YOGA & HYPERMOBILITY: Some tips for the already-flexible yogi

You’re basically a superhuman in training. Add strength to your flexibility and you will be AH-MAZED at what you can do.

Before I dive in, let me first point out two key words in the title of this post: "SOME TIPS".  i.e. there's a WHOLE LOT more that goes into being a hypermobile person, or a person who is hyperflexible (different to hypermobile), and their personal practice of yoga. 

For one thing, we're all different.  Even if you and I have in common that we are both flimsy floppy people who have no trouble throwing our leg up over our heads, we still differ in many many ways.

So these are "some" (i.e. not comprehensive) "tips" (i.e. not rules, just suggestions). 

K...now that's out of the way, I do think it's important to recognise if you yourself are a very flexible person (for whatever reason) who lacks strength, or if you're a yoga teacher who has a very flexible student without the strength to stabilise the joints.

Flexibility seems to be the most coveted result of yoga. It seems like everybody wants to be flexible, and if you're already flexible then you get praised for it. But too much of anything is not good! 

I don't know what it feels like to be inflexible. I do know what it feels like to be weak though. To be able to contort my body around in all sorts of shapes but barely the strength to hold myself upright with proper posture. And that's fun when you're a kid in a gymnastics or dance class, or when you go to your first yoga class and people say to you afterwards "you're so good at yoga!" (whatever that means).

But lemma tell ya, just as being SO sculpted and muscular that you can't even move because you're so rigid isn't healthy (like a noodle of uncooked dry spaghetti), being so flexible that you have no stability also isn't healthy (like overcooked spaghetti). 

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We gotta have a balance.  Flexibility AND strength. (Al-dente spaghetti perhaps?)

But whatever the culinary comparison, it's due to a critical misunderstanding that so many super flexible people get praised for being "good at yoga" 

TANGENT: being "good at yoga" is...what? What exactly? YOGA ISN'T ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO WITH YOUR BODY, OKAY? Yoga is a way to understand yourself so you can detach from your mind and body. It is chitta vritti nirodhah. That's why asana is only one part of yoga.

Anyway.....

So, if you're somebody who can just sink deeper and deeper into a stretch but then you get up to walk out of the class and you feel like your legs are like over-cooked spaghetti, here are some tips to avoid that and make sure you build STRENGTH around your joints so you can still walk when you're old:

  • never sink down and relax into a stretch (for example a low lunge/anjaneyasana) just letting gravity pull you further and further. It may even feel good, but tendons and ligaments (they live near the joints) shouldn’t be stretched

 

  • protect your ligaments by moving into poses with muscle engagement. Most of the time you don't need to think about it because OF COURSE you're going to use your muscles in order to place yourself into a posture or position. But I’m talking about poses where you use hands to pull yourself (seated twists for example), or your use momentum to fling yourself (moving quickly through a transition without control), or perhaps where gravity pulls you (e.g. low lunge).

 

  • when you move into an asana, move back out of it the SAME way you came into it, and do so with control. For example, if you can fold your back in half and drop into wheel, great. But can you come back up to standing? If not, only drop back as far as you're able to come back up again. Then you know you've got the strength to match the flexibility (sometimes even moreso, if you're fighting gravity. BOOM.)

 

  • Move slowly. It takes more strength to move slowly when it comes to postural yoga 

 

  • to break bad habits, go just 50% into an asana and then take note of your core, back, glutes, quads, and check if they’re relaxed, and if you can engage them more. If so, engage them, and THEN move deeper 

 

  • take note of where you use your hands to pull yourself into postures (such as twists) and see how much you can do it hands-free 

 

  • do actual strength-based practice; if all you do is yin or restorative yoga, look for a power yoga or rocket class 

 

Also, if you're a naturally flexible person or perhaps due to your background you just have very lengthened muscles but no strength, this doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be super flexible in ALL areas of the body.

By that I mean that if all your life one area has done all the bending, then you may well be tight (yes tight!) in other areas.

For example, a common area is the lower back doing all the bending and the hip flexors and thoracic spine becoming very immobile. 

Take note as you move if one area of the body is doing all the bending. 

Remember, the hardest work may well be for your ego. 

 

And to finish off: some good news!

Being already flexible ISN'T A BAD THING. This is because you already have a wider range of motion in which to build strength. Whatever position you can already move into is one where you can build strength in! You don't lose have to flexibility by increasing strength. Use your stretchability! 

You're basically a superhuman in training. Add strength to your flexibility and you will be AH-MAZED at what you can do.

 

Now go eat some spaghetti.