Hyperextension: Are You Overstretching in your Practice?

The range of mobility in yoga can be a wide spectrum. From those who have yet to touch their toes to those who innately slip into the splits with great ease. Those who are on the inflexible side of the spectrum tend to be acutely aware of their physical boundaries when engaging in asana: their bodies are constantly speaking to them on a louder volume than most. 

For those who are hypermobile, however, have a greater chance of practicing without that necessary awareness. Because a hypermobile practitioner’s extension can be so effortless, all of that flexibility tends to inspire them to exploit their joints’ natural looseness, which can result in long-term harm. After all, hypermobile bodies seem to naturally move into and out of the large ranges of motion many yoga postures require. No doubt, one's full extension is a beautiful expression of these shapes, but the body is a fine-tuned instrument that must be cared for so that it can continue to sing its song for years to come.

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Extending the knees and elbows past straight or pancaking the torso on the floor in Wide-Legged, Seated Forward Fold—these all can be signs of hypermobility in your yoga practice. Does this sound like you? If you know you tend to hyperextend (your joints move past the traditional range of motion of other people), then you should be protecting yourself from injuries and future chronic pain by working more on strengthening actions then on flexibility. So, instead of thinking hypermobility is “bad” for a yoga practice—consider these strategies to add strength and stability to your asana practice:

  1. Pull back from end range: Muscles have better leverage and can exert more tension to stabilize joints when joints are positioned at mid-range instead of full range.

  2. Slow down: Moving more slowly gives the brain time to recruit more muscle fibers for increased muscle tension. This maximizes stability as you move through the wide range of motion that you have.

  3. Look for external feedback: Because hypermobility can impair a student’s sense of their body in space, props and equipment can provide information about the real position and range of their joints (compared to what they may feel). Resistance bands can effectively facilitate all of these strategies. Practitioners can actively work with and against external tension from the bands, and can even enjoy a feeling of “being held together better.” Perhaps most usefully, resistance bands act as brakes to slow down movement and limit range of motion in a way that hypermobile soft tissue sometimes can’t. Hypermobile students then learn to challenge their strength rather than exploit their flexibility.