Susannah Taylor: The Flexibility Problem

Flexibility is often lauded – but it can also have drawbacks, says Susannah

I am that person in yoga who can turn into a pretzel. I can hook my foot around my head and do the splits. I was born that way and I’m not unique: more people are hypermobile (the official term for bendiness) than lefties – around 15-20% of the population, in fact.

Extreme flexibility is often lauded in yoga or gymnastics, and particularly on Instagram (check out #flexibility to see 9.7 million posts from hunched over people getting into knots). It’s nice to stretch, but hypermobility has many physical drawbacks and research shows that it can also be linked to emotional disturbances.

Formerly known as “double joint” – a term suggesting that we have two sets of bizarre joints – hypermobility, explains osteopath Anisha Joshi, “is when a joint extends beyond mean range of motion ”. Anisha, who has many hypermobile patients, says it can cause “pain because their joints are unstable and the overworked muscles in their joints move too far and pull attached muscles.”

Flexi people are more likely to have anxiety or bowel problems

I tell Anisha that I’m struggling to build muscle and while I might be the most muscular person in my yoga class, I feel like I’m the weakest too. This, she explains, is because when we are flexible we tend to “sink” into poses because our joints allow us to. What we need to do is engage our muscles, and instead of sinking through our full range of motion, we should go halfway and then use our muscles to really work them.

We should also be timing our flexion outside the yoga studio. For example, our backs can be so “well oiled” that it is easy to bend into a C shape when you are sitting at a desk or on the couch. To combat this, we need to tighten our abdominal and back muscles and sit up straight.

Building muscle is also vital, says Anisha, because our joints are less protected. We have all heard about the benefits of strength training for keeping joints strong, but it is very important for the hypermobile to build muscle which can help prevent injury.

Anisha suggests starting with exercises that involve your own body weight, such as squats, planks, and push-ups, before adding a resistance band to your workout to make your muscles work harder. After that, she suggests switching to portable weights. I recommend following personal trainer Shona Vertue (@shona_vertue) who as a hypermobile ex-gymnast knows a lot about maintaining a flexible and strong body.

And it’s not just our joints that are at risk. Research shows that we flexi are more likely to suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, and bowel problems. When a Brighton and Sussex Medical School study performed brain scans of 72 people, it found that those in the group who were hypermobile had larger-than-normal tonsils. This is the area that processes how we feel, and this is potentially the reason why we have a particularly sensitive fight-or-flight response.

Two women who highlight this problem are physiotherapist and yogi @Celestpereiraphysio and yoga teacher @adellbridges, who together have more than 500,000 followers. Both were suffering from unexplained fatigue and strange bowel issues. Their book Too Flexible to Feel Good * offers plenty of tips for managing symptoms and keeping your body and brain strong.

@susannahtaylor_

Meet a true menopause expert

To order discounted copies through October 3, visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £ 20

To order discounted copies through October 3, visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery for orders over £ 20

There are a lot of celebrities who are brilliantly bringing the menopause conversation to the fore. However, I would highly recommend taking advice from real experts.

Dr Louise Newson is a general practitioner and one of the top menopause specialists in the UK, who has lectured extensively on the subject. His book Preparing for Perimenopause and Menopause * is a must read, with tips on HRT, early menopause, sleep, exercise and mental health.

To order discounted copies through October 3, visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery for orders over £ 20

Elevate the legs

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My fall kit bag will include the Max Stretch Skinny Outdoor Pants, £ 79, which is the modern alternative to the ugly baggy waterproof pants. Showerproof, flattering, breathable and super stretchy, you can wear them on the school run while looking great.


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