Yoga Peeps – Do You Know Your Beighton Score?
A newly popular, highly recommended teacher was coming to town for a workshop so I thought, “What the hey?” and signed up.
She began the first practice from seated by bending her right knee, externally rotating her leg, and then, somewhat magically, placing her foot into her armpit while casually reaching her left hand out into a mudra (it’s sometimes called “Yogi Dandasana”).
Then she told us with a bright twinkle that we could get there too, if we just followed her instructions exactly.
My stomach lurched and my hips and knees informed me that they would not be participating.
Then she started the class, which quickly transformed into something of a game that I like to call “Last Man Standing Yoga” (I’ve seen this many times in “advanced” workshops). The poses get harder and harder, more and more folks drop out and sit down on their mat to watch the rest of the spectacle, and eventually you have just one person left, who gets lots of applause both for the performance and for following exactly.
Except mostly, that person is dangerously hypermobile and probably should’ve dropped out with the rest of us.
What You Need to Know About Hypermobility
What the teacher did not share, and what is typically not talked about in workshops (or teacher trainings unfortunately) is that:
- Joint mobility is primarily genetic and secondarily use dependent (that means you can get a bit more flexible if you work it, but if you weren’t a gymnast as a kid, there’s a reason why). So those with more typical ranges can easily hurt themselves attempting this stuff; and
- Frequent, repeated performance of hypermobile poses may exacerbate problems for those with hypermobile joint issues because these folks need to focus on stability rather than mobility.
So, how do you know if you’re hypermobile?
The Beighton Score
English medical geneticist Peter Beighton created a test in 1969 (The Beighton Test and Score) to determine if patients have a genetic predisposition to hypermobility. It’s simple and quick. And there’s a range from 0 being your dad to 9 being most definitely Gumby. It can be helpful to take the test with a partner.
Hypermobility affects something like 4 – 13% of the population – and they all tend to be yoga teachers (just kidding…not really).
In some cases, hypermobility is associated with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a group of disorders that affect connective tissues supporting the skin, bones, blood vessels, and many other organs and tissues. In addition to biomechanical instability, symptoms may include:
- Anxiety disorders and attention disorders
- Low blood pressure
- Leaky gut and chronic GI issues, food sensitivities
- Chronic fatigue
- Poor exercise tolerance
- Decreased proprioception
- Decreased interoception
- Decreased motor control
Even when Ehlers Danlos syndrome is not present, exploiting hypermobility, while it’s long been encouraged in yoga circles, can result in destabilized joints and chronic pain.
My suggestions is that yoga people – teachers and students alike – test themselves. Then you can make an informed choice about whether or not you want to play the Last Man Standing Yoga game.
Being Okay with Less Stretch
Ah, and one more thing I almost forgot to mention – people with hypermobility tell me that they have to push a lot harder to “feel something” in their poses – they need to go to end range. I always feel kinda bad bursting this bubble, but it’s necessary. So this is what I tell them:
Hypermobility is often accompanied by decreased proprioception (where is my body in space) and decreased interoception (how do I feel). It means that the volume on your ability to feel a stretch is most likely turned way down. The unfortunate answer is teaching yourself to be happy with less sensation. Also the tension you’re feeling is most likely fascia rather than muscle fibers – but I’ll leave that for another blog!