Living with Intention:
I am very grateful for Bernadette Birney’s informative article on hypermobility syndrome and yoga that recently appeared in Yoga International. It raises some important points to consider when practicing and teaching yoga asana. You can read it here.
Bernadette’s article describes many symptoms of “hypermobility” I can relate to, as well! My yoga community is all too familiar with my “bendy” elbows and I can bring my thumbs back to my forearms. These are movements that my medical team has asked me to do when I started treatment, and when I did, I got the slow head shake as if confirming that, yup, I’m one of “them”.
I have hypermobility syndrome. And, just because I like to be special, my ligament laxity is coupled with some interesting structural variations in my spine – some I have known about for more than 20 years and others that were revealed to me through a recent MRI.
Because I have structural places where my back does not move well, I have relied on my lax ligaments to simulate “normal” movement and get into some of the more advanced (“bendy”) yoga poses.
I have also wondered why, with all my “flexibility” some of my muscles were so darn tight! I have chronic tension in my shoulders and neck, a lifetime of low back pain with back muscles that feel like cement. I also have ribs that like to pop out of place and my right sacroiliac joint can be cracked like some people crack their knuckles. When I injure myself, I don’t break bones or strain muscles, I injure ligaments – where I’m the least stable.
What this translates to is a scenario where my muscles have been trying to do the job that my ligaments aren’t able to keep me together. The more lax my ligaments, the tighter my muscles have become. I am a stiff flexible person!
Last year, my lifetime of compensation around those parts of my back that don’t move well led to me being so incapacitated with spondylolithesis and back pain that I began an intensive rehab regimen to tighten my ligaments in my low back and loosen up the surrounding muscles. It has involved needles – lots and lots of needles.
Treatments have been helping enough that I now feel like I have sufficient structural support to do most things except the bendy yoga poses that I used to enjoy. I have had to let go of what was and embrace where I am now.
In order to be healthy and pain free, I must move with integrity. I also practice yoga with a new sense of purpose – healthy movement that supports my ongoing well-being. My attention has been directed to exploring a more biomechanically sound approach to yoga postures, which I’m bringing into my classes.
I have been studying and experimenting a lot over the past year to figure out what yoga alignment cues we have been using truly make sense for our bodies and which ones are injurious. In some cases, it means that I am an asana “myth buster.” At other times, I have come back to some previous teachings that support good biomechanics. It is all part of the yoga journey that is meant to bring us to a sense of wholeness.
Yoga tradition also tells us that yoga is a combination of direct experience and experimentation. I’m continuing to experiment and explore where my yoga journey is taking me and I am more invested than ever in moving well and helping you move well, too!