Yoga and Hypermobility

Hypermobility, or double jointedness, is characterised by looser connective tissue and more mobile joints. It sounds like it should be an advantage -more flexibility for getting into harder yoga poses right? However, this can lead to instability. And you need a good balance of flexibility, stability and strength to move safely. Hypermobility is a spectrum rather than something you either do or don’t have. You can measure it by whether or not you can do the following things:

  • Extend the knee backwards beyond straight.
  • Extend the elbow backwards beyond straight.
  • Bend the thumb backwards towards the forearm.
  • Bend the little finger back beyond 90 degrees.
  • Place the hands flat on the floor in a forward fold.

The more of these you can do, the more hyper mobility you have, and so the more care you need to take. 

Avoiding Injury

When you have very mobile joints, it can be easy to “sit” in your full range of motion, whether that is locking the knees in a forward fold or triangle, or sinking very low into the hips in warrior two. However, this can take the stretch out of the muscles and place the tension on your ligaments instead. Over time, this stress can cause weakening or even tearing of the ligaments. Instead, back out of the pose or stretch slightly, and allow the muscles around the joint to become actively involved in the stretch. Even if you don’t have hyper mobility, it can be very helpful to put a micro bend into the knees and elbows to prevent locking them out. For lunges and other poses, I’d advise finding your “edge” -where you feel the stretch -and hovering there rather than pushing deeper.

If you are very hyper mobile, you might also have lower proprioception -that is, awareness of your body in space. This is when you need to really pay attention to the alignment cues given by your teacher in class. Some key ones to be aware of are the stacking of the knee over ankle, and shoulders over wrists; and tucking of the tailbone. For example, whenever you are in a lunge-type pose, such as warrior two, crescent lunge or warrior one, you don’t want your knee to shoot over the ankle. The easiest way to check this without craning your head to one side is to look for the big toe of the front foot. You should just be able to see it; if not, your knee is too far forwards. Take your feet further apart to move the knee back without coming out of the pose. Additionally, pressing into the outer edge of the foot of the bent leg can help to stop the knee from collapsing inwards. In many poses, I see students sticking their tailbone (and therefore their bottoms!) out, usually in an attempt to get deeper into a pose. This includes triangle and side angle pose, where people start to fold forwards to reach the floor, and crescent, in order to sink lower into the hips. The best way to avoid this is to make a point of curling the tailbone underneath you before you go into the pose. Trying to adjust during the pose  is tricky as it can be harder to sense where exactly your tailbone is. 

The Best Yoga for Hypermobility

What kind of yoga is best for hypermobility? It can be easy to tell someone with a weakness or injury just to stick to gentle Hatha or Iyengar yoga because of the slower pace and use of props. However, I believe that with care, most, if not all, forms of yoga can be accessible depending on your level of hypermobility. You will need to move with care, so I’d advise perhaps going to a beginner’s class or booking into some 1-2-1 sessions if you’re uncertain about your limits. In vinyasa yoga, the class moves dynamically. This can be helpful as you won’t be holding poses for a long time BUT the fast pace can lead to sitting in that full range of motion, so be aware that you may need to pull back. Yin yoga in contrast, has you hold a posture for minutes at a time, in a way that expands the fascial tissue around your muscles and works into the ligaments. Although ligament stress isn’t something you want too much of, I do think there is value in the stretching of the fascia, not to mention the mental benefits of yin yoga, with its slow breathing. The key thing with yin is to make sure that you are properly supported with props and maybe back off from your “edge” a little bit more. And whenever you’re in a deep stretch, remember to come out slowly.

Finally, if you have certain types of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome or Marfan Syndrome that have symptoms other than just hypermobility (e.g. tissue damage in vascular EDS or circulatory system weaknesses linked to MS) then you may need to get the all-clear from your doctor before doing yoga, or need to work with a specialist.

Find more yoga guides and tips here, such as my ultimate guide for hot yoga kit or forward folds and lower back pain.

Sources: NHS; Moving Prayer.

Photos: Amie @fitnessforster