Hyper-mobility & yoga

A disproportionally large percentage of people coming to Yoga are hyper-mobile. This propagates the misleading idea that you need to be flexible to do Yoga. Left unwarned, hyper-mobile practitioners also run the risk of injury.

Physiotherapist, Yoga teacher, and former dancer Celeste Pereira spoke to Triyoga Yoga manager Genny Wilkinson Priest on the studio’s podcast Triyoga Talks earlier this month on the topic of hyper-mobility. I learnt so much that I felt compelled to share some insights from their discussion.

“A third of the population is hyper-mobile, or somewhere on the spectrum. In Yoga hyper-mobile people are given so much praise, they finally find something they are good at… so I think it is quite rife in the Yoga community.” Celeste Pereira, speaking on the Triyoga Talks podcast.

Herself hyper-mobile, Celeste was getting injured as both a dancer and a Yoga teacher with every over-split, every deep backbend, and every excessive twist.

A recipe for disaster

Genny tells us: “She soon learned that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In a world where hyper-mobility is celebrated and even fetishised, Celeste pulled back from her naturally bendy body and started speaking some unpopular truths in the Yoga community, warning her students of a reality that they probably would rather not deal with: that playing into hyper-mobile joints in extreme Yoga postures without balancing it out with strengthening postures and practices is a recipe for disaster.”

Playing into hyper-mobile joints in extreme Yoga postures without balancing it out with strengthening postures and practices is a recipe for disaster

Flexibility vs stability

Joint hyper-mobility is often hereditary. One of the main causes is thought to be genetically determined changes to a type of protein found throughout the body called collagen.

If collagen is weaker than it should be, tissues in the body will be fragile, which can make ligaments and joints loose and stretchy. As a result, the joints can extend further than usual.

Spotting hyper-mobile students

Celeste suggests teachers should analyse the body holistically, and observe if the student is really ‘hanging out’ in their ligaments…

“Do they have integrity in the body? Do they collapse in their body when sitting? Are they collapsing into their skeleton and flaring ribs to get the leg up in three-legged dog, or is it coming from their glutes?”

But hyper-mobility is a spectrum, and symptoms present differently in each student.

“I know a lot of people who are not hyper-mobile who can get their leg behind their head, and I know a lot of people who are severely hyper-mobile who cannot get their leg behind their head,” Celeste told Genny.

And at the far end of the spectrum, they can present beyond flexibility, even causing anxiety, Celeste explains: “You have collagen even in your blood vessels. So if you don’t have enough stability around the blood vessels, your body starts pumping out stress hormones to help you cope with the lack of congruence in the systems of the body.”

Helping hyper-mobile students

The components that can help someone who is hyper-mobile are the components that can help anybody, according to Celeste:  “When you start to understand bio-mechanics and you start to move with integrity in the body and you turn on your stability muscles, your life changes. And it’s not just people with hyper-mobility issues, people sitting in chairs more than they are doing any body position has a huge repercussion on their bio-mechanics.”

Celeste also talks about using ‘activation adjustments’ to help students wake up students’ muscles when they are in a posture (i.e. touching the glutes!)

In summary, don’t relax your muscles when you’re in a posture that utilises the range of movement in your joints, we need activation to support the joints.

As always please comment with thoughts and experiences.

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