How do you handle students with flexibility or hypermobility in yin yoga?

Like the Daoist philosophy, how we treat ourselves and others is a balance between yin and yang. There aren’t any rules to follow and new information will change our perspective with time. Understanding who is hypermobile, (a lot of joint mobility), hypomobile (reduced joint mobility) and simply inflexible (muscular tensionality) will need to be determined. Not by a visual or aesthetic approach but asking students where they feel the pose. Some students are flexible in one area of their body but “stiff” in another. Whether this is due to their unique skeletal variation, or their lack of myofascia muscular flexibility is not known unless you have a conversation.

Many students still rely on the aesthetic of how they look over how they feel in a pose. This is problematic in a variety of ways. Yoga is about looking inward both mentally and physically and letting go external ideas and forms. The idea of feeling over the look of a shape can open students to a deeper, more aware state of experiencing subtle sensations and thoughts. Each person is unique so even hypermobile students will have a variety of experiences in yin.

Also, yin yoga encourages students to become more sensitized to their body’s pain and discomfort signals.  And as a teacher, you have a lot of influence in explaining what pain signals feel like versus discomfort signals. For example, burning, sharpness and uncomfortable tingling are the body’s way of saying “No, this is too far.” It’s good to make a habit of listening to those messages over ignoring or overriding them. That is part of the practice.

Some hypermobile students will not go to their end range because they do not know how, as in the teacher has never given them the use of props to get deeper in the pose by what Bernie Clark calls “digging out the floor.” And secondly, no one else around them is going that far, so they do not want to stand out, they follow the aesthetic over their sensation.

Some students whether hypermobile or “stiff,” will just go too far because they are used to being in pain in their muscular workouts and they are habituated to believe this is their “edge” or the goldilocks zone of their yin pose.

Some students will find their end range with about as much digging out of the floor as I can come up with and feel a mild sensation. In this case, I let the student know that they can enhance their meditative and pranayama practice while enjoying the subtle sensation. They can enjoy a wonderful stress release in this atmosphere.

Everyone needs to exercise their yin tissues such as bones, joints, fascia, ligaments, and tendons for health. Long, passive holds are good for everyone, including hypermobile students, if it is consciously done. And since yin is not just about the physical, it’s important to note that becoming aware of one’s changing sensations is a good awareness practice. As well as the benefits of meditative and quiet time in our fast-paced modern world.

In some cases, yin yoga could over-stress a hypermobile person’s smaller facilitating tissues, in which case, they will feel it at the time or a few hours later. This is the development of awareness and they will need to practice caution or work with a yoga therapist or experienced yin teacher or a physiotherapist whose scope of practice covers this area.

See the Yin Yoga Training page under the 300 hour page to see the next yin yoga teacher training.

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