I recently attended a one-day workshop called “Hypermobility on the Mat” with Jess Glenny. Jess isn’t a doctor or a subject matter expert, but she is a yoga practitioner of more than 30 years’ experience (in a hypermobile body) and a senior yoga teacher. She researches, reads and writes extensively on the topic of hypermobility and yoga.
To set the scene, the term “double-jointed” is a misnomer – after many hours of anatomy training, I can promise that hypermobile people don’t have extra joints! Simply put, a hypermobile joint is one which has an excessive range of motion. This might be due to the particular shape of the bones making up that joint, either congenitally or as a result of trauma. If it is the result of a genetic factor, then the collagen (a structural protein in our connective tissue) is impacted, meaning laxity in, amongst other things, all ligaments.
Hypermobility runs in my family, and, in our case, can be attributed to a particular gene. Also present in my family are various forms of arthritis, fibromyalgia and eye conditions, which are linked.
Jess’ workshop really opened my eyes to the extensive list of other conditions that have been linked with hypermobility – from common life experiences through to debilitating illnesses. Just to cite a small number of examples, hypermobile people can also:
Hypermobility is pretty common – up to a third of the population might be impacted to some degree, and it is even more common amongst yogis (as well as footballers, musicians and dancers).
Practiced with care and non-dogmatically, yoga can help in a number of different ways. It can bring relief from aches and pains, and teach us to work with these sensations in our bodies, encouraging us not to ignore or fixate on them. Breath work can release trauma and aid insomnia (explored in the last instalment of Friday Featuring). Asana (postural practice) can improve proprioception, body awareness, strength and self-confidence. The challenge for hypermobile practitioners is to stabilise their joints before they reach their full range of motion; to avoid pushing past a line which, when crossed too often or by too far, results in injury. As well as being physically challenging, this asks us not to strive, or rather to strive just the right amount. Difficult in yoga, so difficult in life.
For yoga practitioners and teachers, we can do more than “microbend your elbows” and “don’t lock out your knees”. Here’s a quick canter through some of the adjustments that I make to my own practice and teaching:
All that said, the thing that I have found most helpful is to do some form of breath-led movement each day. When in pain, it is easy to pull into yourself for fear of making it worse, and sometimes the right thing to do is simply to rest. But, especially in the morning, which is the hardest time for me to find comfort in my body, I have found that disciplining myself to do whatever I am capable of that day is definitely the road to a less painful day, and hopefully a good quality life.
“An authentic practice emerges, resonates, informs, pleasures. It has the capacity to repattern and recalibrate on a whole-person level. It leads us into the centre of our experiences and reveals increasingly subtle sensations, emotions, and mental and nervous system activities, so that over a period of time, the practising body becomes an ever more intelligent system. This is an intimate and personal process, and it remains the exclusive property of the person experiencing it.”
I’m very interested in hearing more from hypermobile yoga practitioners and teachers. Please do share your experience below.
Breathe, make space, be compassionate.
For more about Jess and her work, have a look at her website and her blog. Her article about yin yoga and hypermobility is here. She also runs a Facebook group called Hypermobility on the Mat.
Along with the workshop, she provided a useful resource guide, including links to books, articles and to this talk by Leslie Kaminov, co-author of the seminal text book, ‘Yoga Anatomy’. He answers the question, ‘How much flexibility is the right amount of flexibility?’ He’s brilliant.
To read more about the ‘continuum of embodiment’, including a fuller explanation of the terms exteroception, proprioception and interoception (particularly in respect of pain sensation), have a look at this article by Bo Forbes. She’s also brilliant.