Q: I'm naturally very flexible. But a teacher once told me that flexible people are more likely to become injured than people with stiff muscles. Why is this true? If I'm naturally flexible and the asanas require flexibility, then how do I prevent injury?
—Hope, Northampton, MA
Tias Little's reply:
It may be the case that very flexible students become injured in yoga practice, although it is not a given. Students with a lot of mobility may be unstable in their joints. That is, the tendons and ligaments that ensheath the joint can be loose, giving the appearance of hyperextension or "double-jointedness."
For people who fall into this category, their yoga practice should focus on building greater stability around the joints, rather than straining and, ultimately, injuring them. This is done primarily by practicing poses that put weight on the hyper-mobile joint, and then strengthening the tissue (tendons, ligaments, and muscle) that surrounds it. Take Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) for example. Look at your standing leg to be sure that your upper thigh is aligning above your shin and not bowing out. Once you are in alignment, secure the knee joint by engaging the attachments around the joint. This is akin to a "bandha" wherein the tendons latching onto the joint are made stronger by contraction. This bandha-like action around your joints will prevent the joint from hyperextending.
For flexible yogis, it is necessary to safeguard against "sitting in the joints" an expression I use to indicate laxity in the muscle and tendon around the joint. Because of their natural excess mobility flexible students may not even know that they are sitting in the joints. So, coming out of the joints and building strength can be difficult to feel because students are so accustomed to being lax (and therefore appear flexible) in their soft tissues. In fact, these students may even be encouraged for their flexibility when in fact it is not good for their joints. "Soft" tissues become even softer!
Often students with considerable flexibility have inherited their body type from a parent or grandparent, so the mobility is felt deeply, and in a historically sense. For students with extreme elasticity, it can more difficult to learn to pull back than it is for students whose bodies require them to extend out without restriction. Therefore, it could be said that it is less likely for stiff students to injure themselves.
ABOUT OUR EXPERT
Tias brings a wonderful play of metaphor and imagination to his yoga teaching. He is trained in the Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa systems and his perspective clearly reflects the Buddha's teachings. He is a licensed massage therapist and has studied extensively in cranial-sacral therapy and Rolfing. Tias earned a Masters in Eastern Philosophy from St. John's College. He currently co-directs Yogasource in Santa Fe New Mexico with his wife Surya and leads yoga intensives throughout the country. Tias' teaching schedule is available on his web site www.yogasource-santafe.com.