Ashtanga Yoga? Well, Watch Your Knees!

I am about to start my yoga practice. Yesterday, I had to have a nap after work, I was so tired. I feel pain in my left calf and knee. I hipper-extended left Achilles tendon ligament last Sunday evening by demonstrating downward dog pose to my friends. I wore shoes on and I was not worm up properly.

Having everyday yoga practice is not that hard. What is hard is letting go of ideas and convictions around what practice should look and feel. I do not expect something from the practice. It is important just to do it.

The main reason I struggle in life is because I'm holding on to my imagination and expectation, some idealized version of what my life should look like.

Ashtanga yoga is really nothing special, it is a simple postures intended to support me as a human being and makes me a little more aware of my shortcomings. If I really want a consistent daily yoga practice, I need to let go of the idea that the practice leads somewhere. It does lead anywhere. It is actually a moving, daily meditation.

Since the beginning of this year, I found my practice to be a struggle. I am 57 and I feel it. Since January, every single practice was a product of my self-determination. I had to force myself to do it, and there was not so many practices anyway. I did only 42 yoga practices since January. 

I'm a shame. I see clearly my laziness and imagination running wild. I have no reliance on or cooperation with God, teachers, gurus, swamis or any other agent, only authority is my self will which obviously is not strong enough.

Let’s face it. I have relationship problem which I don't know how to solve. I've also changed my job and now as a contractor I have less time for myself. It is a hard practicing with a ton of daily obligations, not enough sleep and inadequate eating habits but ashtanga was never meant to be easy. 

The same sequences each day, I hear people say they need variety, but if you pay attention, ashtanga yoga feels completely different every single time you do it.

Many people blame ashtanga for injuries, the truth is ashtanga yoga heals. Rather than blaming ashtanga, let’s find out why the injury occurs so we can make necessary modifications.

Is Ashtanga bad for knees?

No, it is not, but goal oriented practice is. We have to be very mindful practicing ashtanga yoga.

Arddha Baddha Padmottanasana, Janu sirsansana C, Mukha Eka Pada Paschimottonasana just to name some of the knee-dangerous asanas that have been injuring students due to stubborn attempts to get into the pose with a no-pain-no-gain attitude.

Ashtanga Yoga is physically demanding and so dangerous for anyone who cannot do lotus properly. It is so often connected with things like knee-pain and inflammation. The knee is most vulnerable when it is bent with an external rotation of the hip when the front of the thigh moves to the outside of the hip.

Generally speaking, one of the most vulnerable components of Ashtanga yoga is repeated pressure on the lateral knee ligaments since the practice sequence repeats almost daily. For the students who are not so flexible, the practice can cause the repetitive stress syndrome.

I’ve heard from and worked with a number of physical therapy (physiotherapy) patients who suffered MCL, LCL or other knee injuries that began in their Ashtanga practice. Usually, this was from a Mysore-style practice, sometimes from teacher adjustments. I’ve also fielded many email inquiries from students about Ashtanga and knee pain. - Dr. Ariele Foster, Yoga Anatomy Academy

In the beginning of my ashtanga yoga practice after just a couple of months of practice, I have thorn left knee's lateral collateral ligament (LCL) which connects the outer thigh bone to the outer shin bone. That happened 10 years ago and still, I have a problem with the above-mentioned asanas.

Regarding Astanga being a balanced practice, the first series (primary) has a lot of forwarding folding in it. The vinyasas become the counterpose and are peppered through the practice. But this works solely in the Sagittal plane. Some dedicated and skilled Astanga teachers are increasingly questioning the balance of the series in light of growing scientific knowledge, and encouraging variations, making up their own sequences sometimes. – Ruth H., yoga therapy practitioner, trained in Ashtanga Yoga

Over the years, I have learned that Ashtanga Yoga is not defined as the mastery of asanas although for many, many practitioners the goal of Ashtanga is binding the hands in Marichyasana D in order to progress through primary series or standing up from a backbend in order to move to intermediate series.

Frankly speaking, goals like this are very harmful. I just like many other practitioners will never be able to bind in Marichyasana D. People will compromise their knees in order to get into the posture. So Marichyasana D becomes the source of a medial meniscus tear.

As Pattabhi Jois used to say, “Health will result from good yoga, ill-health will result from bad yoga.” Clearly, the goal-oriented Ashtanga practice is a bad yoga.