During my asana practice on my YTT, my teacher told me I have hyper mobile joints, particularly my knees, back and arms / shoulders.
What is hyper mobility?
My understanding is that there needs to be a balance of stability and mobility in the joints to produce a healthy range of motion.
In a ‘normal’ body, ligaments are tight enough that joints are restricted to a healthy range of motion – this makes joints more stable. In hyper mobile joints, the ligaments become too loose and the muscles become weak around the joints. This leads to joints that easily move beyond the expected range of motion.
My experience of hyper mobility
When I started Yoga 3 years ago, I realised that I was able to get into back bends with ease and was able to hold down dog for a long time without feeling any fatigue. I have never had to be conscious of my muscles or ligaments shouting at me to stop when they’ve reached their limit – instead they’ve gone beyond that point and it actually feels comfortable there.
So what’s the problem?
The more mobile a joint is, the more at risk it is of being unstable and this can lead to a greater risk of injury. One example of this for me is downward facing dog. I often lock my elbows out, meaning the stabilising muscles are relaxed and my whole body weight is in the ligaments. Ligaments aren’t designed to sustain weight, so this can lead to potential problems such as inflammation and tearing.
Also, when the ligaments aren’t working properly, the surrounding muscles work overtime to stabilise and protect it – this is called ‘protective tension’ and can lead to muscle tightness. This makes sense to me as I often feel really tight in my hamstrings and sometimes shoulders.In addition to this, yoga teachers can sometimes mistake hyper mobility for flexibility and can encourage students to try and get deeper into poses – this has definitely happened to me in my yoga classes. However, I believe this is partly my fault as I developed ego-driven intentions with my yoga practice, often pushing myself to get into the ‘prettier’ or ‘more advanced poses’ at the expense of safety and ease. So how does knowing this change my practice?
The most important thing for me is being fully present and aware in postures. I need to practice ahimsa (non harming) and move in ways that will focus more on building strength instead of always trying to go deeper into a pose. In fact, it would be better for me to back off a little in postures to help stabilize my joints.
I have started to modify many of the postures that I do regularly in my practice, such as:
– Taking a slight bend in the elbows in down dog / plank pose/ reverse plank etc to avoid hyper extending the elbows / shoulders
-Taking a slight bend in the knees in postures such as tadasana, triangle, pyramid etc to avoid hyper extending / locking out the knees
-Avoiding jumping back to chaturanga / plank etc to avoid musculoskeletal issues
– Avoiding hot yoga as the heat loosens joints even further and may cause me to go even further beyond my range of motion
I am also considering looking into starting some strength / weight training to help rebuild muscle strength around the joints.
How will this affect my teaching?
Being more aware of my own hyper mobile joints will help me work with students who also have hyper mobility. Over time, I’ll learn how to identify hyper mobility, how to modify postures, help students learn to back off from poses rather than always deepening etc