Tissue paper and glass

I once heard an interview with a hypermobile contortionist whose act involved fitting himself into tiny boxes.1 He explained that he had learnt how to dislocate and relocate his joints at will when he was a child. This seems to me a very clever neurological adaptation, because in my experience dislocating is like touching fire. I’m out of that place much faster than I can think. My body knows where its parts are meant to be, even if it’s sometimes a bit rubbish at keeping them there.

Three days ago, I made an awkward movement while adjusting my left foot in ekapada sirsasana. There was a big clunk on the right side that felt an awful lot like my SI joint subluxing. The immediate feeling was a kind of suspension: a long second or two of grace before sensation surged in, and with sensation testing and assessing, seeing what I could move and working it out. Grace addled with fear really. I know those clunks. I know what they mean. I know that pain and immobility arrive like a caravanserai, slowly, throughout the day, one camel at a time.

Photo on 24-12-2015 at 21.10 10.39.00What’s difficult about writing for a public space – so difficult that I rarely do it – is creating form and structure. Form and structure are really protective distance – between me in the nakedness of the experience and the person reading about it. I’d much rather sketch, in a few scant lines, but going straight in, deep. I’d rather silk spooling out of spinnerets, easy, casual, letting myself down, winding myself up, and down again. But it’s exposing.

For the rest of the day I felt skinless. I could hardly bear the shiver of feeling. Sounds were acute, grazing, shocking. Inside was grey, grainy, gauzy, like the spaces through a very old net curtain … like winter trees scribbling across the sky, cross-hatched and mobile. Still, now, that membraneous feeling comes and goes. It’s a bit like having very bad flu: tiny sensations are enormously expanded, clean sheets like an iceberg; turning over, the revolving of a planet from night into day.

At present I’m somewhat hobbling. My right piriformis is in spasm, and I’m starting to think my right foot problem may be a stress fracture. I often feel as if I’m made out of tissue paper and glass. But when I’m in the thick of practice – at the deep beating heart of it – I feel melted into a fluidity in which all my parts coalesce. There’s a sense of resolving into an entity that isn’t about surfaces but coheres from the centre outwards.

I really believe in moving, no matter what. The more limited I am, the more important it feels to me to get up and move what’s here. As I get older, I see how well this has served me over the years. For one thing, I’ve seen what happens to hypermobile people when we don’t move. It isn’t, for the most, part a pretty picture. More significantly, sites of restriction, injury, places where continuing feels utterly impossible … these have been the loci of the most fundamental repatterning for me. This sort of recalibration happens in my body but not just to my body. It’s a whole-person event.

Practising, for me, isn’t about pounding away – same old, same old. It’s about feeling into the subtle differences, becoming awake to the more functional in the new. In my personal experience, occasional injury is inevitable when I’m practising on this edge. Partly because I have Ehlers Danlos, but more fundamentally because, by definition, I’m working – out of a secure foundation of established practice – into a territory where I don’t totally know. It’s risky.

This hypermobile body teaches me about impermanence and the inherent fragility of that. It’s brave to step up and inhabit this precariousness, but there’s also a kind of freedom in living there.

1. The contortionist is Captain Frodo. You can read an interview with him here. He also sounds a tiny bit autistic.

4 thoughts on “Tissue paper and glass

  1. The more I practice. The more I read of other’s practice. The more I understand that yoga, Ashtanga yoga in particular, is like being in love with a cactus.


  2. Intentionally dislocating and relocating parts with ease was common for me as a child. However, there were adults somewhere along the way who strongly discouraged that ability and focused me toward muscle strengthening those areas rather than expanding. Family members were disgusted with the dislocating feats, so their influence came for another reason. But I did stop intentionally doing it. Unless I reach that edge while practicing and unintentionally it happens. Now it is not quite the easy feeling that came as a child to relocate, so I get your posting.

    Since finding your blog and following it, I encountered experiences that many people with EDS find familiar. A total hip replacement, a referral to the geneticist, counseling with a geneticist, and diagnosis with EDS. The geneticist pointed out interesting observations that researchers are still exploring (often but not always dependent on where one lands on the EDS scale):
    1) EDS is associated with poor wound healing,
    2) those with EDS are likely to find little to no pain relief from opioid based pain relievers (codeine, oxycodon, morphine, etc),
    3) Because of these characteristics associated with EDS, researchers found patients more likely to seek out or be counciled to complimentary therapies (acupuncture, herbs, etc) for support in such conditions.
    I don’t know if these findings have been published in peer reviewed journals or are still in early stages of research from anecdotal evidence. From the sounds of it, the research is still ongoing or preliminary findings. Fortunate for me, I found complimentary therapies years ago and never experienced such complications.

    Also, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner recently made an insightful observation to me related to EDS and menopause. From a TCM perspective, a female with EDS will be at greater risk of injury as menopause progresses since those tissues related to EDS will start to “dry” and “become brittle” with the shifting body chemistry. He said that TCM has herbal mixtures to support those tissues and reduce that “drying” effect. I don’t know much about Ayurveda but I suspect an age old practice as that also has therapies to that same effect.

    Take care!


    • I think much of that evidence is anecdotal at the moment. I have found that perimenopause has made things more complex. I’ll see how it progresses … Thanks for posting.


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