The Yoga Sutra guides our practice to be “steady and easeful.” Every practitioner—stiff or flexible—is invited to balance these qualities in order to create a practice that is sustainable and functional. In my Hatha Stretch Spring class, I was blessed with audience of a full spectrum of womanhood – from 20’ to 70+ so a new challenge occurred: HYPERMOBILITY.
We were born with a certain tone to our connective tissue: People with hypermobility tend to have looser connective tissue, which means that structures composed of connective tissue—such as joint capsules, ligaments, and tendons—will tend to be more mobile.
Functional Yoga is not about putting a foot behind your head, joints need to be stable in order to be functional. In a highly mobile practice like yoga, the stiffer practitioner is protected from overstretching by the inherent tightness of their body, but the hypermobile practitioner may risk their natural flexibility and destabilizing their joints.
HYPERMOBILE YOGIS can often hyperextend their joints. In the knees and elbows, hyperextension is apparent when the angle in the joint goes beyond 180 degrees.
For a hypermobile yogi, it can be tempting to “sit” in the end range of a joint’s available motion when they are weight bearing with straight arms (such as in plank pose) or straight legs (such as in triangle pose) rather than support the pose through muscular activation.
“Does this mean that hypermobile people should not practice yoga?”
Of course, not! However, in order to fully reap the benefits of their yoga practice, they need to resist exploiting their natural mobility and instead work to cultivate stability in their practice.
Here are five tips to help keep a hypermobile practitioner safe and strong.
1. Keep a slight bend in your joints. Pay particular attention to poses in which you bear weight through straight arms, like plank. If you micro-bend your elbows here so you don’t rest in your ligaments and instead force your muscles to do the work this will help keep your joints stable.
Also pay attention to straight-legged standing poses such as triangle pose (trikonasana) and pyramid pose (parsvottanasana). When you are straightening the leg, press into the ball of the foot and actively press the top of the shin forward to keep a microbend in the knee. Although the slight bend will make the pose feel harder, you will be cultivating the strength that your joints need to stay functional.
2. Yoga styles matter – choose it wisely. If you’re hypermobile, seek out practices that focus on strengthening rather than only lengthening. For example, you probably don’t need to stretch out your connective tissue in a yin class! Hatha and power classes may be a better option for balancing your natural mobility and give you the opportunity to develop strength.
3. Use your feet to protect your knees. As a rule of thumb, place your weight in your heels during bent-knee standing poses and into the balls of your feet for straight-legged standing poses. Keeping your weight in the heel of the front leg during poses like warrior II (virabhadrasana II) and extended side angle (parsvakonasana) will help keep pressure away from the front of the knee by activating the glutes and lessening the pull of the quadriceps. Weighting the ball of your foot in straight-legged poses like pyramid and half-moon (ardha chandrasana) will encourage the hamstrings to engage, which will create a slight flexion in the knee joint, helping you to avoid hyperextension.
4. Search stability and strength. Maintain balanced muscular engagement by keeping the stretching tissues active. In straight-arm poses like plank, pull your hands slightly toward each other to engage the biceps. In seated poses like head to knee pose (janu sirsasana) or seated forward fold (paschimottanasana), resist the full-range stretch of your hamstrings by slightly pulling your heels toward your sitting bones. While your muscles do not need to be 100 percent activated during these stretches, maintaining some muscular engagement will keep your joints supported and prevent hyperextension.
5. Don’t seek for a STRETCHING SENSATION.
“When you are flexible, it may be tempting to take the pose as far as it can go. Don’t do it – take only 80%.”
Rather than seek out the end range of your movement, practice at 80 percent of your range. We sometimes think that we have to be “feeling it” in order to be “getting it.” For hypermobile yogis, backing off (and not having a stretching sensation) can be healthier for the body in the long run. Check in and make sure that your ego isn’t driving the bus.
Rather than seek out the end range of your movement, practice at 80 percent of your range.
Remember that the goal of yoga is not turning ourselves into human pretzels; the physical shapes/ form of our bodies we make are the vehicles for a far deeper purpose: mindfulness, self-awareness, and self-connection.
“Happy and healthy stretching!”
See you in our classes:
Posted by Veronika Prielozna, Hatha Stretch Programs @ Oak Bay Monterey, Victoria, BC @ the present time.
A post was inspired by Hatha Stretch class conversation + the article of Rachel Schott
One thought on “HATHA STRETCH: Hypermobility – “blessing and a curse!””
Hello back, thank you for reminding yourself healthy boundaries in your stretch practice. Happy Spring to you!