8 Restorative Yoga Poses For Knee Pain

If you're experiencing knee pain, you're not alone. Millions of people suffer from chronic or acute knee pain—or have at some point in their past. Along with being uncomfortable, knee pain restricts movement, reduces strength, and compromises muscle control. In other words, it impacts more than just the knee joint itself. Knee pain can create a domino-effect of structural and soft-tissue problems that may compromise your ability to complete daily chores, and participate fully in the activities that you love.


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Causes Of Knee Pain   

The causes of knee pain can include a wide range of injuries and disease conditions. Injuries can happen while playing recreational or professional sports. They can happen via slips and falls, or in auto accidents. They can happen in the weight room or during other training activities—as a result of improper technique or too much weight applied to the joint. Injuries can result from longtime overuse of the knee joint—or via a single freak accident.

Knee pain can be the result of osteoarthritis or gout. It can be due to tendon or ligament strains and sprains, or to tears in the cartilage. It can be the result of a bone fracture near the knee. It can be caused or exacerbated by obesity—and the added force that this places on the knee joint.

Restorative Yoga To Heal Knee Pain

The good news is that, regardless of its root cause, knee pain can be significantly reduced with restorative yoga practice. While any style of yoga, approached skillfully, will have beneficial effects on your body and mind, a restorative or therapeutic sequence is generally best when you're recovering from an illness or injury.

Kaiut Yoga is one example of yoga designed specifically to ease the effects of injury, and contribute to long-term health of the body's joints, i.e. their comfort, strength, and range of motion. The slow-moving, deeply-therapeutic sequences of Kaiut Yoga also help normalize blood circulation and calm the nervous system. The poses are effective for all ages and body types.

The following poses are particularly beneficial for anyone wishing to reduce knee pain and regain healthy mobility. They are designed to soothe, strengthen, and align the joint, by resolving old tensions/restrictions. While most of these yoga positions are simple enough to try on your own, it's always a good idea to receive at least a bit of in-person instruction from a qualified physical therapist or yoga instructor.

Reclining Yoga Poses For Knee Health

What's wonderful about these four poses is that your body weight is being fully supported by the floor—which allows your nervous system to unwind deeply. It's best to spend 2-3 minutes in each of these positions (and twice that if you're switching sides midway) for the full healing benefit. You can practice the poses sequentially, or just choose one or two, for a shorter practice period.

1. Ardha Apanasana (Half Knees-to-Chest Pose)

• Lie down on your back, with your knees hinged so that the soles of your feet are resting flat on the floor, about hip-distance apart. Rest your head and neck on a folded blanket or a yoga bolster—whichever is most comfortable.

• Now use your hands, with interlaced fingers, to gently draw your right knee toward the right side of your chest. In doing this, you'll be folding at both your hip and knee joints. Bring your knee as close to your chest as possible, and hold it there.

• If you'd like, you can extend your left leg all the way out onto the floor—but only if this feels okay in your hips and back. It's also fine to leave that left leg hinged. In either case, continue to hold your right knee close to your chest—for 2-3 minutes.

• As you hold the position, place your attention—your mental focus—into the center of your knee joint. Feel deeply into the joint, with an attitude of gentle curiosity and loving kindness. Imagine that the energy of your breath is circulating deeply into the joint.

• After 2-3 minutes, gently release both legs back to their starting position—and then repeat on the second side.

2. Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound-Angle Pose)

• Begin as you did with Ardha Apanasana (#1): lying down on your back, with your knees hinged and the soles of your feet flat on the floor; and your head supported by a folded blanket or bolster.

• Now interlace your fingers behind your head, near the base of your skull, letting your elbows relax toward the floor. If your shoulders are pretty flexible, slide your hands all the way under the blanket or bolster. If your shoulder are less flexible, keep your interlaced hands between your head and the blanket/bolster.

• With your fingers interlaced behind your head, place the soles of your feet together and let your knees drop wide, toward the floor. Remain in this position for 2-3 minutes, allowing gravity to do all the work, as your knees and elbows both relax more deeply toward the floor.

• To come out of the pose, gently lift your knees, place your feet flat on the floor, and rest your hands near your hips.

3. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Big-Toe Pose)

• Starting from the same reclined position as in #1 and #2, place a yoga strap over the bottom of your right foot, near the base of the toes. Hold the strap firmly—one side in each hand—as you extend your right leg fully, at a 45-degree angle. Keep the left leg hinged at the knee, with the foot flat on the floor.

• Feel the back of your right knee extending, opening, lengthening fully. Now use the strap to help you begin to draw the right foot upward even more, toward 90-degrees. But only go as far as you can with the knee in its fully extended position. Hold for 2-3 minutes, then repeat on the second side.

4. Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-Wall Pose)

• Sit down next to a wall, facing sideways with your hips several inches away from the wall. Then release your torso down onto the floor while at the same time gently swinging your legs up the wall. Allow your pelvis to remain 6-8 inches away from the wall, so that your legs are at an angle.

• Rest your hands on the floor near your hips. Or, if you'd prefer, you can interlace your fingers behind your head. Reach up actively through your heels, allowing the knee joints to open fully. Then simply relax the legs, in their extended position. Remain in this position for 2-3 minutes, or longer.  

• To come out of the pose, slide your feet halfway down the wall, hinging your knees—and then gently roll to the side.

Seated Yoga Poses For Knee Health

While not quite as relaxing as the fully reclined poses, these seated positions are nevertheless excellent therapy for your knees.

Note: For most people, it will be advisable to sit on a yoga bolster (or a couple of folded wool blankets) while practicing Easy Pose (#5) and Bound-Angle Post (#6).

5. Sukhasana (Easy Pose)

• Sit down on the floor—or on a yoga bolster—and cross your shins loosely, into a narrow cross-legged position: with the knees no wider than the hips, and your feet drawn across toward the opposite side of the mat.

• Remain in this position for a couple of minutes, with the spine upright and your knees relaxing toward the floor. Then fold forward, allowing your head and torso to drop toward your legs, and your arms to extend forward onto the floor. Remain here for another couple of minutes—and then repeat the sequence, but with the legs crossed in the other way.

6. Baddha Konasana (Bound-Angle Pose)

• Sit on your yoga bolster—or on the floor if your hips are quite flexible—and then draw the soles of your feet together, with the knees dropping toward the floor. Lengthen upward through the spine, and remain for a couple of minutes.

• Then, with your legs in the same position, drop your head and torso forward, with your arms and hands lengthening forward onto the floor. Remain for a couple of minutes, and then lengthen your spine upward once again.

• To come out of the pose, gently lift your knees and extend your legs fully.

7. Malasana (Garland Pose variation)

• Begin by sitting upright on your yoga bolster, with your legs extending straight along the floor. Then hinge your knees, one at a time, drawing your calves close to the back of your thighs, and planting your feet as close to the bolster as you can.

• You can remain here, in a modified squatting position—or rock forward a bit, to lift your pelvis off of the bolster, into a full squat. If your ankles are stiff—preventing your heels from staying on the floor—then place a rolled blanket underneath your heels, as you squat. Remain in the pose for 2-3 minutes.

8. Virasana (Hero Pose)

• Begin by kneeling on the floor, with your knees hip distance apart. Then release your pelvis down to the floor, so that you're sitting between your ankles, with the tops of your feet and your shins flat on the floor. Note: It's fine to place a block, or a folded blanket, or a bolster beneath your pelvis—to accommodate stiffness in your hips, knees, or ankles. Remain in the pose for 2-3 minutes, or longer.

Deepen Your Healing With An Attitude Adjustment

As you explore these yoga poses, remember to generate an attitude of openness, curiosity, loving-kindness and compassion in relation to your body.  Do your best to let go of anger, fear, resentment, and other aggressive or negative emotional states.

Let your attention rest gently right in the center of your knees—like a butterfly resting lightly on a beautiful flower. And understand the difference between pain and strong sensation: If there's pain in the joint, then that's your clue to back off a little bit—to make the yoga pose less intense. But if what you're experiencing is just strong sensation, learn to allow and even welcome it, within the space of your mindful awareness. It's this non-judgmental welcoming of sensation that initiates and deepens the healing process.

And finally, remember that knee braces and supports can be another wise strategy for keeping your knees comfortably supported, before and after your yoga practice.