Generalised joint hypermobiity is a genetic difference which makes either the collagen (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder) or the fibrillin (Marfan Syndrome) more flexible than it should be. Both collagen and fibrillin are building blocks in the connective tissue, and connective tissue forms the structure for most of the human body, so genetic hypermobility is a multi-systemic condition, involving much more than just joints. Genetic hypermobility occurs in a cluster with other physiological difficulties, nervous system traits and neurological processing differences, including:
• IBS and digestive issues.
• Anxiety and related mental health problems (self-harm, eating disorders).
• Chronic fatigue.
• Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and other orthostatic disturbances.
• Sleep disorders.
• Autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia.
Some people with genetic hypermobility are wheelchair users who struggle to deal with the demands of working, socialising and fulfilling family responsibilities; some are Olympic gymnasts and professional dancers. Many of us are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Managing hypermobility requires working actively for strength, stamina and flexibility, within the person’s range of tolerance, which may be small. Hypermobility has many implications for practising yoga (and other movement forms) in a safe and beneficial way.
When I set out my stall in 2003, I had no intention of specialising in hypermobility teaching. Hypermobile people came anyway. At that point, there was little awareness of the joint hypermobility syndromes in the yoga world, and most of us with genetic hypermobility were very poorly served by the existing attitudes and approaches to working with what, at the time, was rarely identified as a physiological condition. I had no formal training (none existed) or particular experience in teaching hypermobile people, but I did have some knowledge about hypermobility – more than most other yoga teachers – and I had been practising yoga with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos for over 20 years. And so it began.
I am neither a medical professional nor an expert on hypermobility; I teach out of my own practical experience of making yoga friendly, accessible and helpful to hypermobile people ranging from elite professional dancers to those who are very incapacitated. Good movement strategies are key here, but they’re not everything. I work with the whole person, not just their biomechanics, to help them to feel more peaceful, fulfilled and at home in their body.
You can find my articles on teaching yoga to people with hypermobility here, and on yin yoga and hypermobility here.
Hypermobility on the Yoga Mat Facebook group
“The first thought is that our human body is precious and that inhabiting it fully is a doorway to presence.”—The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind, Buddhist teaching