Many people imagine yoga to be a mystical form of exercise associated with relaxation and meditation. If you've never practiced yoga before, you may have an image in your head of yogis contorting their bodies into strange, uncomfortable-looking positions while wearing an expression of meditative bliss. Yet yoga provides much more than meditation and relaxation benefits. You can use certain yoga poses to strengthen and tone specific muscles in your legs, particularly the quadriceps.
About Your Quadriceps
Your quadriceps are a group of four muscles that sit on the front of your thigh. These muscles are attached to your kneecap, known as the patella, by your quadriceps tendon. The patella is attached to your shinbone by the patellar tendon. The quadriceps, quadriceps tendon and patellar tendon work in unison to straighten and extend your knee. In addition to a more toned, firm appearance, strong quadriceps may provide certain health benefits for your knees. Strong quadriceps are associated with increased knee functioning, decreased knee pain and protect against cartilage loss in the outer part of the patellofemoral joint, according to a study published in the January 2009 issue of the journal, "Arthritis and Rheumatism."
Benefits of Yoga
Strong legs can help you perform many daily activities with greater ease, such as walking up stairs or lifting heavy packages. Yoga can not only help you tone and strengthen your quadriceps, giving your legs a firmer, leaner appearance, it may also provide specific benefits for medical conditions of the knees, such as knee osteoarthritis. In a May 2010 article for "Lower Extremity Review," Dr. Richa Mishra and Dr. Sharon L. Kolasinski report that certain yoga asanas may help knee osteoarthritis by strengthening your quadriceps and alleviating stress on the muscles around your knee. Mishra and Kolasinski suggest Virabhadrasana II, or the Warrior II pose, and Viparita Virabhadrasana, or the Reverse Warrior, to strengthen and develop your quadriceps.
Warrior II Pose
The Warrior II pose is similar to many lunging exercises that focus on your quadriceps. In this pose, you do a lunge to strengthen your quadriceps and firm your gluteal and hip muscles. To perform this pose, start with your feet about 4 feet apart, keeping your hips and toes facing forward. Then turn your right foot to point to the right. Extend your arms straight out at shoulder height. Bend your right knee, coming into a deep lunge. Do not allow your right knee to extend past your right foot. Look straight over your right hand. Hold this pose for up to one minute, then repeat on your left leg.
Reverse Warrior Pose
The Reverse Warrior pose elaborates on the Warrior II pose to further strengthen the quadriceps and stretch your sides and hamstrings. To perform this pose, begin in Warrior II, with your right leg in the lunge position. Firmly contract your quadriceps muscles in both legs to help you maintain stability. Lean your body back over your left leg by reaching up toward the ceiling with your right arm. Continue bending back as far as you can, until you feel a decent stretch on the right side of your body. Rest your left hand on your left calf. Look up at your right hand. Hold this pose for several breaths, then release and repeat on your left leg.
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.