There are many types of yoga, teachers, and variations in philosophy. Most styles of yoga are not physical, but the world has adopted the physical aspect and needs to mature a bit more to appreciate the deeper aspects of Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, and Raja.
The Physical Side
To some practitioners, Hatha yoga is a terrific full-body workout, with thoughtful routines that will stretch and align all the major muscle groups. However, the expression “no pain, no gain” has no place at all in any yoga practice. If anything you do causes pain, stop immediately. The word for a yoga pose is “asana,” so even if the poses are not exactly easy, they should put your body at ease and not under stress or pain.
Knees are of particular concern when practicing Hatha yoga. Many of the twisting asanas pose hazards for pre-existing injuries or misaligned knees, and the kneeling asanas can put a great deal of stress on weak knees as well. Yoga can be perfectly safe for everyone, however, this is provided you take a few sensible precautions.
Kneeling asanas like Camel or even a simple Cat Cow pose are hard on tender knees. Feel free to use extra padding if your mat is not enough to cushion your knees. A rolled up towel will work fine, or just roll up the end of your mat to get an adequate level of cushion. Move cautiously if you know that your knees are a weak point; don’t rush your practice and feel free to ease your way into poses that require your knees on the mat. Remember that this is your yoga practice and no good can come from doing it in a way that compromises your comfort and safety.
Alignment is another important issue when it comes to knees and yoga. A good rule of thumb is to keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your feet and toes. Also be sure to never overextend or lock your knees in a pose, this puts too much pressure on the knee joint. Instead, make sure that your leg muscles are fully engaged as you hold the pose. Using your leg muscles correctly protects your knee area and it also gives you a much more effective workout.
The good news for weak knees is that a regular yoga practice can substantially increase the strength and flexibility of your knees. Don’t be discouraged if there are poses that are out of your reach at this time, if you keep practicing at your own pace you will soon see significant improvement. Remember that asanas are gradually meant to be easy, not stressful, and that your goal is to have a yoga practice that is enjoyable and injury-free.
A Side Note For Yoga Teachers
Remember that all bodies are not equal. If you can’t modify, assist, or allow props, be honest with prospective students. They may be better off with the yoga instructor down the road, if their joints will be put at risk in your class. Adult students from chair sitting cultures may not have the flexibility and may have limits in range of motion due to skeletal compression. Every graduate of a yoga certification program should understand basic anatomy. Once a yoga instructor discovers that each body is unique, it is time to put this knowledge to good use by showing compassion to all students.