Title Photo by Hideo Muraoka
Hi, I’m Tami and I’m hypermobile. Which is awesome when you’re an adolescent gymnast or dancer, until you get all these old lady aches and pains before you even turn thirty.
Hypermobility means your joints move beyond what is considered a normal or safe range of motion for that joint. Sometimes it’s caused by the joint capsules being shallower than usual, or the muscles having less tension or pull when stabilizing joints in motion. It is often called “double jointed,” or more appropriately, “loose jointed.” This laxity in joints is because the ligaments, tendons, and fascia that stabilize the joint are indeed “looser” than normal – they do not hold the joints in place very well. Because of that, people with hypermobility are more prone to injuries such as sprains, dislocation, arthritis, and nerve pain.
It is often called Hypermobility Syndrome in the science world. But don’t let the word “syndrome” scare you. Almost 5% of the world has it, and for most people, it is benign – meaning it doesn’t affect their regular daily functions. I honestly thought I was normal until I started yoga and saw that my body doesn’t bend like most people’s.
Bending over and touching my toes was easy, but I didn’t realize I was locking my knees. Holding plank was hard on my neck because my body would just hang off my shoulder blades, and chaturanga would send a tingle through my elbows and fingers. Bending my knees deep in Warrior 2 was no problem, keeping them at 90º was hard! While most physical yoga practices do value the flexible, I’m thankful I found Urban Ashram and its teachers who place more emphasis on safe alignment and form. The teachers (of whom I am now proud to call myself a part of) can easily tell if anyone is just hanging out in a pose, and are trained to spot and correct hyperextension in joints.
A few months into practicing with Urban Ashram’s strict faculty head Marc, I realized that all this mobility wasn’t as impressive as everyone thought. Sure, it was great hearing people ooh and ahh (and eew) at how close to my head I could get my feet from all directions. But I could never seem to get any of the strength poses to stick. I could never seem to get that satisfying feeling of stretch that everyone was getting. I kept getting pains in my elbows and knees, clicks in my joints, and pins and needles in my hands and feet.
So I started to research. I found out that the pain in my elbows and knees was because they could bend the other way past straight, and my ligaments were working overtime to keep them from falling apart. Our joints are only supposed to move so much, and movement way beyond normal can compress or irritate the nerves and veins that pass through them. That explains the pins and needles in my extremities. The clicks in my joints could be coming from ligaments snapping over bone surfaces, but they could also mean the cartilage that helps the joint glide smoothly is wearing down and my bones are grinding on each other.
The research turned me into a major anatomy nerd, and somewhat of a hypochondriac. But yoga keeps me grounded. Despite all the strange things going on in my body, I still function, right? But I know I can function better and pain-free. If you’ve read this far because you’re hypermobile, just know that all these niggling aches and pains do come from somewhere, and they can be helped. People are born with hypermobility, but it doesn’t mean they need to suffer from it. The body is remarkable in its ability to repair and reprogram itself, in its ability to change… in its flexibility.
Building and maintaining strength is of utmost importance when you’re hypermobile. I choose yoga as my method for strength building and constant body rehab because it gives me the opportunity to slow down and really feel out and think about what’s going on in my body. I need to be able to carry my own body weight throughout my life, and mindfully moving through poses that challenge me to maintain proper alignment and use the right muscles is the key.
Marc’s Align & Refine classes really changed things for me. Through the use of props, and slight changes to accommodate my body better, I found the strength and stretch I was looking for. Through the creative explorations and exercises that deviated from strict and dogmatic yoga poses, I was able to learn more how my very special and unique body worked. Small refinements in my personal alignment have helped me find so much more peace and power in my poses. For example: having my arms wider apart to accommodate my carrying angle ease up the pressure on my elbows, while using my very strong glutes in Chaturanga Dandasana helps me harness the power of my core.
There are still some days when I feel like I’m falling apart and everything is clicking, but I know what to do with myself. I am bendy, but I am not weak. I am happy that I am not stiff. I am not stuck to one perception of how I am. I am open to and capable of change. I used to struggle with flexibility as a weakness because it used to hinder my physical strength, but I’ve learned to accept it as a different kind of strength – I know that in whatever I do, I can bend with integrity and not break. I am elastic. I am resilient.
When she isn’t drawing body parts, you can find Tami Ledesma teaching Vinyasa, FNR, Gentle Flow, and Pre-Natal yoga at Urban Ashram, or pulsing among her students at Barre3. Follow her asana adventures on Instagram at @movewithtami.