Kundalini yoga kriyas and meditations often contain challenging postures and movements of the arms and legs. As someone with prior shoulder injuries, I always approach these cautiously to avoid further injuring myself. While gentle movement can help to lubricate and nourish the joints, improper alignment during kriyas and meditations can aggravate existing injuries or cause new ones. Whenever you practice Kundalini yoga kriyas and meditations, an understanding of the principles of alignment and the function of your joints can keep your body happy and healthy.
Compensation can cause injury.
What often happens in the body is that areas with more flexibility or mobility will compensate for areas which are more restricted/inflexible. For example, the shoulders and hips are ball and socket joints that are able to move almost universally in any direction. This allows for both great mobility, and also opportunity for injuries. The great mobility of the shoulder joint can pick up the slack for tightness or restriction in the upper/thoracic spine. If this happens, rotator cuff injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, and other joint injuries can occur. In the hips, injury can occur when the muscles of the upper legs and thighs (such as the hamstrings) are too tight. The pelvis becomes fixed in place, and the hip joints are unable to move freely, which can cause strain in the hip joints and also in the lower back as the body tries to compensate in forward and backward bends.
Proper Alignment is Key.
Maintaining proper alignment in the body will go a long way to protecting your joints from injuries before they happen. Setting a solid base of support, and moving outward from there allows your joints to move safely. In the case of the shoulders, your shoulder blades can provide a strong foundation for postures and kriyas involving the arms. By sliding the shoulder blades down the back, you will create a lifted chest, a stable central axis with your spine, and an open heart. This will help to take the strain out of your shoulder joint, and allow you to move your arms freely, or to hold them in a mudra as needed.
For your hips, maintaining awareness of the muscles in the upper legs can protect the hip joints. If you have tight hamstrings, maintain a slight bend in the knees to give freedom to the hip joints. This helps to keep the pelvis in a neutral position, rather than being tipped backwards. Proper pelvic alignment will protect the hip joints, and also keep your spine in correct alignment in forward and backward bends.
If you know you have an area of concern, such as a weak wrist or knee, you might also consider using props or wearing braces to help maintain correct alignment and minimize strain to the affected area. In the short term, these can be effective tools to support your practice while you build the flexibility and strength to perform postures correctly on your own.
Taking a few minutes to warm yourself up before beginning a vigorous kriya or a demanding meditation asana is incredibly important. An extreme example would be Bound Lotus kriya, but anything that involves repetitive motion or an intense mudra would benefit from warmup exercises. Moderately paced movements get the blood flowing, begin the process of lubricating the joints, and build up some heat in the body. According to Guru Prem Singh Khalsa, “when the body is warm, it means that its systems are turned on and ready to perform.”
The Bound Lotus manual has quite a few short kriyas and exercises that can be used to warm up the body in preparation for more intense kriyas.
Don’t force yourself.
Whether or not you have prior injuries, it is important to maintain good body awareness throughout any kriya or meditation. There is a big difference between “keeping up” and pushing yourself to do something that your body is not prepared for. If you are practicing a kriya or meditation and feel sudden or sharp pain, stop what you are doing. You can take a short break, and then reset your body with alignment principles in mind. Especially if you are new to yoga, it is better to perform postures correctly for short periods of time, rather than trying to force your body to hold a position incorrectly for the full length called for in the instructions.
Postures and Kriyas for the joints:
In the manual Divine Alignment you could practice “The Kriya to Open your Wings,” which will help you to use your breath and ribcage to expand tight areas of your back and create a stable base of support for your arms and shoulders. There is also a kriya in Sadhana Guidelines, “For the Upper Back and Shoulders,” which can help open the area and create flexibility.
Pigeon pose, both lying on the back and sitting up, can help create flexibility in the hip joints. Also practicing Sun Salutations to gently create length and flexibility in the hamstrings can create freedom of movement in the hip region.
Drinking Golden Milk can give your joints a boost – the turmeric which gives the Golden Milk its color helps the body to create healthy synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the joints, and keeps the ends of bones from touching each other.