Hypermobility in Yoga
What is Hypermobility Syndrome?
- The joint hypermobility syndrome is a condition that features joints that easily move beyond their normal expected range.
- Hypermobile joints tend to be inherited.
- Often joint hypermobility causes no symptoms and requires no treatment.
- Hypermobility is a spectrum that ranges from mild to severe
- Hypermobile joints are sometimes referred to as “loose joints,” and those affected are referred to as being “double jointed.”
- Hypermobility tends to decrease as people get older and less flexible (not true for yogis of course)
How Common is Hypermobility in Yoga Practitioners?
During my teacher training I was told, you probably won’t see hypermobility in your yoga classes very often, but it became apparent over the duration of our training that many of my fellow students were hypermobile (to varying degrees). While some had been diagnosed, others hadn’t been aware of their hypermobility prior to our training. I therefore began to question whether, rather than being a rarity in a yoga class, hypermobility was actually far more common than initially thought. It doesn’t feel like too far a leap to think that those who are naturally predisposed to flexibility would be drawn to an activity in which flexibility is somewhat revered. Regular yoga practitioners will know that yoga is a combination of both flexibility and strength, of sthira (strenghth) and sukha (ease), but this is not as synonymous with yoga for beginners who may see yoga as only related to flexibility.
sthira sukham asanam (translated as: A steady comfortable posture) - Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Sutra 2.45.
People with hypermobility may also find that they are naturally ‘good’ at yoga, but there are some very real dangers of hyperextending your body beyond its normal range. In your normal day to day activities your hypermobility is unlikely to affect you. However, during yoga practice you are actively encouraged to push your body beyond its normal range. Which is all well and good if your starting point is a normalised range of movement, but if you’re body is already very loose and flexible you may run the risk of joint or ligament injury.
Yoga positions such as Full Lotus force external hip rotation, and may damage the ligaments and cartilage around the knees, warns instructor Lee Crews, in an article on the International Dance Exercise Association website. Crews also warns that postures such as Downward-facing Dog, which involve supporting your weight with your upper body, may overstretch the shoulder joints and damage the surrounding bursae sacs. Overstretching these muscle groups weakens them, making them less efficient at supporting your weight during impact activities.
Listen to your body
A hypermobile joint will not necessarily emit the same pain signals when over extended as a joint with a normalised range of movement. It is therefore crucial that you study and understand your body prior to undertaking any form of exercise. By which I mean learn what does and doesn’t feel good to you. If you happen to be very flexible in the hips, take note of that and be aware that to get the most out of your yoga practice you will need to include strength rather than just flexibility in any hip opening poses.
I love lizard pose, in fact I could probably go to sleep in lizard pose, but only when I allow myself to hang out in the pose. As soon as I engage my core (pulling through the stomach muscles) and engage my thighs the pose becomes very different for me. It then becomes a pose in which I find both strength and ease rather than just ease.
A Hypermobile Yoga Practice
For those that are hypermobile, your yoga practice can still focus on extending your flexibility but it also has to be about finding strength in each pose. To avoid injury you’ll need to tailor your practice to compensate for your hypermobility.
- Stabilise the muscles around your joints by strengthening through light resistance.
- Consider good alignment in each pose
- Refrain from hyperextending the joints – include mirco-bends in both the knees and elbows
- Avoid locking the joints
- Heavy lifting isn’t great for a hypermobile joint (when there isn’t comparative strength in the surrounding muscle), it is therefore a good idea to decrease weight bearing. Look at modifications that allow you to distribute the weight more evenly such as bringing your knees to the floor in plank or chaturanga.
- Compliment your yoga practice with a strengthening routine at the gym.
Are you Hypermobile?
If you think you may be hypermobile you can take the Beighton Score test (link below) which will give you a better idea of your joint mobility. The Beighton score is a simple system to quantify joint laxity and hypermobility. It uses a simple 9 point system, where the higher the score the higher the laxity. In all instances it is always recommended to have any diagnosis confirmed by a medical professional.