Balancing Mobility & Stability - Injury Prevention in Yoga

Most of the time someone thinks of yoga, they immediately think of flexibility and mobility. While flexibility and mobility are definitely crucial parts of yoga, the stability demands of various yoga positions is also high. This post will discuss which body regions commonly need better stability in the yoga population and exercises that can help strengthen those body regions. 

Because yoga requires the body to move through a large range of motion, it also requires that the body is able to stabilize it’s joints through a large range of motion. This is vastly different than other activities, such as weight lifting or running, where the amount of stability is greater but the range is smaller. Due to these differences, the stability exercises used for yoga will be different than those used for a weight lifter or runner. 

Many yoga positions take advantage of the increased mobility at the hips and shoulders, which means that these two joints also need to be stable throughout the range of motion. This is especially true for the shoulder because the shoulder joint is not as deep as the hip, making it inherently less stable. While increasing the stability at any joint is always a good idea, the hips and shoulders are the two body regions this article will focus on. 

For the shoulder, increasing the stability of the shoulder joint means increasing the strength of the rotator cuff muscles. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that surrounds the shoulder joint. The four muscles are: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. All of these muscles attach on the shoulder blade (scapula) and blend into the capsule which surrounds the shoulder. 

The traditional rotator cuff strengthening exercises can help to provide a solid foundation for most yoga movements. These exercises usually include an exercise band and moving the shoulder through internal and external rotation as well as lateral raises. The general progression begins with doing these movements with your arms near your sides and gradually progressing to overhead movements. The overhead strengthening movements are important for yoga movements such as hand- or headstands. 

Of course, exercise bands aren’t the only way to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Performing kettlebell presses, arm bars, and windmills are a few of the exercises that can be beneficial for increasing the stability in the shoulder. The weights do not need to be heavy, but remember that the goal is to stimulate the body to build more muscle around the shoulder. 

The bone and muscle structure of the hip is similar to the shoulder, however, the hip joint is deeper than the shoulder. The “rotator cuff” of the hip goes by the acronym P-GO-GO-Q. The small stabilizing muscles of the hip are the piriformis, gemellus (inferior and superior), obturator (internus and externus), and quadratus femoris. The gluteus medius muscle is another small muscle that helps with stability of the hip. 

Most external rotation exercises for the hip will help strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the hip. The side lying hip raise and the standing hip abduction holds are two exercises that are commonly used because they strengthen the stabilizing muscles with the hip slightly bent and extended, respectively.

The hip airplane and the kettlebell hand-off exercises are advanced progressions for hip stability that will challenge the muscles in standing positions.

The purpose of these strengthening exercises isn’t to make someone bulky, but to aid someone in the yoga practice. Increasing the strength of the stabilizing muscles will help in controlling the movements experienced in yoga and reduce the risk of a soft tissue injury. 

With great mobility, comes the need for great stability.