If you know you tend to hyper extend (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.
There are a few general modifications you can use to protect your joints and to curb pain and even more hyperextension. Read on for suggestions and yoga pose modifications for yogis with hypermobile joints.
The Problem With Hypermobile Joints
Hyper mobile joints are a problem for numerous reasons, but the two big ones would be:
1. There is no longer a stable bone-stack happening.
Kind of like a stool with three legs that start close at the top and end wide on the ground, put too much weight and the seat of the stool will, over time, get lower. Too much weight on one corner and the stool tips over to one side.
2. Joint Overextension
If said stool had a hinge at the center of each leg that wasn't fully connected, you can imagine the collapse problems that might happen, and the injuries that might incur in, say, a human arm or leg!
What Does This Mean?
In our bodies, the "hinges" are our joints, which are surrounded by supporting tissues meant to bind and keep the joint actively stable. One is the ligaments which are like elastic bands, except that once they stretch out too far, they don't return to their former elastic self-the other are the muscles which when strong can take the pressure off the bones and ligaments.
When a muscle is not strong enough to support the bones and ligaments in a deep yoga pose, the ligaments are forced to do more work and they tend to over stretch to compensate.
When you leave a yoga pose, the ligaments don't return to their usual tight selves and thus cannot stabilize the joint as much in your regular daily activities. This leads to more sprained ankles, back pain, shoulder problems, and more. Once a ligament has lost its elasticity, it is highly unlikely to get the majority of it back.
Usually the ligaments wouldn't over stretch in a yoga pose that didn't have hyper mobile joints, they just stretch for as far as the joint moves and the bones prevent the extra mobility from stretching the ligament too far.
Yoga Pose Modifications and What You Can Do
If you have hypermobility anywhere in your body, make sure you always do strengthening activities for the muscles on either side of the joints with wider ranges of motion. Also, try to focus on the strengthening attributes of each posture more than the stretch. A slow intense warrior series is great for this.
A hyper mobile spine can cause a lot of pain in the body. If you hyperextend at the the spine, then work on your core to keep your backbends and standing postures safe. Practice bringing the ribs in and hugging them to your center line.
Start reading up on how to engage your bandhas effectively, and maybe spend an entire practice just on that a few times a month or more. The stronger your core muscles, the more protected your spine is.
When you feel confident about this, try engaging your core in the backbends to protect your back. You won't go nearly as deep, - but you will be safe.
In Dragonfly, protect your knees by slightly bending them and placing a rolled up blanket under the joint. Then see how it feels to "floint" (point the toes and then flex only the toes back/ press into the ball of the foot as if wearing high heels) your foot instead of flexing back from the ankle.
This will engage the frontal muscles of your entire leg which in turn creates strength in the tissues surrounding the knee joint. If you notice theres hyperextension, stick with the passive version of the posture.
You don't need to stretch your hamstrings as they are loose enough, so instead, work on relaxing into your pelvic fold with loose legs and settle in for a long calming hold. Use rolled blankets or cushions under your knees to prevent hyperextension.
In forward folds, including Paschimottanasana and Uttanasana, be mindful of not locking your knees. This will protect your hamstrings. Work on strengthening the muscles in the thigh and surrounding tissues of the knee with long Chair pose holds.
In Plank, or any pose where your weight is in straight arms (Firefly, Handstand), use the same idea and bend your elbows a tiny amount. This forces the muscles to engage around the muscle, rather than relying on the joints stacking. This also takes some of the stress out of the ligaments so that they don't over-stretch. Notice how much stronger you get after a short time using this in your practice!
Try to not lock your joints so that you can focus on strengthening the surrounding muscles in support of the joint.
To protect shoulders from hyperextension, consider actions that strengthen opposing muscles and work on the trapezius (shoulder blade and neck muscles), the side and upper back muscles (lats), the pectoralis (chest) muscles, and the triceps (upper back arms). When you strengthen the opposite muscle and/or surrounding muscles, you offer more support for the joint.
With all of these modifications you won't go as deep in the stretch, but you already know that you are stretchy—your focus is in deepening your practice, staying healthy, and strengthening your joints and muscles.
This practice is about health and balance, not about having a deep Bow pose. Over time, you will be able to return to the stretching with the confidence that your muscles are strong enough to protect the ligaments of your joints from overcompensating.
Image credit: Andrea Taylor