The "Foundations of Yoga" series is based on topics that we discuss in our weekly Foundations of Yoga Class. Monday's at 5pm UK time. The class is for those that have some yoga experience and want to ask questions about a particular practice. Maybe there is a pose you find difficult, a pranayama practice you would like explained in more detail or you are having problems with a joint and want to know how to modify your practice. The class is an open forum for discussion.
Anatomy of a Joint
Before we get started, here is a brief bit of anatomy about a joint.
A joint is where 2 or more bones meet. The joints we are referring to within this blog are synovial joints.
In a synovial joint, the bones are joined by ligaments and surrounded by a synovial membrane which is filled with synovial fluid.
What is Hyper-mobility?
Hyper-mobility is a condition that effects the joints within your body and makes you more flexible. Technically speaking, your joints can move beyond the normal range of motion, due to the ligaments being more lax. You may have heard people refer to themselves as being "double-jointed". Hyper-mobility effects the connective tissues within your body, (these include, bones, blood and cartilage to name a few) so it is also not isolated to a person's joints. There are varying degrees of hyper-mobility, from it effecting just a few joints through to severe conditions, such as Elhers Danlos.
Flexibility in Yoga
One of the first things people say to me when I tell them I am a Yoga teacher is "Oh, I can't do yoga, I'm not flexible." Those of us that are regular Yoga practitioners will know that it is not about flexibility, but you could be forgiven for thinking that it is. Just search #yoga in Instagram and you will find, literally millions, of pictures of predominantly tall thin white women in almost contortionist poses.
"Westernised Yoga" as I call it, has in some sense glorified being flexible, and how easily people can move into poses. People that have hyper-mobility, may find it really easy to get deep into a pose, and not feel anything at the time, but may have soreness and pain within joints the next day.
Being "inflexible" always seems to have negative connotations, but your joints are in a much more stable and healthy position. As your practice grows you will find that your muscles start to loosen up and increase your flexibility, rather than your ligaments being lax.
How to find out if you are hyper-mobile
There are tests you can do to measure your hyper-mobility, for example the Beighton test.
If you complete the test and find you are hyper-mobile, please do book an appointment with your GP or an Osteopath.
What does this mean?
So you've found out your hyper-mobile, what does this mean for you and your yoga practice? Of course you can still practice yoga, but you need to be more mindful with your practice. The most important thing is to protect your joints and avoid any long-term damage, here are some key tips.
Don't go to your 100% range of motion
Always stay at around 80%. This will help strengthen the muscles around your joints to add more support. Not sure where your 80% is? Go to your full range of motion and then just bring yourself back by 20%.
Keep integrity in the postures
Engage your core, keep your spine straight, think about the parts of your body that are staying still as well as the parts that are moving.
Lift your pelvis
Don't "sink" into your hips, lift yourself up and out of the pose. Again, keep that core engaged.
Listen to your body
If you find you have some pain or discomfort, try to pinpoint what within your practice may have caused the issue. Speak to your teacher to see if they can advise a modification. Just because a teacher tells you to do something in a class, doesn't mean you have to do it. You know your body better than anyone else, do what feels right for you. Whether that's choosing a different pose or making adjustments.
Blocks, bolsters and straps aren't just for those of us that can't get into poses. Use blocks underneath your joints to help support. E.g. Under your hip in pigeon, or under you knees in seated poses.
Try Hatha rather than Vinyasa
Hatha will help you strengthen your muscles to support your joints. Vinyasa is very fast moving, and with your extra flexibility, can cause discomfort or even issues in later life.