Range of Motion: Respecting Your Joints

by Tracey Rich 

We tend to think full range of motion is a given--until we no longer have it.  Once our range of motion is impaired that is typically when we begin to pay attention.  Range of motion lies with the joints, and the beauty of a balanced Yoga practice is that it can bring our awareness to how we use these often overlooked and undervalued parts of our body.  Are you guilty of misusing and not respecting your joints in your Yoga practice?

Whether it's the spine, the knees, the shoulders, hips or wrists, we would like to have the full range of motion that healthy, well respected joints offer.  Living an active life can naturally create diminished joints due to the arthritis that arises from being in an active body.  This is an ordinary part of aging and is to be expected.  But the wearing out of our body parts from reckless, inattentive practice, and the tearing of related tendons and ligaments from an aggressive, pushy, or an ill aligned practice is something that can be avoided.

If you can't walk, if you can't bend or reach for things, if you can't move your head freely when you drive, then your life becomes limited.  If you can't sit comfortably, or sit up straight at your desk, your enjoyment, and possibly your livelihood, becomes impaired.

Here are a few pointers on how to pay attention in your practice in hopes of respecting your joints and preserving your range of motion.

  1. A practice that focuses on the breath is a practice that brings presence to where, how, and how quickly you are moving through your poses. If you are moving with your breath you are not likely to get ahead of yourself or push yourself to be in a place that you should not be. Thus, you tend to practice less recklessly and aggressively.

  2. Attention to extensional energy will help your focus stay on where your body is in space and will help keep your joints open. You don't want to bend or twist with compression in your joints. Extensional energy will also positively effect your alignment as you learn to attune internally to the healthy flow of nerve energy.

  3. Learning to work in both passive and active modalities will bring dimension and perspective to your poses. We call this the HA and THA of Yoga. Practicing with dynamic engagement while in a pose and also a more passive approach to the same pose, and understanding how to balance the two within pose is an important awareness. Working with the nature of polarity will keep you more present and engaged in your Yoga and will heighten your ability to protect your joints.

When you bring the above elements to your Yoga, the longevity of a healthy practice, the possibility of preserving full range of motion, and the vitality of your body throughout your life is far more assured.  Respect!