most spacious of the seasons. What with its pushing out of the ground into the cool air, stretching of branches and unfurling petals and leaves, it’s practically yawning awake. Spring is free from the contraction of winter’s cold, the oppression of summer’s heat or fall’s dying back. No matter where you live (Southern Hemispherians are in autumn now and there are plenty of places in the Northern Hemisphere where *shudder* it’s still snowing), the feeling of spring is worth cultivating in body and mind.

To cultivate spring in ourselves (at any time of year) is to cultivate spaciousness.

Joints

In the body, spaciousness – the spring in the step – comes at the joints. The more space and support we have around the joints, the more responsive and buoyant is our movement. Often as we age and eventually if we misuse use the body, compression and contraction can happen around the joints. It takes awareness and conscious practice to maintain the spaciousness that allows light, graceful movement.

The body’s language is sensation. Pleasure says yes. Pain says no. Most of us have a joint or two (or three) that speak to us rawther noisily about not having enough space and just generally not being happy about how we’re using them. For me right now it’s my left knee and right big toe joint. For you it may be a shoulder or hip. For your friend, it may be their lumbar spine or neck.

Knowing the pressing places that need the most attention is a great place to start in spring-loading and spacious-making our joints. Whenever I feel particular tension or pressure in a joint, the first thing I do is to look at the joints above and below it.

Okay, that’s totally not true, the first thing I do is go right to the place that hurts and rub it with liniment or ice it or both. Then I get very worried and absolutely sure I will never dance or hike or bike again. THEN I look to the surrounding joints.

Very often, pain in a joint is a result of tightness or weakness in a joint nearby. That tightness or weakness causes the hurting joint to compensate in some way. Expand your attention to notice how you are using your hip and ankle if your knee hurts. Notice what’s happening in your upper back and elbow if your shoulder hurts. Notice what’s going on with your middle back and hips if your lower back is sore.

Joints are where movement happens. This makes joints the places in our body that have the most power and potential – and the places that are most vulnerable. For all your joints, whether they are bitching and moaning or whispering sweet nothings, allow them both space and support.

Space

As you move and sit and stand and walk, see how much ease you can create in your joints. Imagine your joints breathing. Dippy trippy hippie as it sounds, this joints-breathing image allows me to bear down less and open up more even in the middle of a long hike or the tae kwon do section of a class.

Support

Moving with ease and grace actually takes strength and determined practice. A balance of strength and flexibility around your joints allows upright alignment, soft placement of feet and easy movement from floor to standing and back again. There are lots of ways to do this but the most natural is to use your body weight and move in a variety of orientations, planes and directions. I love yoga for this, but there are lots of other modalities that offer similar benefits including Pilates, Tai Chi, 5 Stages of Self-Healing and many more.

Space and support creates a spring-loaded body, but we can do the same in our hearts and minds. Tomorrow, a bit on that.

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