What to Do With a Too-Flexible Yoga Student

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Question

I have a student who is very flexible, too flexible. When doing a hip opener she moves too far, causing damage. Is there something I can do to help her practice yoga without harming herself? Her physiotherapist suggests she not do yoga at all.

Answers

Nicole DeAvilla
Kentfield, California

There are two ways that you can help your student. First of all, have her stop working on flexibility, especially in the areas that she is prone to injuries. When the rest of the class needs to do some flexibility work, have her do a strength asana.

An adaptation for example would be in a forward bend, instead of going all of the way down, have her hold at different points along the way to strengthen her back. Be sure her back is maintaining its natural curves, there is no strain on her back and that she is engaging her thigh and upper gluteal muscles. Give her a few easy to do strength asanas that she is comfortable with to do when the rest of the class is doing other flexibility work.

Second of all, watch her alignment carefully. Chances are that she hyper extends her joints. Correct her diligently to help her retrain her body and give her strength. After she builds sufficient strength, she will once again be able to work on flexibility. However, at this point, flexibility work is bringing her more out of balance instead of into balance and is not safe for her yet.

Let me know if you need more specific ideas for strength asanas and ways to correct for hyperextension.

Dr. Josette Addarich
New York, New York

A simple and easy way to help your student, is to encourage them to not go to the their "full" range, but right before it. Remind them that Raja Yoga has many petals and asana is only one. Encourage this person to hold a correct asana longer, to encourage the strengthening of not only their muscles but their inner awareness of the energy flow.

You can also encourage strength building postures, esp. if they already have the flexibility part. Increasing the stability around their joints by muscle strengthening is vital. You could also encourage weight training, without post stretching to aid in building muscle strength. Again all within the limits of this persons ability and willingness.

Georgia Stansell
Palmer, Arkansas

Energization Exercises! Use props so that she is LIMITED in her range of motion. [In hip opener when the leg is rotated outwards, place a bolster (or two) so that her leg cannot go too far.]

Most importantly, she will have to learn to not move too far into a pose and how to manage her body's flexibleness so that she doesn't invite injury.

When I have an ‘Ultra Flexible’ Student, I tell them that “Less is More.” The key is in the breath, not how far we can go into a pose!

Mark Beach
Kekaha, Kauai, Hawaii 

I am not an expert on this by any means but I can offer some ideas that are based on my experience as a professional dancer for 18 years as well as observing super flexible dancers and the problems they dealt with.

Having super flexibility is great if you have the muscle strength to support the movements whether it be dance, yoga, or athletics. I noticed the super flexible individuals had less muscular strength overall (there were exceptions with proper training), and were prone to injuries more often.

The most noticeable pitfall for the super flexible, and again this is only my opinion, is that they took it for granted and would move their bodies without focus and awareness. This is what caused injury and not the activity per se. All physical activity should be done with attention and after warming up.

Yogananda’s Energization Exercises are an excellent start, as they bring our awareness into each muscle group. I think it is important to have someone with this predicament learn to slow her movements down and be aware of the movement going in and out of the poses keeping them simple and shallow.

Being super flexible does not necessarily mean they are ready for advanced posturing. Since we want to tune into the flow of prana/life-force as we open the energy pathways this can be accomplished with the absolute basics. Light weight training would help her to strengthen her muscles and become more aware of her body and movements by focusing on the exercises.

Again, we see students from time to time who have some natural ability with yoga and end up overdoing it trying to go too fast. Perhaps a personal trainer could help her strengthen the muscles while she learns to stay present in the body with the basic movements of hatha yoga.



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