Recently I have found an amazing yoga instructor in London, after relocating from South Africa! For the first time my eyes have been opened to the concept of yogis who are hypermobile. I have been attending classes here over the last few months and I’ve regularly heard the term hypermobile being thrown around. I’m quite certain that I have heard this term before but I’ve never actually paid any attention to it and what it means. So I decided to take note and do some research into the consequences for yogis who are hypermobile.
Upon typing hypermobile into google I was astonished when finding that it is in fact referred to as a medical condition! Associated with extreme flexibility and unusual range of motion, the technical definition refers to hypermobility as a syndrome whereby joints can easily move beyond the normal range expected for that particular joint.
There is much discussion around the topic of yoga and hypermobility. Should you be practising yoga if you are hypermobile? The answer is of course yes, why not. As always, it comes down to how you do it. Yoga practised too hard, too fast or pushing yourself to stretch further and further can of course be detrimental. But yoga is a healing and wonderful life-affirming practice that has amazing benefits for everyone. There is some research that has been done to guide yogis who are hypermobile in their yoga practice but in reality they should merely be aware of their condition and listen to their bodies.
Here are a few tips for yogis who are hypermobile
1. Focus on strength, not flexibility
Hypermobility means that you are naturally flexible and therefore your body will push itself deeper and deeper into a posture, more so than is necessary. It’s important to create a balance between strength and flexibility. As one of the popular yoga sutras states “Sthira Sukham Asanam”, yoga should be steady, firm and stable. Those of us with hypermobile joints tend to overextend in postures since our bodies have such a wide range of movement.
Here’s a good example of someone who is hyper-mobile: somebody can push your leg up to your head, but once they let go, your leg falls. While you may have the flexibility to get it there, you lack the strength to keep it in place. In yoga strength and flexibility go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other. We need to make an extra effort to strengthen our muscles if we want to get the maximum benefit out of our yoga practice.
By slightly bending the insides of your elbows and the backs of your knees, you reduce the risk of overuse or injury. These soft bends require your muscles to work harder instead of relying on your flexibility and therefore builds muscle strength! By adding micro-bends to your practice you are guiding postural muscles to support themselves rather than ‘hanging’ in their joints. Once you are in a pose, avoid the temptation to go as deep as you can. Micro-bends better enable you to focus on engaging the muscles around your key joints to ensure they’re all strongly supported.
3. Move slowly
It’s important to take your time to get into poses, ensuring that you are engaging your muscles during the transitions. Become aware of the motion and don’t rush to get into a pose. When practising yoga you need to be mindfully performing each movement and engaging your muscles all the way through to the end pose, rather than getting right into the pose without a second thought. The key aspect is awareness; be aware of what your body’s doing and ensure that you’re not relying on your flexibility to perform a pose.
4. Work on your imbalances
It’s always a good idea to practice the movements and postures that you don’t find easy. This will help you to understand where the body is holding on too tightly and where it needs strengthening. Strong and flexible muscles will often compensate for tighter parts of the body. That’s why it’s important to focus on the weaker parts of the body, to strengthen the muscles that need strengthening.