Contrary to myth, it’s actually the bendy, flexible yoga students that are more susceptible to injury through their yoga practice, writes yoga instructor and educator Lisa Greenbaum.
The most common excuse for why people can’t do yoga is still ‘I’m not flexible enough’. The irony is that increased mobility experienced with a regular yoga class is best served to those who are ‘inflexible’. In fact, it’s our ‘bendy’ students, our ex-gymnasts and dancers or those born with more joint mobility, that need to be most careful in their practice and are at the biggest risk of joint injury from yoga. Why? Because they often end up using their flexibility and joint mobility to hold the poses over muscular strength, therefore straining the joints and leading to chronic injury and pain.
What does hypermobility look like?
In Warrior 2 or Extended Side Angle, rather than drawing up through the pelvic floor muscles to keep the pelvis supported and neutral, a sinking is allowed, bringing the hip below the front knee. When this happens, we cannot properly engage the front quad and hamstring. Rather than resisting gravity to support the pose and build strength, we are sitting inside our hip joint asking it to hold up the rest of our body.
Back extensions such as Camel, Bow or Wheel are also culprits. Once again, there is a lack of support in the pelvic floor, now coupled with a lack of core engagement, resulting in the vertebrae being used as a hinge rather than supporting the vertebrae by lifting up. We sink into T12-L1 junction in an attempt to get deeper in the pose. Over time, when extensions are performed this way, one can experience an impingement in the vertebrae, nerve damage and overall unease.
How can yoga benefit hypermobility?
Yoga benefits hypermobility by increasing strength! By understanding proper and safe alignment, and ultimately the bandhas or locks of the body, we can feel the balance of tension in the pose.
- Root lock, or the lift of the pelvic floor muscles, stabilises the pelvis and sacroiliac joint and draws strength through the transverse abdominus.
- Belly lock is our core muscles wrapping around our spine like a belt, drawing in towards the navel in front and back.
- Throat lock helps to ensure our cervical spine is supported through back extensions, so the head doesn’t drop back.
These locks provide structure for poses, so we can feel both internal strength and external softness at the same time. This ensures the action of the pose is felt by the muscles and the joints are stabilised, giving space for even slight micro movements.
When we look at hypermobility and yoga we need an understanding of where the focus should be in the body. For those with less sensation in the joints we will also have less sensation in certain postures, and this is OK.