If I had a nickel for every person that told me they were not flexible enough to do yoga, I would be a very rich woman. The misunderstanding that yoga is all about flexibility is incredibly common and, for certain body types, can actually be quite dangerous.
Yoga is about finding balance: mental balance, as in an even mind, and physical balance, as in a well-aligned pose. This means honoring both flexiblity and strength. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe this concept as sthira and sukha—stability and ease.
Unfortunately, with today’s look-at-me social media culture, the poses that get most circulated and come to represent the public’s view of yoga tend to be performed by very bendy people. Yet even though yoga is so much more than that leg-behind-the-head posture, yoga is still equated with flexibility. Students are encouraged to go deeper in every shape. For a person who is already naturally flexible—a body type we call “hyper-mobile”—this can feel quite good, because it is familiar. What’s more, being able to achieve a big shape often feeds the ego, as people may feel they are then doing the pose “well.”
For these reasons, hyper-mobile bodies tend to be attracted to yoga. On the flip side, a stiff person may feel uncomfortable and challenged. The irony here is that it is actually flexible bodies that are most at risk for injury in yoga.
People with extreme flexibility tend to move from their joints versus their muscles. Joints are where two bones link together; they are made up of ligaments, which attach bone to bone, and tendons, which connect the muscle to the bone. When ligaments or tendons are over-stretched or torn, they do not heal! This is because they are comprised of connective tissue and have a limited blood supply. Keep stretching out an elastic and one day it will snap, as is evidence by the numerous yoga teachers coming forward with injuries and surgeries (myself included!).
In order to have a sustainable and safe practice, bendy bodies benefit from balancing the lengthening with strengthening. This is going to change the feel of the practice, from one of feel-good stretching to one of stability and control. It will mean not going to the edge of every shape and instead, pulling back to come closer to balance. This may prevent you from putting your feet on your head in a deep backbend (sorry!), but it also encourages you to practice for tomorrow and the day after that—not just today’s Instagram post.
Here are some classical shapes in which hyper-mobile practitioners tend to over-stretch, and smart ways to stabilize.