It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that Yoga is often seen as the ability to be super bendy, often seeing some pretty extraordinary positions that people can get their body into. Yoga teachers will commonly hear someone say ‘Oh I couldn’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough!’, which demonstrates how widespread this belief is. The most common misconception about yoga is that you’re ‘better’ at it, the more flexible you are. This is simply untrue.
It’s a balance between strength and flexibility. In fact, if you are one of those super bendy people, it might not be the gift you envisage. Hypermobility can end up being very damaging for long term joint stability.
So What is Hypermobility?
The general answer is the people who are able to easily move their joints into a deeper range of motion than is ‘normal’. This can be spotted fairly easily in some instances, often when a person has the ability to look as if they are almost bending their joints ‘backwards’ – like in fingers, elbows and knees.
Whilst some people naturally have connective tissue that has more ‘give’, others have connective tissue that’s tighter. The hypermobile tend to have looser connective tissues, so ligaments and tendons happen to be more mobile. In severe cases, joint hypermobility can be painful and need medical attention, but for those 10-20% of the population that have general hypermobility, a little bit more care needs taking for movement and stretching.
Should I Practice Yoga at all if I am Hypermobile?
Yoga can be practised by any one that can breathe, so hypermobility certainly doesn’t buy exemption! Every person brings different issues and ailments to the mat and a key job for all is to be your own best teacher, adjusting the poses and the practice for your own body.
Because of the broad range of benefits, people attend yoga for all sorts of different reasons, but if you’re doing yoga because you’re super bendy and love showing off your ability, time to think again.
Letting go of the notion that ‘success’ in a yoga class is being the bendiest person in the room is important. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should and if anything, having hypermobility is an excellent lesson in not letting the ego control you. It’s also key that you recognise the need to modify your practice so you are safe.
Physical wellness is about balance and joints are no exception. In order for your joints to function properly, they must have the appropriate support from the muscles around them and as someone with hypermobility, this should be one of your focal points.
How Do I Practice Yoga Safely if I Have Hypermobility?
It’s important to be even more aware of what’s going on in your body, constantly assessing if the alignments given feel OK in your body. It is always entirely acceptable to adjust your stance according to whats right for your body, regardless of what anyone else in the class is doing or even what the teacher is saying.
Top Tips to Keep Your Joints Safe During Yoga:
Aim For Less Stretch
Remember, you are already bendy if you’re hypermobile, so your goal isn’t to stretch, it’s to stabilise! Try to resist aiming for your end of range when stretching, instead go for around 80%. (Only you know where that point is, so attention is vital!). When you go for maximum stretch you’ve gone beyond the point of being able to support the joint through muscular engagement. When you dump pressure on your joints like that, you’re effectively stretching ligaments and tendons in an intense way. Gradually the overstretched connective tissues can no longer support the bones and function of the joint collapses.
Stabilise the Pose
Engage the muscles you’re stretching and this prevents overstretching – simply because you can’t stretch a muscle that’s not relaxed! This resistance stops hyperextention because you’re unable to go any further into the stretch and therefore dump into the joints. For example, in a seated forward try pulling your heels towards your sit bones to resist full hamstring stretch range.
Just using a little bit of muscular intervention can really help and you can support your flexibility from the deep muscles in your body. Your intention should be to maintain your range of motion and joint function, whilst using strength.
Bend Your Joints
Try keeping a minute bend in your elbows and knees for poses that are weight bearing. If you’re in plank, take a micro-bend in the arms to stop you from dumping into your elbow joint, instead forcing your arm muscles to activate. In standing poses like triangle, watch that your knees aren’t pushing back at an angle beyond 180 degrees (you’ll know because they’ll look like they are bowing). If your leg is straight, then press hard down into the ball of your foot and unlock the knee joint by putting a tiny bend in it. The pose becomes more challenging, but you’re building up strength to help your joints keep stable, which is exactly what you want!
Knees are weight bearing joints which can be very hard to correct if things go wrong! It’s especially important to keep muscles around the knees nice and strong. In standing bent knee poses like Warrior 2 or Extended side angle pose, keep the alignment exact with the knee over the ankle and press the weight down through your front heel. This activates the glutes (bottom) and reduces the pull on the quadriceps. For standing straight leg poses like half-moon or pyramid, keep the weight pressing down in the ball of the foot, so as to activate the hamstrings. This creates that microbend in the knee joint avoiding the hyper extension.
Avoid Yin Yoga
If you have hypermobility, it’s probably best you stay away from yin yoga, as this is focused on joints and increasing connective tissue length! Hatha or vinyasa flow are good options for you.
Finally – try to remember, the goal of yoga is not how good we are at asana (poses). The goal of yoga is to live a more peaceful, connected existence. We use our bodies simply as a tool to navigate us toward a calmer mind and ego should not play a part in this! Through a yoga practice we aim to increase concentration and find mental discipline, so what better way to do that than have full awareness and control over our bodies?
Try a yoga class in Guildford this Autumn & Winter at Mary Ann Weeks Aveda. Our hand selected teachers are some of the best in the area and all are keen to help you develop a practice to suit your body and needs.