Paula's Tai Chi in Conversation

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Every now and then we all have moments of inspiration, and on this page we share some of those nuggets of thought.

Some nuggets are in response to direct questions about tai chi and its beneifts, other nuggets are reflections based on the experience gained from over 20 years experience as a teacher of Chen Style tai chi.

Spiralling Energy tai chi and suffering knee pain. How to protect your knees when exercising

Knee Strain through Exercise

Why am I suffering from knee strain?!


I have experienced knee pain in the past. And I have seen others take time away from tai chi to recover from various knee injuries.


It's no fun when you are experiencing knee injury from exercise. Today I am writing after a night disturbed by an aching knee. How does it happen? How can we guard against it happening again?


How can this injury happen to me when I regularly instruct others to look after their knees during exercise?


I tried a new form of exercise. I went to an online class for flexibility using ballet barre exercises. It was excellent, and I was very enthusiastic in my response to the instructor's directions.


I listened to the guidance from my teeacher on looking after the knees. I paid attention to my knees, focusing on my knees' alignment with my foot. I plié like the instructor. I sucked in my bottom and tensed my abdominal muscles. I pulled my calf muscles tighter and tighter, extending my leg out straight, pointing my toes with determined force.


On reflection, I was not thinking of my knees at all, I was thinking of my feet looking like a top-class ballerina, living the dream.

Spiralling Energy Tai chi painful knees. How to protect the knee during exercise

And Plie... knees in line with feet

And here is the common flaw. It's part of the human condition.


As instructors, we talk about protecting the knees and aligning the knees with the toes. We speak about not over balancing and putting a strain on the knee.

In the small hours of last night, with my knee keeping me awake, I got to wondering about the process of communication.


By talking about not injuring the knee, do we set ourselves up to damage the knee?


The problem with talking about protecting the knee by moving the foot is we don't know our own limitations.


With your attention in your foot movement, you are more likely to over-rotate, and cause problems in your knee because you have belief in your incredible powers of flexibility.


My teaching style has adapted over time to address this thought process. I now say move the weight across to the other leg and sink your weight down in that supporting leg, feeling into the ground.


With the weightlessness of the empty leg you can easily turn in the hip joint. This feels much more directed to the source of our movement as it is the hip joint that is often very stiff.


Moving with ease


To look at this from another direction. Try this out. Sit on a bench or stool that allows you to sit comfortably with your legs dangling. Relax your legs and swing your feet in circles. You can see there is a lot of play in the knee. Or is there? Looking more carefully, there is movement in the hip joint to accommodate the circling action of the lower legs.


Going back to the class instructions, if you are asked to move your foot and be aware of your knee, your attention is on the foot's movement. The last place you are focusing on is the movement in your hip.


So next time, whatever class you take, whatever instructions you are following, think about what joint in your body is doing the moving, and focus on that joint. The results will be amazing, and you will sleep well at night.

Did you like this article?

If so, Spiralling Energy offers online tai chi classes that you can watch anytime, anywhere. New classes become available every Tuesday and Saturday. Our teaching style is informal and encouraging. You can exercise, learn something new from the confort of your own home. You only need a meter square of space, and loose clothing.

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