When lots of people think about versatility, they visualize somebody like a dancer, a gymnast, or a yogi – somebody who can easily move their body into deep-looking shapes like full forward splits (hanumanasana) or yoga’s king pigeon present (eka pada rajakapotasana). But many people are running under an insufficient definition of whatever it implies to be flexible. Flexibility does not merely mean the ability to take your joints through great varieties of movement, no matter whatever tissues stretched to obtain you there. We’re fortunate sufficient to have a growing movement in the yoga world today that tryings to update our traditional understanding of yoga with the grounded scientific knowledge of biomechancs. As a cornerstone of that activity, we have to see to it we understand what true flexibility suggests and how it’s various from a term that many people erroneously conflate with flexibility: hypermobility.

HYPERMOBILITY VS. FLEXIBILITY

Here’s the deal: the term flexibility refers to muscles (and their linked fascia) while the term hypermobility refers to ligaments. Muscles and ligaments are 2 distinct types of tissues which perform very different functions in the body. Right here’s a fast anatomy guide (it’s a bit simplistic, but still valuable!):

A muscle is a contractile tissue which crosses over several joints in your body. When a muscle contracts, it applies a drawing force on the bones to which it connects. Ligaments, on the other hand, are brief bands of fibrous connective tissue which connect bone-to-bone and efficiently “secure” our joints together. Unlike muscles, ligaments do not agreement, create force, or produce motion in the body. Rather, as my biomechanics instructor Katy Bowman says, the ligaments act as the “safety belt” of our joints. They can be considered our built-in back-up system to support our joints if our body moves in a means that would otherwise take a joint beyond its regular range of movement.

SHOULD WE STRETCH OUR MUSCLES OR LIGAMENTS?

When we stretch, our objective should be to lengthen our muscles and not our ligaments. When muscles stretch, they return to their original length after the stretch is released – a tissue property called flexibility. But when ligaments stretch, they act elastically throughout simply the first tiny bit of the stretch, and if they’re stretched beyond that point, they will permanently stay at that new length and are described as lax. Lax ligaments can no longer stabilize our joints for us and are a source of persistent pain and injury for many individuals. Overstretching our ligaments is for that reason decidedly uncool.

Although lots of people have actually been told that they’re “hypermobile”, only a little portion of the population really has a condition of generalized, all-over joint hypermobility. In truth, most people who consider themselves as “hypermobile” merely have a particular variety of joints whose ligaments have actually ended up being lax. That ligament laxity is generally the result of the joint being constantly loaded beyond its typical range of movement, which is whatever occurs when we “flop into our joints” time-and-time again without muscle support. When you have the ability to hyperextend a joint, you will constantly have that ability, due to the fact that you can’t “stiffen” your ligaments back up once they have actually ended up being lax.

Here’s a visual example of exactly what hypermobility resembles when it takes place at the elbow joint, a common website of too much movement in yogis (including me!)

Here are my nice elbows at their healthy typical end variety of movement in extension: 180 degrees.

And here are my exact same elbows at beyond 180 degrees. These elbows are not within the regular variety of motion for extension. They’re in hyperextension, which is an undesirable, unsteady place for them to be. For the health of our joints and for that reason our entire body, we have to work to keep our joints from hyperextension as much as possible.

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HYPERMOBILITY = LACK OF FLEXIBILITY (SAY WHAT?)

As surprising as it sounds, hypermobility goes hand-in-hand with tight muscles. In reality, many people establish hypermobility in their joints in the first location as an outcome of tightness in muscles close to that joint. In addition, one classic guideline that our bodies tend to follow is that they prefer to move via “the course of least resistance”. It’s always much easier to move your body where you’re currently mobile and have less resistance than a place that is stiff and unyielding. Therefore, if a person with lax ligaments tries to stretch her/his real muscles, their smart body will sneakily rearrange itself into familiar and simple hypermobility land (the aforementioned course of least resistance), thus bypassing the desired muscular stretch and installing the ligaments rather. Unless we find out the best ways to override this tendency of the body with intelligent positioning, our stretches will certainly lead to joints whose hypermobility is reinforced and muscles that just weren’t stretched at all, every time we stretch. And who wants that?

HYPERMOBILITY MASKING AS FLEXIBILITY

This last point is potentially the most essential one of this entire article (and maybe of this whole blog site!) Lots of poses in the practice of yoga need fantastic ranges of motion from our bodies. In truth, there are quite a few asanas which can not be performed to their fullest expression without our joints surpassing their typical variety of motion. Put another method, many yoga postures require hypermobility in order to achieve.

Let’s examine complete king pigeon position (eka pada rajakapotasana), a present we discussed earlier in this post. This is an indisputably aesthetically-pleasing, elegant asana, and when we see someone doing it, we frequently believe, “Wow, look at how versatile that person is!”

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But remember whatever we’ve learned about the distinction between versatility (muscles) and hypermobility (ligaments)? Despite the reality that this pose is so pretty that it has actually beautified the cover of Yoga Journal on many occasions, the biomechanical truth of this asana is that it can not be attained unless the low back (lumbar spinal column) moves into a high degree of hyperextension, which you can probably see if you look carefully at this yogi’s lower back location. The normal variety of motion for extension of the lumbar spinal column is somewhere in between 20-35 degrees, but this yogi’s lumbar spinal column has actually extended far beyond that quantity, producing compression and degenerative forces in this susceptible area of the body. In addition, the reality that the lumbar spinal column is in such an extreme arc in this position methods that the yogi has the ability to bypass stretching her tight hips and shoulders. A basic general rule for working with the body is that we wish to stabilize where we’re too mobile and mobilize where we’re too stable. But in this position, we’re doing the specific opposite, allowing our tight spots to continue to be tight and our overly mobile areas to end up being more mobile and therefore more unstable.

It’s not enough to approach our yoga postures as “stretches.” We need to think about where the stretch is taking place and exactly what tissues are stretching to make the shape take place. A yogi performing full king pigeon pose could look versatile, however the reality is that although she has actually moved her body through a great variety of movement, it’s hypermobility, not versatility, that permitted this motion.

I’m thrilled to be part of the growing activity within the yoga community that tryings to combine our grounded scientific knowledge of the body with our understanding of yoga. And as a cornerstone of this motion, we have to make an extremely clear distinction in between exactly what is versatility and whatever is hypermobility, and utilize that understanding to make educated decisions about which asanas we choose to practice and why. My objective in my yoga practice and teaching is growing the lasting wellness and wellness of our bodies, our body-mind connection, and our lives as a whole, and this goal is contingent on highlighting real flexibility and minimizing hypermobility as much as possible in our practice.