I got some good questions regarding my last post on yoga and mountain biking and I thought it would be a good idea to answer them with another post. The first question was regarding my comment about the minuses of yoga and how it can develop hyper-mobility in bad areas like the low back and shoulders. The person asking the question was curious what this meant exactly.
This comes from the idea that not all joints are supposed to be mobile and flexible. One of the guys to popularize this concept is Mike Boyle and what he calls a “Joint by Joint Approach to Training”. While I’ll try to do this concept justice you can read one of his original articles on it by clicking here.
When you look at the human body and how it is designed to function you see that we have a series of stable and mobile joints stacked on top of each other.
In a nutshell, you want stable feet – mobile ankles – stable knees – mobile hips – stable lumbar spine – mobile thoracic spine- stable shoulders. Joints like the knees, lumbar spine (low back) and shoulders are easily injured if they move too much. Weak feet, caused by the modern athletic shoe, is one of the main causes of lower body orthopedic issues but that is a subject for another post.
You want your core to stabilize the lower back and resist movement, not help create movement. This is why some people can safely deadlift hundreds of pounds and others throw their back out picking up a 50 pound bag of dog food. The first group has a stable lower back and strong hips, the second group has a hyper-mobile lower back that bends too much and tries to help their weak hips which tweaks it out under relatively low loads.
Same with the shoulders. They are the most naturally mobile joint in the body and the trade off is that they need to be stabilized in order to keep them in a good position. Most shoulder problems are not from lack of strength or mobility but from a lack of stability, especially with the shoulder blades.
One of the problems that I see with yoga is that it was developed a long time ago and while there is a lot of wisdom in it, it does have some flaws in it’s methods. Not all joints are supposed to be mobile yet this fact is not accounted for in some poses, especially those that require a lot of twisting and mobility from the low back. The picture below makes my low back hurt just looking at it!
The next question I got was how to choose a yoga studio and what types of poses to avoid. I would say that ultimately you have to educate yourself on proper movement and apply that knowledge to yoga. This is another problem that I see is that few yoga teachers understand the difference between coaching movement and coaching a yoga pose. For example, a simple pose like Down Dog is great IF you are not securing your shoulder with your neck and are instead letting your shoulder blades drop down and back. Just because you are in a position that looks like a pose does not mean that you are developing good movement habits.
Find a studio with a smaller client to instructor ratio and that has instructors who are meticulous about your form and posture. Finding a good yoga instructor is like finding a good trainer – they are worth their weight in gold so don’t be cheap and just go for the least expensive option.
Hope this helps clear up some of those questions. Read the article I linked to up top to start getting a better understanding of how the human body is designed to work and then apply that knowledge to all of your training, either in the gym or the yoga studio.