When Flexibility Becomes A Liability. ~ Michaelle Edwards

Via Michaelle Edwardson Jul 11, 2013

Too flexible

Relephant bonus:

Yogis, Be Careful with Your Joints.

How William Broad is Helping Yoga Be Safer & Smarter.

Preventing hip replacements and sacral injuries starts for many people with their yoga or fitness practice.  

Last year, approximately 400,000 people had their hips replaced in the United States—and most of them were women.

Why do women’s hips wear out more than men?

Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles are often the key factors leading to hip joint deterioration.

Women have looser ligaments to allow the pelvis to open for the act of childbirth. Beyond birthing, flexibility can be a liability because the lumbar and hip joints must have strong and tight ligaments to keep the parts stable for proper joint function, and shock absorption during movement.

All women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip, and be cautious when doing hip ‘opener’ poses practiced in yoga and stretching classes that may be giving you more flexibility than you need, compromising the longevity of your joints.

Longer is not better for your ligaments.

Many people stretch their ligaments too much, unaware that it can take years for pathology in the hip joints to show up.

Every time you sit poorly in a chair, do a five minute child’s pose, or engage in an intense straight-knee forward bend, consider how these positions globally affect the entire body and in particular your spinal column. You are flattening the sacral platform, and over-stretching the ligaments that attach your sacrum to the pelvis and femur (thigh bone).  It is similar to taking a garment like your favorite pair of pants and tugging on a seam and stretching out the threads (your ligaments) that hold everything together.

Long ligaments can destabilize the dynamics of our pelvis to spine and pelvis to leg attachments leading to SI (sacral/hip) joint or groin pain.

Many people who do yoga and stretching exercises have chronic SI joint pain but keep bending forward to stop the pain unaware that the forward bending pose itself is causing a shortening of the front and excessive strain and over stretching to the back extensors. Most of us are pulled forward and shortened in our front body from excessive time spent in right-angled chairs; hence our back body is strained and over-stretched. It needs to be tightened and strengthened, not stretched.

There are no straight lines in nature.Forward bends can be harmful to your body

If you think about it, does leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve in your back in a quest to touch the toes, while keeping the knees straight, honor the integrity of our human spinal design? We used to think the world was flat. Why do we say straighten the spine or tighten your abs to make a flat back? Our world is made of curves and so is our spinal column. There are no straight lines in organic nature.

These positions put a lot of torque on the natural sacral angle, and also undermine the curving forces in the spine and hip joint needed for shock absorption and hip stabilization. Without the lower back curve, you end up with a flat looking posterior or butt and oftentimes-chronic low back, knee and neck pain too.

Your spine does not need to be stretched.

Our vertebral column is strung together with posterior and anterior longitudinal ligaments that get over-stretched when we slouch, or do yoga or fitness positions that engage the forces of spinal flexion over extension and stabilization.

Years of tugging on your ligaments can weaken the forces in your body that hold you together. As ligaments become lax, it can lead to serious postural issues such as forward head carriage, chronic hip, back and knee pain, slowed digestion and elimination, and even a weakened immune system.

If you find yourself feeling tenderness when you walk, sharp pain when doing a pose like revolved triangle or a deep warrior lunge, you may want to back off. This is the beginning of the tragic hip destabilizations and replacements that are rocking the yoga world.

Lady Gaga, a yoga enthusiast, just cancelled her tour with serious hip pain that required surgical repair and sidelined her for months. Was it her intense daily Bikram practice? There are many factors, but yoga certainly did not prevent it from happening.

There are many other famous and not famous yoga teachers and practitioners who have had one or both hips replaced and sadly the numbers are adding up.  It just makes sense to ask if yoga pose biomechanics might have contributed to these joint destabilizations. Are we paying attention and learning from this?

YogAlign standing forward bendTouch your toes like a toddler.

Watch how any toddler bends over and you will see hips back, knees bent deeply, butt muscles engaged, and a curving spine when they reach for a ball on the ground. When we keep the knees straight in yoga, and instead ask the spine to flex and bend as in forward bends, we are overriding our natural design forces.

To experience this in motion, keep both knees from bending and walk across the room. Does it feel like driving with a parking brake on?  What would your life be like if you could not bend your knees? How could you run, ski, dance, or even move? What is the anatomical advantage of stretching with both knees straight?  Does it contribute to the longevity of your joints? Does it have a correlation to how you engage your body in real life function?

Next bend your knees deeply while standing and begin to take your hips back while leaning forward until your head is pointing towards the floor.  Slowly begin to straighten your knees and notice where you feel the pull or stretch in your body.  It is the sacral/hip joint! Does it make anatomical sense to stretch out the ligament stabilizing forces in your spine and hip?

It’s not too late—strengthen your hip and butt muscles.

Active and dynamic movements require effort from the deep hip flexor and gluteus muscles that attach the femur (thigh bone) to your pelvis. So working any yoga pose with strength and motion—instead of relaxing into a static pose—will benefit your hip/femur joint.

For people who are already experiencing hip joint problems or sciatic pain, strengthening your postural muscles using deep breathing while in natural spine positions can activate dormant extension and expansion forces that allow your bones to ‘float.’ Keeping your knees bent when bending over enlists your gluteus or butt muscles to create strong muscular actions to help to stabilize your pelvis and contribute to functional biomechanics and strong stabilization forces.

Once your body experiences working in a healthy, connected fashion, your ligaments can regain their natural length, protecting your hip joint and sciatic nerve from wear and tear.

Focusing on an overall balance of strength and flexibility needed for daily movements ensures the integrity of our natural infrastructure is preserved, and also allows for the deep diaphragm movements that are the cornerstone of a yoga practice.

The key to healthy alignment is accommodating your breathing process.

Breathing dynamics provide the best tool for checking if a pose contributes towards natural alignment.

When doing any yoga poses, see if you can take a full breath that allows your diaphragm to contract downwards and your rib cage to expand. If you cannot take a deep breath, then the pose is activating externalized forces in your body that override the body’s natural and essential core movements and infrastructures.

The core of your core is your psoas muscle group.

Breathing deeply engages the psoas muscle that connects your diaphragm to the lumbar spine to the upper inner thighbone or femur.  Sitting in chairs or doing forward bends with straight knees shortens the psoas, which can lead to bulging or herniated discs. The psoas is the only muscle group in the human body that is attached to the discs of the spine.  In many people the inner groin and psoas is short and tight although the ligaments in the pelvis may be too loose. A shortened psoas can affect the delicate balance of the hip joint possibly leading to compression in the hip socket and deterioration of the joint.

Learning to activate the psoas as a stabilizer and not just a flexor can be done through breathing techniques and specialized exercises. In a new style of yoga called YogAlign, a pose called the core connector activates the psoas/diaphragm connection quickly restoring equilibrium to the psoas. Balancing the actions of the psoas can stop chronic back pain, stabilize the spine and create a fluid balance of the whole body.

Natural flexibility honors spinal integrity.

The truth is, that over a period of time, yoga practitioners—like any discipline that has habitual positions or compartmentalized static poses—will often suffer from injuries in the long and short term.

When posture is naturally aligned, the human body stays flexible without the need to do dozens of intense stretches to relieve tension of the parts.

The ligaments that string our vertebral column are getting stretched beyond their anatomical functions when we do poses that take our spine into the C shape; which is the bane of aging.

Remember, like all of nature, the human body is made of curves and spirals. What has the most value is to remember our innate postural patterns, and preserve the natural integrity of our spine and joints.

 

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

 

Assistant Ed: Linda Jockers/Ed: Bryonie Wise

About Michaelle Edwards

Michaelle Edwards is the director of the Kauai Yoga School in Hawaii, inventor of YogAlign and author of the book/DVD combo; YogAlign, Pain-free Yoga From Your Inner Core. She is an ERYT, Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), professional musician, and posture educator. She is devoted to giving people painless, inexpensive self-care tools to heal chronic pain and injuries using common sense techniques that work quickly and painlessly.

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52 Responses to “When Flexibility Becomes A Liability. ~ Michaelle Edwards”

  1. Angela Gallagher says:

    Excellent article. Yogalign is all about using one's body functionally and s incredibly effective. Can not recommend it highly enough

  2. Joe Sparks says:

    Another excellent article Michaelle! I imagine a lot of practitioners who have a regular yoga practice and yoga teachers wish they had this information about how flexibility can be a liability. That the body is not designed to do forward bends with straight knees, which overstretches the back , destabilizes the hip, and causes a lot of needless back pain and suffering. Who would of thought, bending over trying to touch your toes with straight legs is bad for you. A lot of people will be happy, because toe touching was always a test of one's flexibility, in reality, it is a complete myth! Yoga should not be about performing poses, instead about enjoying moving, breathing from our inner core, freeing ourselves from decades of sitting, getting our natural curves of our spine back. I hope the yoga world starts to wake up and teach poses that goes with our natural design. You cannot have peace of mind when you are wrecking your body.

  3. Vickster V says:

    Michaelle, I was so excited to read your article this morning! I've been practicing/teaching HY for more than a decade and have suffered everything and more of the symptoms you wrote of. As a dedicated practitioner, 5 years ago, I wanted to find out what was happening, why and fix it on my own before a frankenspine surgeon convinced his way was the only way. So, in my quest I resourced several anatomical studies, an excellent massage therapist who performed deep psoas work regularly, and I dissected the HY postures targeting the forward bends. Well on the same path as you write about, I made many of the above modifications, especially the bent-knee approaches. I can't tell you how many instructors have yelled at me to do otherwise in class or how many deaf ears the modified instructions I teach have fallen upon. It grieves me to see students injuriously approach forward bends as they prefer to in class. That all said, I will be in Kauai in 2014 and am so excited to know you are there and to have the opportunity to visit your studio and learn more about your method. Thank you so much for spreading the word of alignment. I cannot wait to learn more! Namaste.

    • Hi Vickster, Your words and testimony are important and I hope more people begin to view the body globally instead of in parts such as thinking you can actually isolate any muscle and stretch it without affecting the body as a whole. What i am seeing is that when naturally aligned, the feeling that one needs to stretch actually goes away.
      Look forward to meeting another psoas educator ! How wise you are to be practicing discernment and following the path to natural body alignment than pose alignment.

  4. Laurie Anthony says:

    I see YogAlign breathing technique, self-massage, and movement series poses/positions – such as the core connector – improving people's posture, strength, and overall sense of wellbeing almost immediately as I work with them. The clear simple style of the information presented in articles like this one enhance educating clients at a deeper level on how & why the body functions as it does. Thank you Michaelle and Elephant Journal.

  5. Lindsey says:

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for sharing this. I am an avid yogi with a chronically troubling right SI joint issue that brings me back to the chiropractor over and over again. Your article reinforces the preventative steps I've been learning to help stabilize the muscles. Rule number one is that I no longer fly into forward bend with straight knees and arms extended forward (long lever) — I bend my knees deeply and float my arms out to the side. And overall, I try to do more spinal extension and less flexion than I used to, to stretch my poor shortened psoas and help strengthen my back and glutes.

    Funny you mention that about Lady Gaga. The very first yoga I learned was from Bikram's book, and with all his emphasis on PULLING to reach your toes, getting into the position no matter what it takes, no variations or props — no wonder I stretched out my ligaments. If every yoga teacher, in every tradition, would deeply understand and internalize what you're saying here, I believe yoga injuries would drop dramatically. Thanks again.

  6. Jesse says:

    Yoga's best friend is Pilates. Side lying hip exercises. Do them.

    • betty says:

      I agree with Jesse. As a person whose entire thoracic spine is fused, with a non-existent c curve in the cerivical spine, significant life long lateral and torqued scolisosis; I have learned the hard way to personalize my asana practice. The most beneficial experiennce in support of my yoga practice has been pilates under the supervision of a certified teacher. For me, the mechanical equipment was essential especially in the beginning. I have been able to work with my situation as it is and was never pressured to change my body. It wasn't until after I began Pilates that I felt comfortable asserting myself with well intentioned but slightly grandiose yoga teachers who claimed they could actually alter a body that had been racked and fused and racked at fused at the age of 13. Congratulations to Michaelle for empowering students. And thank you Elephant Journal for an opportunity for discussion.

  7. Vaso says:

    Thank you. Very nice article :)

    My good friend has just sent me a link to your article. I have been practising yoga over 5 years and would like to reverse what happens when you sit on the chair like 10 hours a day for 10+ years, shorten and tight hamstring, hip and shoulder joins limited movement, brain, whatever :). I think if sitting on the chair was introduced in Olympic I could have had already a few gold medals haha.

    What I want to achieve is just what you said we should be aiming for – to get the "natural length" back what should be then very easy to maintain. It's tricky to use word "flexible" as it might brings a misconception what that actually means and all of us has got different understanding of this word as in most cases it will be a comparison in between yourself and others or two different subjects. So is being flexible good or bad? If it means your particular "natural length" of tissue it is most likely good. If you are flexible beyond then you might be on the path to be a good candidate for an injury as mentioned in this article, if the flexibility is restricted and limited as should be I guess that would be a different article from Michaelle :)

    I have been trying both straight legs and bent knees. Being honest I prefer bent knees but when my body is warmed up I like also straight legs. In both cases I like to hang my spine down as it is compressed the other way when sitting on the chair for hours and I feel I need space and stretch of those muscles in between vertebrae. But from the mechanics point of view, due the length (tightness) of hamstrings bent knees allow you to tilt your pelvis, that allows your back flatten in certain level (if it was rounded) so it becomes more straight and releases any possible tension on particular vertebrae(s) and then the beauty comes when you can rest your chest on your thighs so your legs (thighs) take away a bit of weight so there is not that much tension in your spine or as you said ligaments attaching sacrum to pelvis. I think all you said is true but in some cases it depends on a word you also mentioned – an intensity. If the intensity is minimum and very soft it doesn't cause most likely any harm but if you want to take a short cut and you make the intensity too much you can injure yourself in seconds and you don't have to wait years haha.

    We should aim for what our body deserves:
    An equilibrium in between flexibility (natural length) and strength through
    An equilibrium in between our practise (which is intense enough in a level which would never cause any harm) and rest (where all the tissue is recovering, healing and growing)

    But how much you should "push" so the intensity is just right and benefits long term and doesn't harm? Maybe, a subject for another article?

    P.S.
    Michaelle, just to make your article better, you mentioned these:

    - approximately 400,000 people had their hips
    - there are many other famous and not famous yoga teachers ..hips replaced
    - Lady Gaga..

    These needs to be links to the source so what you say just doesn't sound like a rumour. You linked some bits which is handy but those above also deserve that coz they are strong claims. Thanks again :)

  8. Vaso, Sitting is the new smoking as they say. I do work with my clients work stations as no amount of yoga or stretching is going to undo hours of poor sitting habits. This is why I have made the point not to do yoga poses or stretches that engages the shape of your body in a right angle chair shape or that require you to bend forward with knees straight creating an overstretch of the hip stabilizing sacral platform. I have observed that many yogi women have a visual flatness in the lumbar, sacral, gluteus region of the body. This is the classic look of some one old or aged, the butt is flat and when the sacrum hangs down, so does the breastbone which means the head goes forward and then all the extensor muscles along the back of the body are tense and over-stretched. Stretching is over-rated in a sense because what feels tight like our hamstrings may actually be strained, tense and overstretched from trying to balance the shortness of the flexors in the anterior body. When the body is aligned, we actually do not feel 'tense' and therefore do not feel a 'need' to stretch.
    What we do need is a balance of strength and anatomically functional flexibility not practices based on the stretching of parts especially at the expense of spinal and hip joint integrity. In my work, we always engage global forces that stabilize the joint in poses making sure that we are not stretching or hanging in ligaments to perform a pose.
    A couple of suggestions for sitting would be to get a treadmill desk allowing you to walk as you work or to use a high stool, raise your desk level and perch. I have seen them on Amazon and some people get a tread mill at a yard sale and make their own. We are designed to move which is why I emphasize that yoga poses or stretches should simulate how you move. Another suggestion is to get your hips about 4 inches higher than the level of your knees when sitting in any chair. In a chair or car seat, the knees are usually level with the hips and this arrangement shortens the hip flexors just because that is what happens when the knees are at pelvis level. What is worse are car seats and patio furniture that tilt down in the back making the knees much higher than the hips.
    Also not using the back of a chair and instead sitting on the edge of it and getting your computer screen up to eye level. If you are using a lap top, get an external keyboard and put your computer up on some books or a stand so that the eyes and hands are not working on the same level.
    Thanks for your suggestions about citing my statistics. I used an estimate of 400,000 surgeries in the US because there are statistics at the Center for Disease control saying there were 320,000 total hip replacements in the US in 2012. However there are a lot of other hip surgeries such as hip resurfacing, or having just one hip as opposed to two replaced, and hip implants not included in that total of 320,000.
    Here is the link http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/insurg.htm
    Also one of the famous yoga teachers who has full hip replacements is power yoga teacher and author Beryl Bender. She wrote an article in the Nov. 2012 issue of Yoga Journal making it public as well as in this article for Omega cited here. http://www.eomega.org/learning-paths/body-mind-am

    There are several other very famous teachers who are not really publicizing their replacements because in a sense its like an obese restaurant owner saying hi, come eat at my place. If your yoga teacher has poor posture or joint issues, you may want to consider the value of what they may be teaching you. Most people are unaware that doing some yoga poses may in fact cause more harm than good. Plow pose and headstand are two that I do not recommend ever for any reason. The cervical spine is simply not designed to carry the weight of the lower body. What more do we need to know?

    Lady Gaga's hip problems were all over the news so I assumed it was common knowledge. However she had what is called a labral tear in her hip. The labrum is muscle and fascial tissue that holds the head of the femur ( the ball) in place in your hip socket. Hers was torn and she suffered from synovitis, an inflammation of the joints that can cause significant pain, significant swelling and reduced range of motion making it painful to walk. Gaga pushes her body hard including a daily Bikram practice and I am suggesting that some of the poses may have led to her joint pathologies.
    There are other famous yoga teachers with hip and knee replacements too. Larry Payne had double knee replacements a few months ago and he is the director of the Yoga training program at Loyola Marymount, author of Yoga for Dummies, and co-author of Yoga RX. My suggestion is to consider yoga pose biomechanics and how it may be affecting the health and longevity of our joints before doing any of them. Use discernment and listen to your body. Thats what Patanjali recommends.

    • AbbyHoffmann says:

      Hold on! Gaga also has a punishing tour schedule – dances regularly and who knows what else is going on that has caused the Labrum tear.. As much as I'm not a fan of Bikram, not sure you can accurately claim this either….

      • Abby, yes very hard to quantify exactly how yoga practice may have contributed or not but her version of Standing head to knee Bikram style looks like the perfect storm for hip damage. Sometimes people are injured right in the moment too. I recently met a yoga student who was doing the bound triangle and told to tuck her tailbone and as she did that, her labrum tore and her femur popped out of the acetabulum she tells me…… There is a lot of torque on joints and compression as well that is happening in yoga asana in general that needs to be addressed from an anatomical perspective. Yoga is supposed to be a healing practice and certainly not injurious or destabilizing.

  9. Arthritis is another ailment very common to dancers, gymnasts and yogis who spend a lot of time in positions that go beyond normal ranges of motion in the joints doing positions for 'artistic reasons'. Statistics for doctor diagnosed arthritis are epidemic and affecting more women. According to the Arthritis Foundation, 25.9 million women have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, while 16.8 million men have the condition.
    Arthritis Foundation statistics cited here. http://www.arthritis.org/resources/gettingstarted
    I spent twenty years developing Yogalign and five years writing my book about how to do yoga in a way that supports our natural alignment and is focused more on posture than poses. http://www.yogalign.com

  10. The omega article about Benders hip replacement was published a few years back before her surgery when she was first diagnosed with a bone spur and severe arthritis of the hip joint after she had severe joint pain for over a year and could not get relief. November 2012 Yoga Journal has a page long interview with Bender and she discusses her hip replacement surgeries bravely to the public.

  11. James Bailey says:

    I've been teaching a variation on this in my anatomy courses for years. THANK YOU!

  12. MV64 says:

    This article could not have come at a better time. I have been dealing with high hamstring pulls (both sides) for a year now (just as I finished up my 200 hr teacher training!) I emailed Michaelle this morning looking for some guidance on what to do about this and could not believe she got back to me so quickly and took the time to send such a lengthy and informative response. Up unitl now I was convinced that I would never be able to practice or teach yoga again but through this article, along with Michaelle's response, I have hope! I am looking forward to receiving her book and getting myself on the road to recovery and back to doing what I love!

  13. yogini786 says:

    Michelle I have just been on your website and read even more of your articles. First, thank you for already changing my practice. As a yoga teacher who is hyperflexible initially I found no forward fold or backbend out of reach. But with time exactly as you write I started to develop injury and pain in my lower back, sacral and sciatic nerve pain. along with that I got pain in my pelvis, hip flexors and groin. As I learned to move with my body with the pain I found everything changing in my practice and listening even more deeply to the clear voice of my body. I would just like to add, that at some point when I started to approach the pain in my body as a teacher, and accept it with gratitude, that is when the shift came within and when like it often happens, synchronistically found teachings like yours to help me on my journey. Thank you and I have had a deep desire to travel to Hawaii one day and now have one more place and one more teacher to attract me there. Peace and blessings.

    • Pain is a great teacher and motivator as it is the voice of the body saying I need support, dont do this, change position etc. However the body speaks in whispers too saying take a break, massage your feet, relax your belly etc.
      We do have to be able to sense and feel our body in order to hear what it is saying. Much of my practice involves increasing proprioception and teaching in a way that engages people to practice feeling over thinking. The body does not lie and it will tell you what is working if you can tune up your ability to feel.
      I too was injured doing yoga and decided to go back to the drawing board and take a look at every yoga pose I practiced. I let my body decide by checking in with breathing. When checking out poses, I look for natural spine alignment so I am reinforcing posture that will keep my pain-free and active. If a pose does not contribute to good posture, we dont do it. Also we use deep breathing that allows the diaphragm to descend and all the ribs in the rib cage to move.

  14. Guest says:

    Be careful when describing anatomy. As an anatomist reading, "the psoas muscle that connects your diaphragm to the lumbar spine" was slightly painful. Remember that the diaphragm connects to the first two lumbar vertebrae on the left side by the left crux and to the anterior surfaces and intervertebral discs of the first three lumbar vertebrae by the right crux. I am assuming you are thinking about the medial arcuate ligament when discussing the psoas major in relation to the diaphragm (it also bothers me when people reference "psoas" when about half the population also has a psoas "minor.")

    • Thanks for commenting on the site about the crura of the diaphragm and the information about the left side only covering two vertebrae while the right attaching to three. The fascia in the region of the psoas through the medial arcuate ligament and the central tendon seems to make the psoas major like the roots of the diaphragm. When studying the fascia of the psoas and the connection to the diaphragm, transverse abdominus, internal obliques, and the pelvic floor, it is obvious that this muscle has fascial connections that connect our entire inner body to the psoas region. that It is vital that we take care in how we train our nervous system to enlist the psoas group. I recently heard of a woman who lost control of her pelvic floor muscles after many years of an intense ashtanga practice.
      I am using the psoas term loosely as the psoas group does of course include illiacus and the psoas minor too. I have heard from folks involved with a lot of dissections that all people have the psoas minor ligament structure but in only about 35% of people, a muscle body ( the psoas minor ) develops.
      In the scope of this article, it is impossible to discuss the complexities of the psoas, diaphragm, QL and the pelvic floor connections. Most people do not even know they have a psoas much less where it is located and how it functions. I do appreciate hearing from anatomists especially concerning the lumbar plexus of nerves. Since it is is formed anterior to the lumbar transverse processes, with a proximal attachment of the psoas major, this nerve network can be adversely affected by doing poses or positions that strain the lumbar region.
      I feel many people damage the nerves of the lumbar region by reversing the natural nutation of the sacral platform and compromising the femoral nerve at L2- L4 which innervates the flexors of the hip and extensors of the knee. Many people have compromised nerve functions because of sacral/lumbar compression or over-stretching and most are unaware of the vast network of nerves that innervate from the lumbar to the legs. This is why I am warning people of the dangers of deep forward bends with both knees straight because its just too much compression of the lumbar and also over-stretching of nerve fibers in the lumbar sacral region.
      The obturator nerve at L2- L4 and the medial border of the psoas major travels to the medial thigh, supplying the adductor muscles and in many people the nerves are so compressed there is a marked weakness of the adductors that affects gait and hip balance.The lumbosacral trunk (L4, L5) passes over the sacrum and descends into the pelvis to participate in the formation of the sacral plexus and S1–S4 nerves. My work involves teaching people to honor the natural lumbar curve, enlist the psoas in spine stabilizing actions that engage the deep part of the psoas where it intersects with the diaphragm. The body is global and yoga poses should enlist the body in natural anatomical function rather than stretch parts at the expense of spinal integrity; especially the lumbar sacral region.

      • Barb Utech says:

        I have been suffering bodily pain for many years due to stretching parts of my body that really didn't need to be stretched, BUT I stretched them anyway as I was already flexible, and it was so easy, and it meant that I could 'achieve' much of what my yoga classes where asking me to 'achieve' on a physical level…. ie FLEXIBILITY.
        In my 20's… & as a competitive cyclist, my cycling coach introduced me to a regime of Hatha Yoga to enable my body to cope with the rigorous hours I would spend training hunched over the handle-bars of my bike.
        In my 30's… I continued my yoga practice even after I hung-up my bicycle!
        In my 40's… I began to experience much discomfort and pain in my right SI joint and my shoulders.
        I felt like the yoga poses I had been practising for the past 20 years somehow where not serving my body anymore. As I moved into my mid-40's I became more and more dysfunctional in my movement patterns and was in constant pain. I began to look for answers and pain-relief by subscribing to many of the healing modalities available to us.
        Yes…. pain-relief was generally achieved through many of the healing modalities, however nothing ever had long-lasting results.
        Until in 2012 when I read an article by Michaelle Edwards on the YogAlign Method. Her factual research and underlying methodology spoke many truths that were difficult to ignore.
        Earlier this year I graduated from Michaelle's 2013 YogAlign Teacher Training Course.
        I am now in my early 50's… my body is re-aligned, restored, and pain-free… I am engaged in competitive ocean sports and I have to say that my body now in its' 50's, serves me even better than it ever did in my 20's!
        It is through my own personal experiences, and involvement as a YogAlign Teacher, that I highly recommend the YogAlign Method, and acknowledge the truths revealed in the 'natural bodily wisdom' which Michaelle Edwards is helping us all to re-connect with.
        YogAlign is definitely the NEW YOGA for people living in this 'day and age'..! Our sedentary, seated and stressful jobs interspersed with dysfunctional recreational fitness regimes, are taking us farther and farther away from how our bodies are really meant to operate in a long-term and sustainable way.
        It seems evident to me that our birth-right is Natural Alignment – to live peacefully in a sustainable body, for a sustainable world!

    • betty says:

      I agree, we all need to be careful. The internet is a mixed blessing.

  15. Michaelle Edwards is, in my mind, a heart-centered genius! Her expertise combined with her passion to help people are a blessing to all who are in pain and wanting to heal, and to all who are ready to evolve in their yoga practice. I was in both categories. Since working with Michaelle, constant pain in both knees, SI and hamstring pain are all gone, while chronic neck and shoulder tension are greatly diminished. I have been practicing yoga for 40 years, and teaching for 35. I became hyper-flexible and too loose in all my joints. I had been struggling with these aggravations without connecting the dots for far too long. I understand now how my asana practice was the cause of my pain. I have completely altered my practice to implement YogAlign methods and am now pain free while having developed a deeper core strength than ever in my life! Students in my classes are all giving similar testimonies, exclaiming how their back pain is gone, neck pain is diminishing, and they feel better than ever. One woman has even dodged a second knee replacement, and has NO pain in her knees! Another student, a musician, who's neck and shoulder pain were so intense that she hasn't been able to play her violin for a long time is now playing again! There is no doubt in my mind and heart that YogAlign's time is NOW! The world needs to learn YogAlign! Michaelle's program is for EVERYONE! I am committed to helping others to feel better, and YogAlign has made taken my life's work to the next level. I'm forever grateful to Michaelle for re-booting my practice. I feel happier, more free and deeply contented because I'm honoring what my body was created to do rather than treating my body as a host of limits to overcome. It's a joy to help others learn this respectful approach to self-care! I have been teaching the YogAlign techniques to small and large groups of people for many months now and the response is always extremely positive! Years of lingering pain is disappearing and people are deeply grateful!

  16. I think it is noteworthy to add that I am a very active 57 year old yogini. I have played competitive tennis much of my adult life, I ride my bike as a mode of transportation (in excess of 30 miles on some days), I hike regularly for several miles at a time, take long daily dog walks, ski both alpine and nordic, snow shoe and am generally exceptionally active. My average steps per day (I wear a fitbit) exceed 14,000 and on very active days, exceed 22,000. Because of my high level of activity, I believed that everything BUT yoga, including my age, was the cause of my pain. I was duped because yoga asana would often temporarily relieve my pain, but it would always return. I am still as active as ever. The only thing that I have changed is how I practice asana, and all joint pain is gone!!! I was resigned to knee pain for the rest of my life, and knee replacements, knowing that my mother had two and all 9 of my siblings have arthritis which manifests primarily in the knees, just like my mother. To go from 24/7 knee pain for two decades to no knee pain ever is nothing to scoff at! YogAlign is the real deal. It makes nothing but good body sense and good common sense to heed Michaelle's message!

  17. fashion blog says:

    Some really good content on this site, thanks for contribution. “He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” by Benjamin Franklin.

  18. Therese says:

    I have worked with Michaelle in person and she is phenomenal!!!! I have her book and DVD and I USE it, which is saying a lot! I met Michaelle at Esalen while we were both studying the Fascial planes, or Anatomy Trains. I have found this kind of yoga to be the best for my body and the most healing. Keep up the good work!!

  19. Ed Spyhill says:

    As a 66 year old Yogi who began studying Yoga when I was 64, I am always concerned about doing harm to my aging body. Your articles help immensely.

  20. nora neff hardy says:

    "Ligament" comes from "religio" of latin origin. translates as 'that which binds your structure together". So the reality is that we need to strengthen with flexibility. Too tight is fragile and sets up patterns of scarring. Too loose is very unstable.

    • Nora, thank you for contributing to the conversation. How fascinating that the word ligament and religion come from the same Latin origin and 'are what binds your structure together'. What is most important in our lives is to feel comfortable in our body and trustful in its ability to do movement with out pain. In our modern culture, up to 80% of people have back pain and I have read that over 30% of people suffer from depression. Dysfunctional Postural habits affect the ability to move with ease but also to feel balanced in our emotions. My work with creating YogAlign has evolved to a practice where less is more. We reprogram the way our nervous system directs our body to move and use only the necessary effort. What happens is truly magical. Posture shifts quickly, energy levels increase and the joy of being alive becomes innate and nothing we have to strive for.

  21. just as bks iyengar says: it's not yoga which injures but the way one practices…and bending forward w. knees straigth is a yoga pose (uttanasana) nothing wrong w/this if you have the flexibility in your hamstrings, if not use a brick or belt or soemtimes bend your knees – and i do think the spine needs to be extended in the front

    • Sabine, Yoga poses can definitely injure people and statistics are showing that headstand, plow, lotus, hero and other poses are injurious even when done 'correctly'. Bending over with straight knees as in uttanasana can definitely damage the sacral platform ligaments which are strung directly to the hamstrings via the sacrotubeous ligaments. Those in the most danger are the highly flexible because they are unknowingly stretching the ligament forces needed to keep the hip joint stable. As I say in the article Flexibility is a liability and that is why it is so important to do yoga poses that simulate how you engage your body in real life. Try to walk without bending your knees and you may get the picture.

  22. Tomasz Goetel [Hot Yoga] says:

    Good stuff! Thank you.

  23. Laura says:

    This is interesting. I'm wondering if my yoga practice either caused or contributed to bursitis in my hip. The bursitis is now gone although flare up once briefly last year but I'm left with a lot of discomfort in my hips. Sitting for longer than 20 minutes in meditation becomes very uncomfortable (not really painful per say) and I have to shift. After a two hour walk this summer I ended up in a lot of pain. I don't push it in yoga but I am wondering if there's anything I should be doing differently aside from bending the knees in forward folds since the pain and discomfort are on the side of my hip and don't seem directly related to my psoas (although I'm sure indirectly it very well may be). I'd love to get some thoughts on this.

    • Hi Laura, I would drop all of the forward folds and focus on strengthening your back extensors as well as your hamstrings. The deep breathing process we use in YogAlign enlists dormant postural forces to stabilize and lengthen your torso taking pressure off of the groin area of the pelvis.. Anytime your hips are flexed at 90 or more degrees, one needs to be careful at take care not to internally or externally rotate the femur too far. Bending forward when you have hip pain should be avoided and make sure to sit with your hips at least 4 to 6 inches higher than your knees by using a bolster or block in any chair you sit in. Be careful with meditation poses and make sure you always have your lumbar/sacral curve in neutral and definitely not flexed for long periods of time. I also recommend two poses from YogAlign one being the core connector that enlists your trunk muscles including psoas as spine stabilizers not flexors and the other one being the YogAlign Spine Aligner. You need to get my book and DVD or work with a YogAlign instructor. I also have a lot of information up on You Tube.

  24. drstephenrodrigues says:

    Hello all, I am a family doc who recommends yoga as part of my therapy plan for chronic complex pain issues. I have been studying and practicing Acupuncture, myofascial release with hands on and with needles for 15 years. Since I have been on this journey a lot of the medical descriptions that I have used can not be valid anymore and I’m attempting to clarify as best I can to help those who have an interest.

    >Joints do not wear out as I thought or was taught in med school … joints will degenerate and suffer from a different cause and that is from the extraordinary force applied by stressed muscles. To combat muscle tightness you have to stretch and practice yoga which is ideal because it helps the mind, body and spirit.

    >”Pain in the joint” is not usually in the joint proper but in the muscles and flesh associate with the functioning of the joint called Myofascial Tissues. To treat this stressed tissues you use MF Release Therapy which is on a spectrum from simple stretching, yoga, massage, Chiro adjustments, John F. Barnes unwinding, hands-on manipulations, acupuncture, Gunn-IMS, dry needling to finally Travell trigger point injections.

    • Dr. Rodrigues, In my YogAlign practice, we practice self massage and also balancing the tensional forces in the body so that muscles are not compressing a joint or pulling the body out of alignment. But stretching is a bit of a myth since muscle tissue cannot be 'pulled on' to change its resting length. I use PNF or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation to change the wiring in the nervous system that controls the tension in a muscle. This must be done globally to the whole body at once in positions that simulate good posture so that the fabric or connective tissue can shift. I agree that you can use body work of all types to help change the soft tissue however it is only a band-aid unless you do somatic education to rewire posture to a more natural alignment. Also many people cannot afford the time or money to get bodywork and my method gives people health care self reliance. When the body is truly aligned, many chronic pain issues and disease can be healed by the intelligence of the body. Posture is a huge determinant of our health and my work in YogAlign is to create a yoga system that incorporates, breathing, self massage, somatic education and core stabilizing with body positions that simulate real life function. When we are aligned, joints functions last a lifetime……… I would be interested in sharing my work with you.. Michaelle with Yogalign

  25. Drew says:

    Interesting article. I recently quit teaching yoga because it was a constant losing battle trying to teach students proper alignment and appropriate vs. inappropriate practice.

    While I don't agree with everything you write – particularly that Shirshasana and Sarvangasana should not be practiced at all (and this is simply because taught and practiced correctly there is almost no weight being born by the cervical spine) – I do agree with a lot of your article.

    My first yoga teacher said to me "Those with greater flexibility have a greater responsibility to protect themselves…" I'm forever grateful to her.

    One caveat I'd like to point out to all readers of this article… asana has almost nothing to do with yoga… it is only a small fraction of the larger picture and was never intended to be practiced the way we in the west practice. Another reason why I finally moved on from teaching asana and pranayama. Not to knock asana – I love my practice – but it is such a small part of the sadhana.

    Thanks for the interesting read!

    • Carl says:

      I think you make a good point Drew regarding asanas being just a small part of yoga. My understanding is that asanas help to prepare one to be able to sit comfortably and easily during meditation without distractions from the body. Meditation is the goal, not the asana. Here in the west, this seems to have been forgotten. Yoga has become a mere physical exercise class, a workout, a sport, with the western attitudes of pushing and competing. Perhaps the injuries seen in yoga are related to this western mentality, as little inner awareness is cultivated and yoga philosophies such as ahimsa are not being developed.

    • Inversions do not decompress the spine unless you are hanging from a yoga swing or inversion boots. When we turn upside down and balance on our head and forearms, the spine is just compressed in another direction. Also the cervical spine is not designed to carry the weight of the lower body so this can cause bone spurs from the compression forces. Jon Burras has a great piece he wrote called the 10 myths of inversions.. I suggest you read it to get informed before you possibly cause longtime damage from these practices.
      I totally agree that asana has become a performance art in many ways rather than a spiritual practice. So if we are going to do so much asana, lets at least make sure that we are doing poses that will lead to a favorable outcome and that follow natures design of our spine while protecting our joints from compression or over-stretching.
      As a bodyworker, I know that the root of most pain and disease is poor postural patterns …. Many yoga poses actually sacrifice spinal integrity to get in the pose and it just makes no sense folks. I am hearing from many yogis from all over the world every day about their injuries, SI joint pain, labrum tears and suspicious knee and groin pain. Our structure is not a static building. Yoga asana needs to support the natural tensegrity forces in our body and we need to stop trying to stretch parts. Just because your hamstrings feel tight does not mean they are. In most cases the hamstrings are strained and therefore weak.. Hamstrings feel tight because we sit in chairs and the anterior flexors shorten… the hamstrings are enlisted to balance the tightness of the front and doing forward bends is anatomically questionable. We need to find neutral and balance not push our joints and spine in extreme positions like straight leg forward bends. Just watch the toddlers folks and you will see how they do it. the body does not lie.

    • dr.mitzi m.d. says:

      You are very wise and make a great point. One of Patanjali Yoga Sutras is : STHIRA SUKHAM ASANAM; That which is comfortable is an Asana, also meaning an Asana should not be uncomfortable or cause discomfort as also quoted in Michaelle Edwards' YogAlign book, which I have read. I took her Level 1 Teachers Training in Toledo OH and immensely enjoyed and learned from it. It was an entire diferent learing curve as the work shop taught how to utilize the muscle function to your advantage. In Medical Schools, the Origin, Insertion, Function, Blood and Nerve supplies are taught. Not necessarily how to use the muscle groups safely to your advantage. I see a lot physicians all the time with poor postures, including myself. She makes excellent points about these muscle functions which are very beneficial in day to day activities such as simple sitting at a desk, driving, walking, bending, turning and so on. You have to spend some awareness to practise and make it a habit as she says. Like our Yoga Instructor Joe Sparks of Hotyogawithjoe.com says Yoga is not a performing art , It is Healing Art. dr.mitzi.m.d.

  26. Carli Susu says:

    How interesting. Over the past 6 months I have had to back off my beloved Bikram yoga practice due to chronic sacroiliac pain (lower back pain) which has all but debilitated me. I am in agony most of the time. I have been desperate to return to my classes as side effects from giving up Bikram include all over stiffness and weight gain from lack of exercise. However, whenever I try any Bikram postures, the pain in my sacrum makes me wince. Surely this can't be good? I am what's known as hyper flexible, which means I can fold in half like a book being slammed shut, but without any core strength to hold my bones joints or ligaments together. I got into yoga because of my natural flexibility; I found it easy. I'm a bit of a show-off, especially as I'm a curvy girl and was always very bad at sports at school; here was something I could do. I was so passionate, I flirted with the idea of training as a Bikram teacher. When the pain started, the body's warning message, I ignored it and I carried on with the yoga, egged on by the teachers telling me that it was just 'my body realigning' and even pushed and punished myself to go daily for 2 months in a row, waiting for the pain to subside and for my joints to 'align'. Bikram, as some of you might know is practiced with the knees locked in most positions, and therefore, I hyperextended my knees to the point where they almost bend the wrong way like a camel. Really I should be using my thigh muscles to hold my knees in place, but because of my super flexibility, I don't. Since quitting Bikram, the knee dislocations that I regularly suffered from last year have stopped. Bikram classes also hold no quarter; you are pushed mercilessly to do your best and beyond. There is no such thing as a 'gentle' Bikram class. I now want to return to the studio because, firstly, I need to tone up and knock off some weight, and I love and miss the buzz I got from the intense practice, and secondly, for more mercenary reasons, I have paid for about 45 classes up-front. I don't want to waste the money; I don't like to quit, to be beaten. What do you think? xXx

    • Noelle says:

      I would urge you to try different styles of yoga out there! Is it really worth injuring yourself ? Yoga practitioners need to be able to discern between pain and sensation. I'm afraid too many teachers do not practice ahimsa, non-harming. And students get caught up in the ego and are rewarded for pushing themselves too far in this hypercompetitive culture.

    • Jessi Farley says:

      I think your instincts to quit it and never look back are spot on! I am hyperflexible and had sacroiliac joint dysfunction from overstretching the back of my body and not lengthening the front of my body. When I found YogAlign, I reclaimed my body in a beautiful balance between strength and flexibility in a natural way that honors my body. It has changed my practice, my posture, and my life. I highly recommend it. No more beating our bodies up! Time to love our bodies!

    • Carli, nothing has more value than health so forget the money you have spent or at least ask for a refund since you can no longer safely practice Bikram yoga.
      We have an excellent method in YogAlign that will help you to move from the core and correct the hyperextension issues in your knee joint. You need to do these movements from a reclining position at first and avoid doing intense standing poses until you have good muscle tone and naturally aligned bones.
      Maybe there is a YogAlign teacher near you or you could self study from the book.

  27. Nancy Follis says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a yoga teacher in my 50's who has started experiencing some sacral/hip pain. My lumbar discs are very compressed, perhaps from years of gymnastics from 11 – 17 years old. During that time period in my life, there were no "counter postures" recommended or practiced. Since that time, I'm sure I've also practiced postures that have further compromised my pelvic stability. Having said that, as a yoga teacher I continually reinforce: maintaining "the natural curve of the back" in many postures, respecting your edge or limits without trying to push beyond them and bringing arms back and/or bending knees in a forward bend. Still, there is more to learn – and teach – so I am grateful for this article and the opportunity to re-examine all that I do. Namaste. – Nancy-

    • Hi Nancy, If you are in an area where there is a YogAlign teacher, try to go to some classes or set up a private. My book and DVD can also get you started on the road to stabilizing your SI joint as well as making sure that you are staying out of yoga poses and body positions that might be leading to more problems. Your body can heal but you must support it with changing your posture and I KNOW that YogAlign is an excellent safe, effective, painless and quick way to do it.
      please take the yoga injury survey at http://www.yogainjuries.com

  28. Marcus says:

    I find most of Michelle statements interesting. However I practice form of movement that focus strongly on moving the spine into all movements: flexion, extension, side-bending, traction, compression and rotation. Before I started I had problems with my SI joint and lumbar spine. By learning how to move from the center and make subtle movements between vertebrae (and by subtle i mean subtle, not strong, just accentutating the movement) my spinal health has improved a lot. Keeping the spine neutral is OK, but moving the spine works best for me. My teacher's almost 70 years old. He moves smootly like a dancer and by looking at him I understand what does it mean to move energy through the body. He doesn't moves his body into extremes, he bends knees when necessary but he moves his spine, actually all of his movements are born in the base of the spine. So I do agree with what Michelle says but I don't agree that we have to keep the spine neutral in order to make healthy. On the contrary I think we should move the spine as any other joint. It is however difficult to learn to do it in a safe and correct way.

    • Marcus, The word movement is the key. When someone is moving, the body is not rigid so compression is less likely to occur in the hips or disc structures or ligaments of the spinal column. Yoga for the most part is more static and when we engage muscles to flex the spinal column when in a forward bend, we reverse the natural sacral angle needed to shock absorption. That would be Ok for a second but not for five or ten breaths. Ligament tension in the back has a necessary function to keep the spine upright.
      Most people are very weak in the back extensors, gluteals and hamstrings from chair sitting. These muscles are usually strained and locked long and they are tense but not tight.
      The flexors are shortened from chairs and people mistakenly think the soreness in the back means the muscles need to be stretched. They DONT ! They need to be activated in a shortened or concentric contraction and this will lengthen the front body . My work with YogAlign is about strengthening the deep core with breathing exercises and body positions that simulate how the body moves in real life function. Muscles are mostly water, they are signaled by the nervous system and they are linked in kinetic chains that make it impossible to isolate their actions individually or change their shape by stretching them. Fascia or connective tissue is the real determinant that guides and shapes our movements. WE need to stop trying to eliminate tension in the body. We just need to balance tensile forces and stop trying to pull ourselves apart at the seams.

    • daisy says:

      who is your teacher?

      • The teacher that I follow is the intelligence of the human body. I have learned more from sensing and feeling my body than through any other source. Our body can heal itself if we make sure that we have adequate nutrition and naturally aligned posture. When one is misaligned, the body as a whole is affected.

  29. jessieinspace says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS ARTICLE. I stumbled upon this just at the right time..As a teacher and avid practitioner I've only recently started experiencing pain in my right hip, SI area and groin. I have already felt my entire teaching method and personal practice changing. As always, the union we seek in yoga is not through back-breaking poses but through uniting the body with the mind and spirit, which means the physical world as well. Existing pain free is how we can be one with ourselves and the Divine. Thank you again.

    • Hi Jessie, I am so pleased that you found my article to help you shift your practice. You are wise to see the connection between being pain-free and connected to source. This does not happen by pulling on our parts. Please consider learning to teach YogAlign as the postural shifts that happen are so rewarding for the student as they become pain-free, aligned and in touch with their natural intelligence. Please be careful with your practice and you may want to order the book I spent almost 4 years writing that explains which poses can lead to more harm than good and how to do asana that supports the joints and all the systems of the body. Michaelle Edwards http://www.yogalign.com

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