The growing awareness and enthusiasm for fitness regimes has led to the popularity of many systems of exercises. Yoga is one such system that is thought of by some as a path to religion and spirituality and by others as a panacea for almost all health problems. As with any exercise system, sometimes an uninformed avidness can result in injuries and harm. There is an incredible amount of online literature on yoga, and there now seem to be as many styles as teachers of yoga. What I am writing here are my personal views, which are always evolving, and I by no means claim being an absolute authority on yoga.
However, as a person with Joint Hypermobility Syndrome (JHS) and having grown up among yoga practitioners, I want to share my experiences with other people living with JHS.
Yoga = Flexibility?
Yoga in a popular view is synonymous with flexibility and contorted positions, but for me, it has always been about wellness, balance and meditation. My childhood yoga teacher taught us about the eight limbs of yoga: yama (ethics and code of conduct) and niyama (self-discipline), asana (wellness, postures and harmony in your body), pranayama (breath control), dharana (control over emotions and senses), pratyahara (concentration), dhyana (meditation and self-reflection) and Samadhi (transcendence in meditation). Asana is what comprises of the various postures we popularly associate with yoga. So the final goal is not to make the body flexible, but to achieve self-mastery and inner harmony in every sense. As long as I remember this, there is no need for me to push myself to contorted positions. The calming aspects of yoga have helped me deal with acceptance of my condition and losses in life, and with my anxiety problem.
The Local Yoga School
I would strongly recommend against joining any yoga class just because it is near you. The yoga classes in general cater to people who are largely there to increase their flexibility. The programs or set of exercises they offer are often unfit for people with hypermobility. Having struggled to find out about yoga classes in Europe that would benefit me, I found out two options:
1. A qualified and experienced yoga teacher familiar with hypermobility. They should be willing to offer you a separate class or personalized advice- focusing on balance and posture and building core strength. Many positions of pilates are based on yoga. Most schools or gyms offering ashtanga yoga focus on complex postures and rapid movements, vinyasa.
2. Iyengar Yoga. Unlike other styles of yoga, an Iyengar yoga practitioner cannot just learn yoga and start their own classes. The teachers have to be certified by the school of Iyengar yoga, and cannot start teaching without being certified. Iyengar yoga focuses greatly on stability and strength and a student must master a posture to proceed to a next posture. If you can find an Iyengar yoga teacher and get a customized coaching, it can benefit you greatly.
Yoga in Hypermobility
People with hypermobility often have lax ligaments and tight muscles. When attempting to do stretches, which should stretch and length the muscles, we often end up damaging the tight muscles and using our hypermobile joints to achieve the position and thus injuring the ligaments. It is important to not to focus on the postures, rather you must stop short of completing the full posture so that you do not hyperextend your joints. A wonderfully rich resource for hypermobile people interested in yoga is Jess’s practice blog, by a yoga teacher, who is hypermobile herself. This post by Jess is about yoga for hypermobile people and has a wealth of pointers for yoga teachers. My personal struggle is about remembering to micro-bend the bends of my knees. I have extremely poor proprioception in my knees and I have absolutely no idea how much I am hyperextending unless I look in a mirror. Read the pointers and you will recognize some of the pointers that are very important for you.
Yoga by itself is not contraindicated for hypermobile people. It is advisable to consult your doctor or physiotherapist before you start a program. Find a qualified instructor and start only after a thorough discussion. Create limits and try to remember them. I constantly remind myself, “Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.” Instead of short and fast movements and vinyasa, it is better to prefer slow and deliberate movements and strength building stances. And finally, focus on posture and your core.
Have you tried yoga with a hypermobility condition? Do share your experience!
By: Karin (read more about ME here)