If I had a nickel for every time a new student walked into my studio with the diagnosis of hyper-mobility I would (after almost 20 years of teaching yoga) have many nickels to my name.
But if I had to say just how many of them were right, that they could truly exhibit something beyond the normal, average range of motion that any trained yoga practitioner could easily demonstrate, I’d be willing to wager that I could count them all on one hand.
At the moment I can think of three, but only one person stands out as memorable.
She came to me with chronic low back pain. As I moved her through my standard yoga mobility test she performed perhaps the deepest Standing Forward Bend that I had ever seen, but then followed it with a truly tortured attempt at Cobra posture. Trying to press her chest off the floor from a prone position resulted in barely a one-inch gap between her sternum and the mat.
And that my friends, is a real problem.
There is a lot of discussion in today’s yoga industry around the concept of hyper-mobility, and while it is a worthy topic regarding a discipline capable of being abused, I believe that it’s also largely misdiagnosed.
Hyper-mobility is a term that refers to an excessive range of motion in a joint. It can be a condition certain individuals are born with, and it can also be a potential hazard of improperly practicing yoga postures.
Hyper-mobility is generally associated with ligament laxity, a condition where the short bands of fibrous tissue that stabilize our joints are stretched beyond their original length and stay there permanently. Lax ligaments can no longer create stability and often become a source of chronic pain and injury.
Lengthening your ligaments is therefore not a desirable outcome of your yoga practice. It’s the muscles (and their associated fascia) that we are after mobilizing, and this happens as the result of short fixations (30 seconds or less) in yoga postures with an emphasis on repetition, rather than long fixations (2 minutes or more) in static positions. The former is the method used in Adamantine® Yoga.
But often times the yoga postures most traditionally prized (not just the means of attaining them) are themselves associated with a necessary degree of hyper-mobility. Seated positions like Lotus and deep back bends like Wheel have been criticized for requiring that the joints exceed their normal range of motion.
But I have to wonder, normal compared to what?
If compared to the average deconditioned western adult (which by current estimates is 97% of all people in the United States) then simply touching your toes could be considered a form of hyper-mobility.
Or when compared to the mobility of any avid participant in today’s violent exercise culture (a marathoner, cross-fitter, body-builder, or kick boxer) then yes, a yoga practitioner would appear to have a super-hero like range of motion.
But from a yoga teacher’s perspective on mobility the people in the aforementioned subgroups are miserably tight and would clearly benefit from augmenting their current exercise program with an equal (if not greater) dose of flexibility training.
The problem I find in the bodies I train daily is not and never has been hyper-mobility. It’s a lack of balance in the range of motion of the major joints. Excess can only be determined relative to lack in another direction, and most often when this imbalance has been rectified symptoms dissipate.
The sequence of Adamantine® Yoga is my opinion of what a balanced body moves like at an optimum level of functionality. But how you use the sequence can determine whether or not you create potential areas of hyper-mobility relative to areas of restriction, and the further you progress in the postures the more important this becomes.
This coming Friday, April 1st, at 6 pm CST, I will be workshopping ‘Mobility, Hyper-mobility, and Bringing Your Body to Balance’ as part of this month’s First Friday Forum. I plan on taking this discussion much further and exploring the potential pitfalls and possible risks for those of us who practice yoga.
If you can’t join us in person, please consider tuning in as we broadcast this event live via Periscope. If you’re not already on Periscope you can download it free in the App Store. Please join us by following Adamantine Yoga, and be sure to turn your notifications on to be alerted when we begin.