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Ask anyone who doesn’t practice yoga why they don’t give it a try and odds are you’ll hear some version of this: “I can’t do yoga because I can’t even touch my toes.” While yogis and yoga teachers can offer a host of reasons why a lack of flexibility actually puts someone at an advantage in yoga, it’s easy to see how the perception that yogis have to be bendy is so prevalent: Yoga often attracts hypermobile students. After all, hypermobile bodies naturally move into and out of the large ranges of motion many yoga postures demand.
However, most yoga teachers agree that hypermobile yogis actually have it way worse than those who have a hard time touching their toes, because all that flexibility tends to inspire hypermobile yogis to exploit their joints’ natural looseness, which almost always leads to injury and pain.
Extending knees and elbows past straight, effortlessly sliding into splits, pancaking the torso on the floor in Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)—these all can be signs of hypermobility in a yoga practice. Yet instead of thinking hypermobility is “bad” for a yoga practice—or that yoga is bad for hypermobile practitioners—consider these strategies to add strength and stability to an asana practice if you deal with hypermobility:
- Pull back from end range: Muscles have better leverage and can exert more tension to stabilize joints when joints are positioned at mid-range.
- Slow down: Moving more slowly gives the brain time to recruit more muscle fibers for increased muscle tension. This maximizes stability.
- 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.
Home Practice: Yoga with Resistance Bands for Hypermobility
Here is a Yoga with Resistance Bands sequence that builds toward Tree Pose. The resistance bands used in the sequence include two 5-foot long moderate-level resistance bands with small loops tied into each end, and one small, looped band of moderate resistance.
First, start by doing Tree Pose to see how it feels in your body. Hold the pose for a few breaths on each side. Take note of what you observe.
1. Dead Bug with External Resistance
Lie down and place one small loop around your right hand and the other around your left foot. Reach both arms straight up toward the ceiling. Bend and stack both knees over your hips with your shins parallel to the floor and stabilize through your core by pressing the lowest part of your back ribs down. Maintain this action throughout the exercise.
Modification: To help you stabilize, consider placing a blanket under your sacrum to aid in keeping your back ribs grounded.
From here, maintain the static position of your left arm and right leg for the duration of the exercise. Begin to press out into the tension of the band by moving your right arm overhead and extending your left leg forward. Keep your back bottom ribs rooted as you slowly pull the band apart. Breathe.
To return to the starting position, allow the band to recoil but resist its tension. Very slowly return your right arm and left leg back to the starting position. Repeat this movement several more times on this side, moving slowly, then change sides.
To increase the complexity, add another resistance band. Place the loops of one band around your right hand and foot and the other around your left hand and foot. Alternate moving your right arm overhead and extending your left leg forward and then switch, moving your left arm overhead and extending your right leg forward.
2. Monster Square Dance
Begin by placing the small looped band just above your knees. Separate your feet outer hips-width apart. Place your hands on your hips, hinge at your hips, and bend your knees. Press your thighs out into the band so your knees line up with the middle of your foot or slightly wider and come into a shallow squat.
Avoid letting your feet turn out a lot, although a little bit of turn-out is OK if it feels more comfortable for your knees or hips. Work hard to overcome the recoil of the band, and don’t let it pull your knees inward.
Maintaining all of this, start to take steps in a square pattern. Leading with your right leg, step to the right, then slowly let your left leg follow. Next, step backward with your left foot, then slowly let your right leg follow. Leading with your left leg, step to the left, then slowly let your right leg follow. Finally, step forward with your right leg, then slowly let your left leg follow. You just completed one square. Repeat this pattern a few more times, then reverse directions, repeating for a few more cycles.
3. Assisted Side Bend, Resisted Side Un-Bend
Using the small looped band from the previous pose, step on it with your right foot and hold onto it with your right hand. Against the recoil of the band, stand in Tadasana. Work to convey as little asymmetry as possible and maintain even length in both sides of your torso, keeping your shoulders level with one another.
Stabilize around your center, maintaining the natural curves of your spine. Begin to let the band shorten and pull your torso into right lateral flexion. Slow down the recoil of the band as you feel your left waist lengthen. Pause here and breathe. Then, overcome the resistance of the band to stand back upright. Repeat this exercise a few more times, then change sides.
4. Toughen Up Your Rotator Cuff
For this exercise, untie the small loop and simply hold onto the resistance band in both hands with your hands shoulder-distance apart.
Bring your arms into Chaturanga alignment, but with your palms facing up. Line up your upper arm bones alongside your torso. Connect your elbows in toward your side ribs and broaden your shoulder blades. (They will want to squeeze together; don’t let them).
Next, begin to pull the band apart between your hands. As your arms laterally rotate, keep hugging your elbows in toward your sides while maintaining width between your shoulder blades and collar bones. Then, let the band shorten slowly, resist its recoil, and return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise several more times until you fatigue.
To add on, keep your elbows hugging in and continue to pull the bands apart between your hands. Begin to raise your arms up overhead, only as much as you can maintain the hug in of your elbows. Lower your arms back to the starting position and repeat a few more times until you fatigue.
5. Side Angle Pose with External Resistance
Using the two small loops tied into each end of the band, place one loop around your left foot and the other around your left hand. Step your feet apart in preparation for Side Angle Pose and turn your right hip out. Then, as you bend your right knee, sweep your left arm overhead. Place your right elbow on your right thigh in a variation of supported Side Angle.
To stabilize this posture, move your front bottom ribs away from the long, stretched band as you track your front knee with the center of your front foot. Keep stretching the band apart between your left hand and left foot. Next, begin to lighten your supported right elbow on your thigh and slowly reach your bottom arm forward. Hold for a few breaths, then press down into both feet and slowly stand up. Repeat this a few more times on your right side and then come up to stand and change sides.
Re-check Tree Pose
Finally, finish by doing Tree Pose and see how it feels in your body. Hold the pose for a few breaths on each side. Take note of what you observe. Did you feel like you were being “held together?” Resistance bands might be the key to limit your range of motion and avoid exploiting your flexibility in your yoga practice.
See also 3 Ways to Safely Modify Tree Pose
About the Author
Laurel Beversdorf, B.F.A, E-RYT 500, is the creator of Yoga with Resistance Bands Classes and Body of Knowledge™ Anatomy and Biomechanics workshops. A Yoga Tune Up® trainer and senior teacher and teacher trainer for YogaWorks, Laurel regularly presents trainings and workshops at locations like Kripalu, YogaWorks, and studios across the world. Learn more at laurelbeversdorf.com