Some yoga ramblings

Week four of my intro to yoga course and I’m loving it more each week. It’s hard work (sweaty, needing to breathe a bit harder type of hard) but also very relaxing and I come out of the class feeling great. I’m already starting to notice that I’ve got a tiny bit more strength in some areas (particularly my arms and shoulders) and it seems that my core strength wasn’t as bad as I’ve always thought.

Seems like the exercises that the physios gave did some good, at least ๐Ÿ˜€

It helps that my teacher is really great, encouraging us all and making the class fun. I’m a bit sad that she doesn’t teach the next class level, although she’s the studio owner so I’m sure that everyone who works there will be up to her standards of being awesome.

Something that’s really helping is that she’s hypermobile. At first I thought she meant that yoga had trained her joints to hypermobility, but she actually is naturally hypermobile – I’d judge BJHS. Last night she was talking about the ways that our bodies are all different and we all have different strengths, to keep people from getting down at not being as good at something as our mat-neighbours. Apparently she can put her leg behind her head (I haven’t been able to do that for years!), which is great for some yoga things but put her in a brace and on a cane during her pregnancy. Those preggo hormones are murder on hypermobile folks! So, er, yes. She’s definitely naturally hypermobile.

This is helpful because she’s knows what poses are most likely to cause me problems and suggests alterations. We learned warrior and triangle poses last week. My knees dislocate easily, particularly my left one, so she pulled me aside before the class for a quick chat. Her advice? Keep my knees bent a little bit throughout those poses. Don’t bend backwards, don’t lock. Keeping my knees bent will enable my muscles to engage properly so that they can keep my knees in place.

My knees feel hideously unstable if I try to stand with perfectly straight legs. Locking my legs makes them go backwards, which is uncomfortable boarding on painful when I’m standing because knees are not designed to be held like that with 130 pounds of human on them. Physios have been trying to make me stand with straight knees for years. I can’t get my muscles to engage properly like that. So I stand with them very slightly bent, which enables the muscles to engage and hold me stable.

Of course, those poor physios have also been trying to fix me based on their experience of people with stiff, injured joints rather than stupidly floppy joints. No wonder we’ve had difficulties!

Back to yoga. The only times that I felt like my left knee was trying to dislocate sideways during the poses, I’d straightened my back leg completely and the muscles weren’t able to engage properly. The moment I got my knee into the ‘correct’ position, the knee stabilised.

It sounds elementary, like something I should have figured out on my own, but it goes against everything that physios have been insisting on for years and is a bit different to the advice for ‘normal’ folks. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it that way without the teacher telling me to and it’s given me confidence knowing that I can do that with other poses in the future that my joints won’t be able to handle in the standard way.

The irony for some hypermobile folks is that we can end up with joints and muscles that are much tighter than they should be, sometimes to the point of rigidity, because the muscles have gone into a kind of spasm. Years of holding muscles tight to keep a particular joint in place takes its toll and the muscle seems to ‘forget’ how to relax. My hips are hypermobile, but some of the muscle groups around my hips are stupidly tight (the deep ones that pull the hips inwards? Yeah, wow) as are my hamstrings and calf muscles. To me, that always seems a wee bit dangerous because the muscles aren’t going to stop a dislocation like that (they’re not strong, just stuck and short) but they are much more likely to tear and get injured when a joint pops.

It feels so good to do poses stretching my hamstrings and calves. Really, really great.

We started doing some of the seated poses last night and I’m a bit achy this morning, but overall feeling great and looking forward to practising again tonight ๐Ÿ˜€

Last night we also began learning a couple of balance poses. Those are definitely not my strong point! They are, however, one of the things that got me into a studio in the first place. Doing the yoga poses on my Wii Fit showed me how terrible my balance is and I want to improve that. Thankfully my teacher takes things slowly, rather than throwing you straight into things, which was good. And she doesn’t yell when we have to put our foot down ๐Ÿ˜€ It could take me a while to work up to the full Tree pose – right now, I’m just going to feel good if I can stand with my foot resting on the side of my ankle just off the floor and raise my arms. It’s the arm raising that gets me. Something to work at, definitely.

Lastly, my lovely teacher gave me an awesome tip last night. We end each class with corpse pose (lying flat on the back, palms facing the ceiling, totally relaxed) and I usually use a bolster to raise my knees slightly so there is less stress on my lower back. My hips are hypermobile so relaxing totally leaves my legs sprawled in an ungainly and unattractive position that gets uncomfortable after a while because the hips try to slide out of joint. That is part of the reason that certain muscles have become so tight – holding my hips in ‘correct’ position all the damn time, even when I’m sitting. Grr. Yoga teacher’s suggestion? Use one of the straps to tie my legs together just below the knees.

It was so much more comfortable! I was able to relax totally with my hips staying exactly where they should. I’ve never been able to relax my muscles to that extent before – brilliant suggestion! I may need to investigate getting a strap for my practise at home just for that. Having a hypermobile teacher is brilliant.

She doesn’t teach the next level of classes, but the intro course with her is giving me the info and confidence that I need to adapt things when necessary. I also have her email address so I can contact her if I have questions about things when I move on to the next level of classes, which is a big relief.

For anyone else with hypermobility thinking about yoga, I can say that what I’ve been doing (vinyasa yoga, a subset of hatha) is great for core and joint stability. It’s not about stretching and turning into a pretzel, although I am enjoying getting the hamstrings loosened up a bit. This is about building strength and relaxing at the same time. Talk to the teacher before you start – if you explain hypermobility and what that means, they should be able to help you adapt poses to reduce the stress on your unstable joints. If the teacher runs screaming into the night? That studio wasn’t going to be right for you, time to contact another one ๐Ÿ˜€

And if you get lucky enough to have a teacher with joint hypermobility (natural, not trained), you’ll be in good hands.

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