A Holistic Yoga Practice for Hypermobility
Looking back, I sometimes think that if my mum would have put me into a circus when I was a kid, by I could now be one of those performers we call “snake-human” in German (aka Schlangenmensch): a performer who can excessively bend their whole body into the most impossible poses, like bringing the feet over the shoulders and under the head, also known as contortion.
Luckily, my mum never thought about this idea, when the orthopedist diagnosed me with “extra long ligaments”. Recurring pain in both of my heels brought on by walking for long periods of time brought us to the doctor and earned me a long-term excuse for not participating at the sports class in school. Before that, I never questioned the wide range of motion I had and the hyperlordosis of my spine. I received inlays for my shoes and the probably good-intentioned comment
“You will grow out of it when you are older.”
Well, I’m older now but my ligaments are still providing me with a greater range of motion than other people can achieve (maybe the doctor meant that I will grow taller…that didn’t work out). My best party trick was to put a glass on the lower part of my back and bring my upper body into a straight upward position without dropping the glass. When I started practicing Yoga and later joined a Yoga Teacher Training, the first comment I got from my friends was something like
“Great idea, you are so flexible, Yoga seems to be meant for you!”
The funny thing is that I shared this view and I was excited to see myself go deep into some poses which others couldn’t reach – without practicing them. Pushing myself from the floor directly into Full Wheel – no problem! Almost creating a C-shape with my back while being in Cobra – easy!
Doing Yoga = Bending?
If you look at Yoga magazines, Instagram profiles or Yoga videos, you’ll notice that the ideal yogi promoted through images is: a young, lean and pretty female showing Asanas which need a great amount of flexibility and range of motion like One-legged Pigeon Pose or Full Dancers Pose.
Even within Asanas which are a bit less exotic like Cobra or Standing Forward Bend, the often-heard instruction in Yoga classes is to bend as much as possible. And if not instructed, you just need to look to the mats around you and the ambitioned practitioners next to you to conclude that deeper is better.
Encouraged by the general trend in the Yoga industry to reach your limits and challenge yourself, you might perceive the goal of the practice to reach an excessive amount of flexibility in yoga poses – even if it hurts.
Holistic Yoga Practice for Hypermobility
Based on my own experience, I’d like to encourage you to consider the risks and danger that this attitude can bring to your Yoga practice if you born in a hypermobile body.
Maybe this perspective helps: even though your ligaments allow a great range of motion, this doesn’t mean that the rest of your body is happy with it! Joints, bones and connective tissue are protected by the limited range of motion in the ligaments. This protection is not working if the joints are challenged into positions which are not beneficial or even harmful when often performed.
As the body is a complete structure made of different systems like the skeletal system, the muscular system, the connective tissue system and so on, it might make sense to take all of them into consideration while practicing physical activities.
Probably due to sustained deep stretching I started to develop lower back and hip problems. It was only when I started my training to become a Yoga Teacher when the whole perception about my flexibility changed for me. Engaging more with the values and deeper layers of Yoga and Buddhist principles it became more and more clear that the goal might not be to become the most flexible, but rather resilient.