November 28, 2022
I’ve been in physical therapy for the last few weeks with a “gluteal tendinopathy,” a fancy name for a strain on the attachment of the glutes to the pelvic bones that lasts longer than 8 weeks. The details of this injury aren’t important, but rather the idea of how I’ve dealt with the backs and forths in my sense of strength and ease of movement, feeling good then reinjuring, since July. Wavering between excitement at feeling like I’ve found a solution, then backtracking in a totally unexpected way, doubt (and its root, fear), have been constant companions in this journey of healing. Because in addition to the uncertainty of going into a physical activity—whether it’s a run or a walk or getting up from my chair to pee—bringing on physical discomfort, the insecurity of my own ability to know my body, and control my everyday sense of myself in the world, feels just as painful.
Injuries to my body have always been meaningful moments of learning for me, and this time is no different. But in addition to the exercises and newfound bodily awareness (it just gets more and more complicated!) I’m gaining in PT, including putting together important pieces of my movement history that I hadn’t seen as connected before, I’m learning to be more comfortable with discomfort itself—not in a concessional way, but in the sense of embracing the feeling as an opportunity for simultaneous agency and surrender.
You see, part of what has been revealed in the last six months of degrees of injuries is the role of hypermobility in their recurrence. Technically speaking, hypermobility is when a joint extends beyond “normal range of motion,” which isn’t inherently problematic. In some cases, though, there is a more systemic root cause to the issue that affects the chemical composition of the whole body’s connective tissue, which requires modifications in the duration, frequency, and types of movement to avoid constantly straining the joints at their end range.
For people with hypermobility, going to the end is the only way they can feel sensation—the physical and neurological sense of their limits and boundaries. But because the end of their joints’ range is less stable, there’s a lot of compensation on the part of the muscles to not feel like you’re going to fall apart. Being overly flexible therefore results in a sensation of excessive tension—and so we seek the feeling of stretch (in activities like yoga), which exacerbates the instability at the joints, and so the cycle continues. One of my teachers called hypermobile yogis like me “sensation junkies” for this reason—she meant it in jest, but that feeling of…well, feeling, is not much different from the feeling addicts of other substances and activities seek to just feel okay in themselves.
Now, you may or may not resonate with hypermobility as a physical condition, but I think many of us can relate to what I’m more focused on myself—a state of emotional and psychological hypermobility. Western science doesn’t make this connection, but Ayurveda would lump the excess mobility at the joints and a sense of mental instability all under the umbrella of vata imbalances, and so not unsurprising to see in the same person (indeed, many of the related “symptoms” of hypermobile disorders, such as digestive issues, chronic pain, and mental health disturbances, are vata-related).
For me, I’m seeing a pattern in how I seek sensation at the end range of my joints—a kind of “hurts so good” sensation, mind you—and patterns in my relationships and sense of self-worth. Pushing myself to the end of my energetic limits of holding space for others, doubting if I can be okay on my own without the discomfort of giving as much as possible, then feeling the painful strain of my ego (muscles, in this analogy) pushing back in angry resistance when it’s reached its limit of holding me up silently in the background while the joints between me and others hang out in their max range of motion. I think we’ve all been in this position—the full hanumanasana (splits) of our emotional flexibility—and felt the mental and bodily feedback that this is not okay or sustainable.
How do we come out of this place of doubt, where pain is the solution to not really knowing where we are in space, and we’re not sure if the pain we’re in is necessary to feel okay or a signal to back off? In PT, I’m being asked to question where my identity lies in terms of my movement—do I always need to do things the same way, or can I find new sensations somewhere in the middle, if I slow down and pay closer attention? Shedding the old habits is both hard and scary, since I can’t be sure if the new approach will solve my pain or make other pains; and more so, it’s an acknowledgment that what I did before wasn’t the best choice. Forgiving myself for not knowing, and not trusting the signals of my body for years and years, not knowing her language fluently enough to listen with my heart, is just about as difficult a task as it comes.
But all the while, I take heart in the fact that my hypermobile self is just that—spacious and expandable. The potential for all sensation, for all levels of awareness and healing, is there, and I have the choice to dwell at the periphery or somewhere in the middle, and not be afraid of getting lost in that vast landscape of myself. As my favorite Yoga Sutra says: “future pain is avoidable,” especially when we acknowledge that the source of several pains is simply a space between moveable parts of ourselves that we can fill with anything we want—or, nothing at all.