If your knees creak, crackle and pop when you go up stairs, bend down or lunge, it's time to take some action. Your knees are a joint, so you can't directly strengthen them like you can a muscle; however, you can make the joint more mobile. Strengthen the surrounding muscles to also support your knees when you use them.
Yoga is just one tool in your toolbox for making your knees more functional. You'll gain strength and stretch out tight spots that may be aggravating your knees. When going into a yoga posture, be mindful. If you feel pain in your knee, don't try to ride it out. This is your body telling you to back off, and maybe even that a certain pose isn't for you. For some poses, it's appropriate to use props, such as a yoga brick, to make the pose accessible.
Mountain pose seems simple — after all, you're just standing there — but when done mindfully, it brings awareness to the muscles you need to contract and engage to protect your knees every day.
How To: Stand with your feet touching, or close to touching, on a yoga mat. Press down evenly through your soles to feel your weight evenly distributed. Engage the front of your thighs to "lift" the top of the kneecaps. Keep your pelvic floor engaged and let your arms rest alongside your hips with your chest open and shoulder blades pulled slightly together and down your back. Maintain this muscularly active position as you inhale and exhale for several breaths.
Warrior poses strengthen one of your quadricep muscles, the vastus medialis, which supports the knee. If your vastus medialis is weak, your knee ends up doing more than its share of the work of keeping your leg walking, standing and bending. Warrior I is described here, but Warrior II is also valuable in training this inner quad.
How To: To get into Warrior I pose, stand on a yoga mat and separate your feet about 3 feet apart. Point your right toes to the front of your mat and turn your left toes in the direction of the front of the mat. Depending on your hip's flexibility, you may get the left toes between a 45- and 90-degree angle. Bend your right knee as you reach your arms up toward the ceiling. Keep your weight evenly distributed on both feet. Breathe for five to 10 breaths, then change sides.
Use a block during Bridge pose to strengthen your vastus medialis along with your glutes. As pointed out in a study published in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy in 2007, weak glutes and hips are often a reason for knee pain.
How To: Lie on your back on a yoga mat. Bend your knees and plant your feet about hip-distance apart. Place a yoga block between your knees. Inhale and lift your hips up as you press your hands down into the floor alongside your hips. Consciously squeeze the block as you keep your hips lifted for five to 10 breaths. Lower down and repeat two to three times.
Balancing Half Moon
Balancing half-moon pose stretches the hamstrings and strengthens your quads and thighs. It also loosens up your hips. Also, feel free to use a block to support your bottom hand as you balance as this will ease pressure on your knee. Practicing Balancing Half Moon against a wall also provides you a little extra stability so you don't have to fear falling. Don't lock your knees in the pose. Avoid this posture if your knee is swollen or tender to the touch.
How To: Stand with your back against a blank wall. Separate your feet a little wider than your hips and point your right toes to the front of the mat. If you're using a block, hold it in the right hand. Put your weight into your right leg and lift your left leg off the floor so you're balanced. Hinge forward from your right hip and allow your hand, or the block, to connect toward the floor. Lift your left leg so it's parallel to the ground and your left arm up toward the ceiling. Hold for three to five breaths, or longer as you become stronger. Repeat on the opposite side.
Triangle, like Warrior poses, works the vastus medialis, and also stretches the hamstrings, just like Balancing Half-Moon. You also get the benefit of creating more flexibility and tone in the hips, which further supports your knees.
How To: Stand with your feet about 4 feet apart. Turn your right toes toward the front of the mat and angle your left toes forward as well. Open your arms to the front and back of the mat. Keep your right leg straight as you reach your right arm forward and down, so your right fingers touch the shin, ankle or floor. Your left arm should reach straight up toward the ceiling. Open your chest and, if your neck is healthy, look up. Hold for five to 10 breaths and gently rise out of it. Repeat with the left leg forward.