Five years ago, I started the Facebook Page Yoga for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Fibromyalgia & Hypermobility, due to the lack of information on Yoga & EDS.
Over the years there has been some growth in this field,
but I’m still often asked:
“I have EDS, and I just started yoga.
However, I was told yoga is not good for EDS.
What are your thoughts?”
Marking the five year anniversary of this page, my response (in blog form) would be:
Both EDS and yoga are very individual: everyone’s EDS affects them differently, and yoga has many, many layers.
People often throw yoga right out of the window, whether they have EDS or not:
Maybe someone tries yoga, and feels pain during or after the session, or maybe someone with EDS thinks, “Stretch?! That’s not good for EDS!”
For many of us, we need to find the right fit.
Sometimes the right fit takes a while to find. We often come to the mat with the mind in control. The mind says, “do more!” But over time we learn how to quiet the mind and listen to the body.
Are you very hypermobile? Or are you like me: all over body pain, feels tight all of the time, and has some floppy joints?
For the people that are super hypermobile, they need to be very aware of their joints, taking care to not hyperextend.
I often see hypermobile people trying to extend their bodies long. When I ask, they respond: so that they can feel more sensation. If they don’t stretch long, they don’t feel anything.
Hyperextending the joint may not be healthiest thing for our bodies in the long run. Once we start stretching ligaments and tendons beyond normal range, there isn’t much we can do to bring them back.
For that person, it is crucial to bring what we call a “microbend” to the joint. Microbend is exactly what it sounds like: a really tiny bend in that joint (eg. the elbow or knee), and what that does is engage the muscles surrounding the joint.
1- this keeps you from hyper-extending that joint
2- you can strengthen the muscles around the joint to create more tone and less instability
During my training, my anatomy teacher said, “The thinking is that we can actually retrain the joint, overtime, to no longer hyperextend.”
Also, we should keep this idea of hugging toward the mid-line.
“In and up.”
Last fall, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Liz, a well seasoned yoga instructor with EDS in her family.
She put out her arms, and made this sucking in with a straw action through her body. I believe she said “In”, and I said “Up.”
In and Up. If we hold the body in, and feel an upward pull, we resist falling out of the joints.
For the people with all over body pain, but you feel tight all of the time: we also need to be aware of hyperextending, but not to the extreme as a super hyperextender. In our practice, we need gentle movement to loosen the tight fascia that has become bound together.
If fascia is a new word to you, let it become your IT word.
Fascia is a web-like structure of connective tissue. Think of it as a bag within your body, and it contains your muscles and bones.
If there’s a point of tension along this web, just like a pull in a sweater, this can pull on the entire web.
So, hypothetically speaking, a pain in the shoulder could be caused by an adhesion (or knot) on the belly.
(Go ahead, grab a piece of your belly, and see how that pulls on your torso!)
Through our practice, we are able to become aware of these adhesions, and release the tension we had been carrying along with us.
Also, it’s important to note how yoga affects our tight muscles. Before I found yoga, I had no idea how tight my muscles were, and how they were causing most of my pain.
When a muscle is tight, it can have the tendency to pull the joint out if its socket. Many believe that this is a major factor to our joint instability with EDS.
So our practice becomes one of gently squeezing the muscles, so we can deeply release these muscles.
In both circumstances, we’re using our yoga practice as a lifelong practice. We’re not trying to “preform poses”, we’re essentially training ourselves to look within.
We look at the old patterning, and learn how to open in a healthy way.
It’s a lifelong practice, because the journey in is never ending.
Once we are able to breathe into our body with more awareness, we are able to gain pro-prioception. EDSers often lack pro-prioception, which is “knowing where your body part is in space.” No wonder we are so clumsy!
This all takes practice, it takes time. I remember the first time my teachers asked us how a particular breathing practice felt along our backs.
I froze. It was at that moment that I realized, “I’ve been ignoring myself! Because of my chronic pain, I shut off listening!”
I didn’t feel anything in my back. I was shocked, so I somehow scrambled together, “I felt what she felt,” quickly nodding toward the girl who answered before me. But I knew I had some work to do.
When we learn how to listen to the inner rhythm of our breath, we will access the “healing magic” of the body:
By becoming aware of our breath body, we can trigger the calming, resting, healing nervous system (the parasympathetic nervous system).
All of us, EDSers or not, are often functioning in the opposite nervous system, the fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system). You cannot heal when you are in fight or flight.
And to heal, means to feel whole, and that is the definition of yoga: Union.
If someone with EDS were to do yoga, I highly recommend taking it slowly and gently. Many of us come to the mat with a lot of pent up energy (it is very stressful and isolating to live with chronic pain). Also, we come to the mat thinking we need to keep up with a typical class. However, we should start from the ground up: learn the basics, listen to the breath, feel the body, and enjoy each moment.
Very therapeutic styles are a safe place to start: some gentle hatha, gentle Kripalu, Restorative, Svaroopa, Viniyoga, etc. We can find a gentler variation for practically any pose. Then once we learn our inner rhythm and our boundaries, we can progress from there. Even a simple breathing practice can be incredibly healing!
I can’t leave without saying that when we say yoga, most of us are speaking about the physical (asana) practice. This is just one step along the path.
Feeling the body is one thing, but yoga is incredibly healing for the mental state, for the spiritual state, and for the inner and outer world. We begin to see what Union means, and how it feels. And that can be transforming.
Regarding the physical/mental practice, I like how Bernie Clark explained,
“We do not use the body to get into a pose – we use the pose to get into our body.”
We are so caught in the mental state, that that statement might not even make sense to most people.
My teacher explained it from there, “We are so trapped in the mind that we use the physical practice to get out of the mind.”
I add, “Once the body, mind, and breath are at ease, we can live in comfort and peace.”
I hope this helps. I house my favorite online yoga videos on my Pinterest page, so feel free to check them out! Some videos have my comments and modifications.
I’m slowly working at getting my own practice online. I’m not sure how that will play out because I’m an “outgoing introvert!” I can be outgoing, but I do not crave it one bit. Until then…
Take care! Smile from within.
(Please note, these are just my thoughts. I’m not suggesting someone with EDS to try yoga. I can only speak about my experiences. Thanks for your understanding.)