Whoa?! My stepson, Zander, must have been practicing yoga since birth to have such an advanced Reverse Prayer Pose, right? He should totally be an Instagram yogi star. #yogapose #yogafit #yogabody #yogafitness #yogaaddict #yogagram #yogaholic
Aaaaactually, no. The only yoga Zander's done in his 19 years were a handful of acroyoga classes his dad and I dragged him to years ago. (His favorite pose was one where his father carried him around like a backpack.)
Zander is what you call "double-jointed." That's honestly a bit of a misnomer, though, as there's no 'second' joint. A better way to describe his structure is to say he is hypermobile, which simply means the range of motion in his elbows and shoulders extends far past the average person's. About 10 to 25 percent of the population exhibits such hypermobility.
Hypermobility is a huge advantage in advanced yoga poses, as it can enable a beginner like Zander to pop right into a visually stunning pose like Reverse Prayer, without years of practice and the stretching and strength-building that come with it. If you're hypermobile, think of it as a gift.
But if you aren't, and most of us simply are not, don't compare yourself to those who are. Try to do Reverse Prayer yourself, and maybe your hands don't touch together, or it's best for you to grab your elbows behind your back instead, as trying to force your arms and shoulders into what Zander's got going on leads to pain.
Here's my take on the same pose. I've been practicing for 25 years and have done Reverse Prayer probably thousands of times. At first, I could only reach behind my back far enough to grab my elbows. Eventually, I was able to touch the fingers together, and then finally, more of the hand. But this is about as good as it will ever get for me. Because of limited range of motion in my shoulders and relatively short humerus (upper arm) bones, there's simply no way I will ever get my hands up between my shoulder blades as Zander was able to perfect on day one.
And that's OK. The important takeaway here is that Zander didn't do anything to earn his stunning Pashchima Namaskarasana. He was born with hypermobile joints. So why would I hold him up as an example by which to judge my own pose? Ditto a lot of the yogis in photos you see that show some impossible pretzel-twisting feat. Their poses may take your breath away, but they might be impossible for your body's structure, no matter how dedicated a yogi you are.
Here's another way to look at this whole thing.
Compression of my cervical vertebrae prohibits me from closing the throat bandha any more than this. I simply can't touch my chin all the way to my chest. No amount of yoga will ever change this. It's how I was born.
Compression is pretty much bone hitting bone, and it can't be altered through yoga or any other exercise. In the photo above, it's the compression of my vertebrae that won't permit flexion any further for me to get my chin to my chest.
In the other direction, however, I have much more range of motion, slightly more than my husband, Anthony.
So just because you have a limitation in one area doesn't mean you have it in all areas. Quite the contrary! I have a really wide range of motion in my femur (upper leg)/hip socket joint, allowing me to get my femur parallel to the floor in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), now that I've also built up the strength to support it. I can also touch my chest to the floor in Seated Angle Pose, at least most days, when I'm fully warmed up. Some of my fellow yoga teacher training classmates will never be able to do this, and that has nothing to do with their effort, dedication, or desire.
This whole bone structure difference thing isn't limited to yoga, either. It has bearing on other exercises as well. My friend Allyson Miller, who loves herself a gym workout, says:
Recently I came to understand that my long thighs/femurs are the reason I struggle to do squats in a narrow stance. I found a video where a professional trainer explained it, and I felt a lot better. For years I thought I was just clumsy, but certain exercises are borderline impossible for me. I have to have a wider stance to maintain good form.
She shared with me this article from the Glute Guy on how femur length and other structural factors affect squat mechanics and this one from the Barbell Physio on how to adapt the squat technique to better fit different body types.
I hope these examples will help you understand your own body and its built-in advantages and limitations. If you're interested in learning more, I highly recommend the Anatomy for Yoga DVD by Paul Grilley. We're studying it in my yoga teacher training, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it's blowing my mind. If you teach yoga, YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS VIDEO.
Before I sign off here, let me remind you not to compare yourself unfavorably (or even favorably, for that matter) to anyone else, whether Insta yogi star or the person on the mat next to you in class. Chances are they've got some bone-length or other I-was-born-this-way advantage you don't have, and vice-versa. I leave you with these side-by-side images; remember, Zander on the left has less than a year of yoga experience, and I've been practicing regularly for 25.