Earlier today, I went to my now-monthly acupuncture session. I had originally started going to acupuncture sometime last November/December, after I injured my left knee (see this post for the gory details). Over the last few months, my knee has been slowly but steadily getting better. On most days, I can now get into lotus with little or no discomfort, if I move into it slowly when I bring the left foot into the right hip crease. I am no medical doctor or body worker (this is by way of a disclaimer, so you know I am not trying to proffer medical advice here. I'm just sharing my own very personal experience), but over the path of healing over the last few months, I have found doing the following things to be useful:
(i) Doing hip openers such as baddha konasana (modified to whatever degree you need to modify to avoid the knee pain), double pigeon and (very, very slowly and carefully) siddhasana outside of the practice. For the last few months, I have been doing these postures for between 20 to 50 breaths each before I begin the Surya Namaskars in the morning. Which usually adds about 20 minutes to my total practice time. But I have found it well-worth the effort: Doing these postures mindfully help to open the external hip rotators and lengthen the quadriceps and adductors, taking the pressure off the knee joint.
(ii) In the first few weeks (for me, it was around 6 to 8 weeks) of the injury, when the knee joint is still very inflamed, it is a good idea to modify anything involving lotus or half-lotus postures. Acupuncture really helps to reduce the inflammation, speeding up the healing process. More on acupuncture in a little bit.
(iii) When the inflammation began to subside after a few weeks, I started slowly reintroducing the lotus and half-lotus postures. I have found it very useful to move into these postures by engaging the external rotators and lengthening the adductors and quadriceps rather than simply pulling the foot or ankle into the hip crease. Respect the body's limits; resist the temptation to pull the foot or ankle further into lotus when the hip rotators can bring you no further into the posture.
(iv) If there is pain, you basically have two options: (i) Go no further, (ii) try to see if you can move around the pain rather than through the pain: Depending on the extent and location of your knee injury, it may be possible to bend your knee and move the foot at a particular angle such that you are able to move into lotus or half-lotus without pain (hence "moving around" the painful area). For instance, during a certain phase of the healing process, I discovered that if I close my knee joint first (as if I am going into Mari A) and then slowly move the foot towards the hip crease, I can get into lotus without pain.
Well, it is very difficult to describe things properly on a blog: Maybe I shouldn't even have brought up this idea of moving around pain in the first place, as it can be quite difficult to distinguish between moving around pain and moving through pain sometimes when one is in the heat of practice on the mat. But take this for what it is worth. Remember: I am not proffering medical advice here. So don't come and sue me if you break your knee! And remember: This approach may not work with all knee injuries. It seems to work with mine, so I thought I'll share. If in doubt, simply go no further. Remember, it's your body, when all is said and done. Take good care of it.
Well... I originally started this post intending to talk about acupuncture, but went into this giant segue about practicing with knee injuries. Oh well. You must already know that I am famous for such digressions, if you read this blog regularly; so what's new? Anyway, I guess I should also say a couple of things about acupuncture now, while we're at it. So, as I was saying at the beginning of this post, I started acupuncture to help treat my knee injury. I have found that acupuncture is not a quick fix, at least not for me: When I first started acupuncture, my knee did not get better instantly. But what I have discovered is that acupuncture works on your body the way the tides slowly rise on the ocean. You may not notice anything in any particular body part immediately. But by increasing the level of chi or life energy in your body, acupuncture treatment raises the overall "ocean level" of your body chi over time, so that over time, inflammation is reduced, and your body can undertake the natural process of healing itself without any obstructions. I suppose you can say that acupuncture helps your body to get out of its own way, so that healing can proceed more smoothly. At least that's how I feel it has worked for my body. Again, remember: I am neither a medical doctor nor a bodyworker nor an acupuncturist. All this is just me reporting my own experience.
These days, I go to acupuncture ostensibly to continue treating my knee. But I'm starting to think that the real reason is a bit bigger than that: I have come to see acupuncture as savasana with needles: You basically lie there for half an hour with needles in you, and just "be with the universe", as my acupuncturist would say. In many ways, I see it as the restorative yoga practice I never had :-) So yeah, acupuncture rocks!