Yoga therapy to refresh your joints

By JACCI GRUNINGER, MS, C-IAYT500, ERYT500
Los Alamos

When we talk about different yoga poses, we can discuss them from the perspective of strength, flexibility, balance, and skill. When we talk about health, we can talk about our mental health, our physical health and our emotional health. We can also discuss our muscles, connective tissue and joints.

As a yoga therapist, I work with all types of issues, but one issue clients often talk about is their joints.

Customers share that their joints pop, squeak, bubble, and a number of other descriptors. Our joints are important and their function is even more important, especially as we age.

Often you will hear about a healthy range of motion (ROM). It has to do with all the ways your body can move and adapt to different body positions. Our joint health or joint mobility is important when it comes to range of motion. Our joints move in many different directions: flexion, extension, rotation, lateral flexion and lateral extension, internal rotation and external rotation.

Joint mobility basically refers to the range of motion of your joints.

For example, you can explore flexion and extension of the knee joint. Bend and straighten your leg from a standing position. Can you straighten all the way? Can you grab your foot behind you (hold on to a wall!)? Or how far can you reach your arm above your head before your shoulder joint says, “enough?”

Often some of our joints have a lot of mobility and others not so much. As we age, we often lose mobility in our joints. This must not happen. Remember that movement is a lotion. AND, some motions are better than others.

In yoga therapy, we look at what we call functional range of motion. That is, can you reach under the kitchen sink to get something out or can you reach a cupboard to retrieve a cup or bowl?

Consider the following questions:

  • Are there movements or positions in which your body contracts or tightens?
  • Can you bend forward (knees bent), lean to the side, and lean back?
  • Can you reverse your car easily?
  • What parts of your body prevent you from doing these things?

If you feel tightness, stiffness, or discomfort preventing you from doing your daily tasks or the activities you enjoy, your range of motion may be limited.

Many things can affect your range of motion, but lack of movement, especially the right kinds of movement, can be a big factor.

Here are some other things that might bother you:

  • The shape of your joint, the mobility of your joint tissues (capsule, ligaments and tendons);
  • The flexibility of your muscles, fascias and other connective tissues; and
  • Your nervous system and how it communicates with your brain.

Keep a few things in mind when working with your joint mobility

  • Don’t push;
  • Do not go on board;
  • Do not hold for long periods of time;
  • Inhale and exhale;
  • Move slowly inwards and outwards; and
  • Do repetitive movements.

There is a great practice called Joint Freeing Series by Mukunda Stiles which is not only a self test but also a good way to squeeze all your joints. You can find a video of me leading this practice at Joint Freeing Series.

You can also try incorporating the following moves into your day. Remember to inhale for a count of 6 and exhale for a count of 6 as you go through each movement. Repeat each movement 4-8 times.

Cat & Cow

Cat pose. Courtesy picture

Cow pose. Courtesy picture

This combination of postures moves through all the vertebrae from your tailbone at the bottom of the spine to your atlas at the top of the spine.

Start on your hands and knees (elbows if your wrists hurt) or sit up. Exhale and pull your tailbone toward the floor. Slowly roll your spine toward the ceiling or the back of your chair (like a frightened cat), ending with your chin coming toward your chest. Pause for 1 breath here, then inhale and lift your tailbone and let the rest of the vertebrae move one by one, pulling the ribs forward and opening the front of the throat. Pause here to breathe.

Knee Down Lunge / Half Split

Knee down lunge. Courtesy picture

Half split pose. Courtesy picture

This combination of postures helps mobility of the hips, pelvis, knees and lumbar spine. It will help you daily crouching and dashing.

Start in table pose and bring your right foot between your hands (you can be on your fingertips or use blocks or books under your hands). Make sure your knee is above your ankle. Slide your left knee a little further back until you feel a slight stretch in your front left hip. Exhale and slowly bring your hips back towards your left heel (keep your knee as bent as needed). Pause for 1 breath to feel. Inhale and start moving forward into the lunge.

hip circles

This move isn’t just good for your hips, lower back, and pelvis, it’s also fun. Start in a standing position with your legs apart, knees slightly bent. Place your hands on your hips. Exhale and lean slightly forward as you send your butt slightly behind you. Circle to the right, inhale and circle forward then to the left. Continue rotating in one direction for 6-8 breaths, then pause and repeat in the other direction.

Bend-Knee Dog Table

Good for your wrists, shoulders, hips, spine, knees and ankles. Start again in a table position (on the elbows/forearms if necessary). Roll your toes down and press your hips up and back as you lengthen your arms and spine. Keep your knees very bent. Move your heels, one at a time, up and down several times. Inhale, lift the heel, exhale and come down. Next, inhale and lower your back to your knees. Pause for a breath or two, then repeat 4-6 times.

Remember, work at your own pace, rest when you need it. If you feel any pain or discomfort, choose another move to practice.

You might even consider working with a yoga therapist on inner landscape and somatic movement to increase your range of motion and energize your joints.

About Jacci Gruninger:

Jacci Gruninger is a Certified Yoga Therapist and Thai Massage Therapist. She has been teaching for over two decades and spent 12 of those years training yoga teachers for the Pranakriya School of Yoga Healing Arts. She regularly helps clients navigate life’s ups and downs through yoga, meditation, breathwork and strength training. Her yoga therapy center is at 190 Central Park Square #212. For his in-person and online teaching schedule and information about his other services, visit his website at www.yogawithjacci.com.

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