Are you addicted to crack? Cracking your joints, I mean! There were years during my 20s when I could not fathom getting through my early-morning yoga practice without popping my shoulders, low back, hips and neck. I was popping and cracking my way through the day like a one-woman band.

Usually these fast internal whacks felt great, a rush that temporarily relieved aches and pains. What I didn’t know at the time was that all that cracking was not only emblematic of my body’s instability, but it was accelerating my own tissue breakdown.

Denial is not a river in Egypt

I have always gone “all-in,” no matter what the physical practice. Yoga was always my mainstay and baseline, but on top of that practice (which I started at age 11) I was also a dancer, runner, skier (horrible skier), water aerobics instructor and rock climber. But yoga had always been my security blanket and my salvation. It was the way I knew that my body was balanced and set (or so I thought) to be able to do everything else I loved.

In my 20s, I was hard-core about my yoga practice. I’d get out of bed for my daily 7am-9am Astanga yoga practice. I was relentless and would not miss a day, even when I was sick or hadn’t slept enough the night before. At the time, I thought my devotion was sacrament and that my dedication to my practice was my righteous purpose. I turned down dates and family functions so that I could show up on the mat.

Yes, that is my FOOT on top of my HEAD.

But all of this — what I now call my “fanatic” phase — was de-stabilizing my joints and causing me to constantly pop and crack, both voluntarily and involuntarily. I’m not sure why I thought it was “normal” to wake up in the morning, unable to fully straighten my knees. It would take me about 20 steps of hobbling towards the bathroom before they would comply.

During an intimate evening with my boyfriend, my neck finally “went out.” I could not turn it and was in insane amounts of pain. My whole body retreated into a vacuum, engulfed with searing pain and silence. My boyfriend pulled away as I disappeared inside my fear and despair. A mammoth fight erupted, which was actually a great excuse for me to leave this two-year relationship that was volatile and riddled with unhealthy dynamics (caused in large part by my addiction to exercise/yoga).

But my neck problems were only the tip of the iceberg of the physical and emotional instability that was literally stretching me to the point of breaking down.

Diagnosis: repetitive stress

I had heard of “Repetitive Stress Syndrome.” It’s something that cashiers get from overusing their wrists all day. When I was told I had the same thing, but all over my body, I was baffled. How could yoga be causing repetitive stress? I couldn’t wrap my head around it … wasn’t yoga supposed to be therapeutic and healthy for anyone? Weren’t yoga poses the equivalent of a body vitamin? Don’t yoga poses ease stress and help with pain, disease and all manner of healing? I pored through my library of yoga books that championed the healing effects of poses and practices. Interesting, none of them listed Repetitive Stress Syndrome.

I did all types of yoga practices: the meditations, the yantras (imagery), pranayama (breath exercises), japa (verbal repetition) — heck, I even did the eye exercises! And of course, there were the poses. I sure did love doing hours and hours of poses. Well, too much of a good thing turned out to be a very badthing for me. Poses are not pills. They can be more potent and toxic than a drug when taken in excess, and I had overdosed.

I had to reckon with the consequences of over-exercising, a new insidious form of bulimia. My eating-disordered past had come back to haunt me in a different form. I had not cleared my need for body control, and I was punishing myself with yoga.

Turning point

With the help of a gifted physical therapist, I learned how I had weakened my body with my yoga practice. All of that clicking and popping was the result of overstretched tendons and connective tissues unable to find points of center or balance throughout my joints. I would have to literally pull myself together if I wanted to heal.

Adding strength training to my practice

This was a profound metaphor for my soul and psyche. I did not have to push myself so hard, punishing myself with hours of practice a day. It was hostile and showed a lack of respect for myself. I needed to learn to work with myself rather than against. Years of habits were overthrown, and I adopted massive changes in my physical practice and daily schedule. For one, my physical therapist started me on a strength-training program, and I vowed to stop cracking my neck and shoulders. It worked.

Thirteen years later, I continue to explore strength and stability as a major part of my daily practice. Looking for ways to hold myself, rather than turning into runny jello. Yoga is all about balance between strength and flexibility at every level. I had stretched myself to pieces and had become so flexible that I was no longer strong. I now practice for 30-60 minutes, instead of hours. I take days off. And I incorporate my own self-massage techniques to keep my tissues happy and to keep me out of the doctor’s office.

If you are a “crack” addict, find yourself constantly uncomfortable, or are in the process of addiction recovery, have hope! It is possible to rid yourself of unhealthy body habits and address the underlying mental forces that drove you there in the first place.

Discover Yoga Tune Up® at home.

Learn about our Therapy Ball Programs

Watch our free Quickfix videos.

[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]

Jill Miller

Jill Miller, C-IAYT, ERYT is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the self-care fitness formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method. With more than 30 years of study in anatomy and movement, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, athletics and pain management. She is known as the Teacher’s Teacher and has trained thousands of movement educators, clinicians, and manual therapists to incorporate her paradigm shifting self-care fitness programming into athletic and medical facility programs internationally. She has crafted original programs for 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox, YogaWorks, and numerous professional sports teams. She and her team of 500+ trainers help you to live better in your body with an emphasis on proprioception, mobility, breath mechanics and recovery. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress and International Association of Yoga Therapy conferences. She has the rare ability to translate complex physiological and biomechanical information into accessible, relevant moves that help her students transform pain, dysfunction and injury into robust fitness. Jill is the anatomy columnist for Yoga Journal Magazine and has been featured in Shape, Men’s Journal, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, Self, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. Jill is regularly featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is the creator of dozens of DVD’s including Treat While You Train with Kelly Starrett DPT and is the author of the internationally bestselling book The Roll Model: A Step by Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility and Live Better in your Body. Based in Los Angeles, CA, she is a wife and mother of two small children and is currently writing her second book.

71
Leave a Reply

 
71 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
71 Comment authors
Samsara

I’m too lax and pop in my lower back from time to time. I want to follow every.single.link because this IS an important message for the yoga community and I’d love to be able to share your insights with others. Thank you so much Jill. Also, thank you for your website. I cannot wait to dive on in and swim in the vastness. But tomorrow. Tonight, I was just curious about my lower back doing pops once in a while (for relief, when i turn a certain way hours after yoga) since I do have SI issues (laxness) and also… Read more »

Kathryn

Great article! I loved reading your story. I spent time in India practicing and studying yoga and I actually became turned off to yoga for a bit, which is funny because I’m a teacher and I’ve been practicing since age 14. When I listened to my body it was telling me to stop and take a break. I’m glad I did. I had to break up with yoga in order to come back to it with a much healthier approach. Thank you for shedding light on repetitive stress syndrome. I am seriously considering doing your upcoming teacher training in October.

walker5561

It’s good to find decent posts like this. I actually liked this.

alissa

Like so many who have commented, I can relate. It has been a journey to listen to my body and respond accordingly. Being able to do that required a shift in my beliefs, that what I needed to give myself was more compassion and gentleness, to ‘let myself of the hook”. The demands of life don’t always make it possible, like days when i know I’d rather stay at home and just rest, but it’s a work day, so I try on those days to give myself the rest in whatever ways I can…usually it’s having the intention to stay… Read more »

Drug Test

It certainly is good to finally find good posts like this. I really enjoyed this.

Devon

This article is one that resonates with my life right now. My joints are currently constantly aching to the point where I limp around most mornings, my neck pain leads to brutal migraines, and I can crack nearly every joint in my body (even those which aren’t supposed to move all that much). I’m in pain more days than not and it’s beginning to make me worry for my future; I want to be able to continue doing what I love! By 19 I had my first hip surgery and, by 23, I now have a torn labrum in my… Read more »

Tanell

Yes!! Love this article! So much wisdom in here. First of all I used to be an exercise addict too, but after an injury and being unable to even walk for exercise for three years I had to make some changes. I didn’t find my sanity in punishing myself with exercise anymore, rather I found meditation. Meditating allowed my body’s inner intelligence to reemerge and to heal me. It also helped me to connect with my body, to spend time in my own silence, with only myself. Learning to love my body and learning to love and accept myself is… Read more »

Veronica Dinehart

Wow! This is incredibly enlightening. I appreciate the honesty shared here and the rawness expressed. So often my ego comes into play and I feel I have to push myself and my body into some pose or position that is obviously not condusive with my wellbeing. I am beginning to understand that awareness, wisdom and limits are invaluable.

Aubrey Heinemann

I remember a time in my life that I couldn’t go through a day without doing sun salutations. During my practice I would feel great and energized and pleased to have done my practice once again. However having pain in my shoulders finally made me realize that what I was doing to myself was such a disservice to both my body and my mind. I was hurting my shoulders and I was tricking my mind and my heart that I was still doing good for myself. This was the beginning for me to understand that not all postures are good… Read more »

Kayleigh

I LOVE this, especially in light of the recent WAWADIA work that Matthew Remski is doing. Can we do too much yoga? Yes. Can yoga hurt us? Yes. I’ve definitely changed my practice a lot in the last year, and YTU has been a big part of that!

Cindy DeCoste

I am just starting to acknowledge that as much as yoga has helped to heal my body, more recently (within the past 3 years) it has also hindered healing. For a long time, I have not wanted to face this because yoga is such a significant part of my life and the thought that it could be harming me is hard to contemplate. However, my body is telling me that I cannot ignore it any longer. It’s time to face up! The hyper-mobility and hyper-flexibility that I have developed in some of my muscles and joints through yoga, especially in… Read more »

Lisa Hebert

This is exactly what I need to read right now.. and re-read. I am also a dancer-yoga-teacher-crack-addict, who is literally learning to pull myself back together after tearing my Semimebranosis.. It’s been nagging me for a number of weeks, and of course my first reaction was to stretch it out more- despite the pain it caused. There is a lot of physical work to be done, but it’s amazing how much emotional junk comes up when someone tells me that my “flexy-bendy” tendencies are working against me. It’s like a badge of honour I wore in my profession and a… Read more »

Ilene

Thank you, Jill, for sharing your experience and all of the wonderful tips you learned during your journey. I have a few private yoga students with osteoporosis who have had hip replacements and other conditions. I feel so blessed to have the wonderful Yoga Tune Up(R) poses and techniques I recently learned in my YTU Level 1 training at my fingertips to help them feel better in their bodies! Some have come to me not understanding why they have this “clicking” going on in their joints, and it is exciting to see their progress when I teach them how to… Read more »

Sarah

Thank you for sharing your journey into strength, Jill. Over the last few years I have been working on slowing down my yoga practice, changing postures to emphasize strength and stability where hyperextension had become the ‘sign’ of a good practice and discipline. It’s a paradigm shift to realize that part of why I may have tightness in, say, my hip flexors, is because my body is trying to stabilize hypermobile joints. I feel an empowering paradigm shift through Yoga Tune Up that I can reorient any pose, go to the wall, close the chain to find a way to… Read more »

Kim

Thank you so much for being so open and honest. It is true that something that is supposed to be so healthy can be overused and begin to hurt. As Americans we are so focused on the product that we glorify success at all costs in everything. Ala, no pain-no gain. Learning to listen to your body when it requests a break is challenging when you are so used to “powering thru”.

Jason Campbell

I had never even though of repetitive stress syndrome being a yoga injury, but it makes SOO much sense! Sometimes the things that are right there in front of us, so simple to see, we miss because of our tunnel vision (same thing happens when i’m trying to find something on my messy desk). It always drives me a little more nuts when i have the ‘pro yogis’ in class, who can barely lower themselves in a push up, but can wrap their feet behind their heads. Forsaking strength for flexibility doesn’t make any sense…. but so many do. It’s… Read more »

Gennifer Morris

While this article begins with joint cracking I love how it morphed into the emotional side of doing more than what your body needs to lead a healthy life. I think I found Yoga Tune Up at the perfect junction in my life as the emotional and physical are colliding sometimes but I am constantly growing and learning to appreciate these feelings good and bad.

Jackie

I’ve had teachers in the past tell me that cracking joints are actually a good sign. I didn’t really understand why. What I’m learning is that it’s not always good and it’s not always bad. The important thing is to pay attention to it and sensation around those joints. Is the joint truly unstable? Does pain accompany it? Does it happen often or is it a one off? I figure when you start asking questions you begin to create a lens through which you can view potential blind spots.

Jessie

What a moving article, thanks Jill! I love the very direct metaphor here, physically as well as emotionally, finding the saving graces of both strength and stability. As a once die-hard exercise-junkie (to the core) myself, I recognize the power in salvation through reconciliation. Amazing truths can be revealed through the process of letting go of the need to control and contain.

Jennie Cohen

I’m curious to know more about the relationship between loose connective tissue and joint cracking. What’s going on there mechanically? And does that have something to do with the fact that my hyperextended elbows crack with almost every first chaturanga of the day?

Dana

I completely relate and have been working with my body’s need for strength. I have incorporated different fitness styles into my practice. But not until this year have I discovered how much I need to tone it down. And actually it wasn’t even an active choice but a natural progression. Still I live with joint pain and now am fine tuning and yoga tuning my movements to eliminate pain.

Maria

This is such a great article. We were discussing joint cracking in Yoga Tune Up class earlier today, so when I stumbled upon the blog Trina mentioned, I thought I would read it. It’s amazing to read such an honest account of how you pushed yourself and what your body did in response to let you know it was not happy. I tend to often be ‘all-in’ as well so I know how important it is to make sure everything is being done in moderation. Thanks for the insight!

kim haegele

Jill, I love and appreciate that you’re part of the small (but growing) movement of Yogis who speak boldly about issues that have either been unacknowledged or whispered about secretively to a trusted confidant, for a very long time. While many people discover body awareness and a sense of balance in body, mind, spirit through asana practice, there are those of us who bring our strong samskaras of ego, neurosis, etc. to yoga and use the practice to further ingrain those patterns. My first teacher in Los Angeles, Maty Ezraty, raised a few yellow flags for me regarding these patterns.… Read more »

Mado

I have a much milder version of the same story. I think one of the reasons I initially got into yoga was because I was naturally flexible. I would never have admitted it then, but looking back it was nice to feel like I was good at it. I never had a big injury as a wake up call. Eventually all the introspection that came along with my yoga practice made me realize that I was out of balance and so I decided to get stronger. Over the last 4 years my focus has been on stabilizing my body rather… Read more »

Kathy

Getting comfortable in an unstable life… Your post had made me realize the extent of my addictions. Not to one thing but to many. I have a reputation for always having to be doing something – working, Crossfit, yoga – teaching and practice, painting, gardening, reading, cleaning (?), and yes, the list goes on. There is a critical point when things begin to break down and I become withdrawn, crabby, tense, completely exhausted at which point I try to find a remedy (B12 + iron, anyone?) so I can push forward and keep all the balls in the air. There… Read more »

Barbara Treves

I have a friend who in her late 50’s is still pushing or perhaps I should say punishing herself through an extreme Ashtanga yoga practice that she probably should have modified years ago. She is both super flexible and very competitive which can be a dangerous combination particularly in Ashtanga. Last year she experienced her most recent of many serious injuries, all of which may have been prevented had she applied some of the YogaTune-Up principles to her practice. I started forwarding her information on how to increase joint stability and will include this blog as well.

Yasmen Mehta

Balance means everything.

Amy Deguio

What a revealing and profound post – I love the description about the over stretched connective tissue not having “a point of center or balance within the joints” from overuse. This is such a clear image having just completed the YTU Anatomy course! And having very flexible joints and being able to easily work my way into certain poses but not have the strength to transition out of them over the years – I can honestly say, that my body is responding so favorably and in a balanced manner to the YTU protocol!!

Nicole Shahida

I had a similar experience with my “addiction” to yoga. I immersed myself in it to the point of dismissing so many people and opportunities; getting to yoga each day was my main goal and no obstacles would get in my way. This went on for about three years until I started to feel some aches and pains in my knees and neck that just wouldn’t heal – even the yoga wouldn’t heal it and in fact made my situation worse. These pains made me step back and look at what I was doing to my body. I was pushing… Read more »

Lisa Harris

It is comforting to hear that the full guns yoga practice isn’t necessarily the best thing for a body. I frequently struggle with the “I’m a yoga teacher, I should be able to do more” self-depracating thought process. As I am aging and seeing and hearing about the paths of other practitioners and teachers, I am beginning to let up on myself and see that I need to figure out what is right for my body, not just what the rest of the crowd is doing.

Yi-Hsueh Lu

I am often told that a part of yoga practice is to eradicate the habits and bring new insights into our mind and body. Alas, when there are blind spots in the body, what ended up happening is that the practice reinforce the blindness. Aware or unaware, that is the question!

Jiin Liang

Jill, Thank you for sharing your story. Two years ago, my left hip was feeling some pain. I thought I need to stretch it more, but it only get worse. I went to see Physical Therapist. She told me that because my right hip is tight and less flexible, my left hip ended up been pushed around as a compromise. The imbalance and compensational relationship between the stronger and the weaker (between the stiffer and the more flexible) was the cause of my hip pain. The solution is to strengthen my left hip instead of stretching it. I had to… Read more »

Heather

Jill, I really appreciated your sharing your personal story of stabilization. I can relate to having a bit over-doing-it devotion to practice, and even though I’ve come a long way I am still popping my shoulders (and toes). I didn’t realize how much more flexible then strong I was, until a Physical Therapist pointed it out and suggested it was because of “too much yoga”. At first, I was really angry that she was calling my practice into question. Then I got over being angry and started noticing that just because I could bend myself a certain way didn’t mean… Read more »

Elissar Hanna

Thank you. I don’t know when I stopped cracking my neck….but I do know that it was a frequent activity in highschool. Boy am I glad I stopped. And, I will make an effort to resist cracking my sacro-iliac joint. I am in the YTU Teaching Training right now with Todd and Amanda and for the first time, I’m really seeing how much work my shoulders need. I am hyper-mobile pretty much everywhere in my body, and although I recognize this as a gift, I also see how it has led to many injuries. I’ve been noticing how my shoulders… Read more »

Jane

It’s a hard pill to swallow that our yoga practice can cause such grief, and your post reminds us that too much of any good thing is not the way to go. Balance is an ‘on the mat’ and ‘off the mat’ lesson. Like Rachelle, I too have hyper mobility issues, specifically in one SI joint and need to work on strengthening the muscles to support this. It creates a series of involuntary, horrendous ‘piano key like’ cracking sounds when I do twists to one side. Thank you Jill for the reminder to balance flexibility with strength, and the fact… Read more »

Tomoko

Hi, Jill. I found this blog made me think….. ” Thats sound very familier……” I crack my joint frequently to ease the tension around my lower back, just like you said “Taking a pill” Also I’ve been working as much as I can. My occupation is a massage therapist so my posture is always bending forward positions and it’s physically demanding, yet I don’t pay enough attention to my body…..

As you mentioned, Yoga is balance of strength and flexibility (physically and mentally) I appreciate your message.

Jenny Buchanan

Thank you Jill. I am grateful to have found Yoga Tune Up. A neophyte, just beginning day 3 of YTU TT I with Sarah Court and Trina Altman, it was no coincidence that my back went out 40 hours before I began this training. I had been working without a day off for almost 3 months, teaching every day at my new yoga studio in East Pasadena, and amping my own practice up at the same time. I love to move, and though I have not been in denial about the real aging process in my 57 year old body,… Read more »

Elise Gibney

Thank you for this post! The therapeutic and healing aspects of YTU, in addition to the intelligent, anatomy driven teachings are what attracted me to YTU. I’ve been to workshops and classes over the years and the YTU practices that I’ve incorporated into my own practice have made me a healthier and happier yogini! I’ve just started my Level 1 Training and am so excited to move forward in my practice and teaching with a more compassionate, intelligent way of moving. So many of us (msyself included) push to the point of injury, exhaustion and over-doing it. I had never… Read more »

Rachelle Tersigni

And I have a similar story with some different very personal twists. I was and am a very thin, boney gal. Growing up had it’s share of comments and ghastly looks at my thinness in a quilt. Passed down in the gene’s, my grandmother used to tell me she was called beanpole, and my father never wore shorts. In my teens I discovered weight training and muscles started to form making me appear a little more shapely. I was addicted. Everything about the gym became my life, as I gained more muscle my body took on a completely different form… Read more »

Katie Fornika

I also relate to a lot of what you’ve written here. I came from a background of gymnastics and was studying to become a personal trainer when I started practicing yoga. I thought that it was the perfect practice and stopped doing a lot of other forms of fitness because I had discovered this “magic pill”. After years of dedicated and repetitive practice I also turned into a one woman band of cracking and popping joints and bodily discomfort. Eventually the ligaments in one shoulder gave out, my back went into periodic spasms from years of easy deep backbends and… Read more »

Katherine

I feel like this might also relate to hyperextension in terms of working a joint without supporting it properly. After doing some lifting at a grocery store at the age of 16, I woke up in the night unable to move my hyperextending arms because of intense pain that was occurring since I had repetitively put so much pressure on that joint in the wrong way! To deal with this, my physiotherapist said I needed to develop my strength there, and avoid crunching that joint together in weight bearing positions or situations. I’ve also had the neck cracking issue as… Read more »

Bobbi McKissick

Hi Jill, Thank you for sharing about your cracking joints and your transformation from working against your body to working with/for your body. I can absolutely relate to the feel good of cracking a shoulder, hip, wrist, ankle and neck. As a former dancer & current yogi – I understand. Also, I can relate to the idea of escaping into the addiction of getting a good sweat (workout) & not being present with honoring your body at the same time. What mostly resinated with me was “the clicking, popping was a result of overstretched tendons and connective tissues unable to… Read more »

Renee holden

Jill, great article, I’m very glad that you have added strength exercises to your weekly exercise schedule. We all need to learn to live in moderation, when it comes to yoga, strength training, running… Everything is healthy in healthy doses. I’m grateful that you shared your experience, as it shows that we are all vulnerable to doing too much, providing that we listen to our bodies when they speak to us we can all stay much healthier. Too much of a good thing IS too much, as well as too much rest is not good either. A happy medium, and… Read more »

Kristen B.

This article was the thing that first attracted me to studying with Jill. There are so few people in the yoga world talking intelligently or openly about the potential for joint instability/overstretching issue as it relates to a yoga practice. Thanks for being brave enough to share your experience with the world and offering methods for creating a balance between solidity and suppleness in the tissues of the body.

Gary Carlisle

Yes. the balance between strength and flexibility, Strengthen the muscles that are week and relax the ones that that are strong. Wait a minute. A tight muscle is a week muscle. Be careful not to think that a tight muscle is a strong muscle. The first time I was successful at forearm balance I was able to do it with tight week muscles. The ability to have control with the movement is where the strength lies. And it is more than one might think that is making them tight. I am thankful we have Yoga Tune Up® to help with… Read more »

Marilyn gibson

Jill; i have had so many moments of clarity from reading this article. Many of the excesses you speak about are a reality in my own life. I had no idea when I came to training that the healer would heal myself. The honesty in this article is very needed in the yoga community and i will certainly share it with others.

Carly

I find that there’s two types of cracking that I go through. One is a stress reliever (particularly in my neck and back) and the other is involuntary. The involuntary comes in my right ankle. I have heard different answers as to whether cracking is bad, and it’s still very hard for me to stop (especially the stress reliever). Other than perhaps being a sign of over doing it, as you suggest, is there any other medical evidence as to whether it is harmful to your joints?

Amanda Winkler

I completely relate to this blog post Jill. While I have never pushed my flexibility to the limit through yoga, I have in fact pushed my body to extremes in running. I thought was freeing myself through running, but often I was just disconnecting. I would push myself to run even when my joints ached and when my body was tired. I often pushed through pain, instead of listening in and using pain as information to guide me in my healing. Through yoga, and most specifically Yoga Tune Up, I have started looking at pain as valuable information, and I… Read more »

Rachel S

I love this post. I often find myself going “all in” with my practice (and many things in my life), even when it’s not best for me. I also was a joint cracker, but maybe not as addicted to that as I have been to getting into a pose even when it feels like it’s not good for me. I’m learning to recognize and surrender to the idea that going all in can mean doing myself in…which obviously is not what yoga is all about (nor is it safe). Thanks for sharing your crack addiction as a lesson for all… Read more »

Chloe

Does this apply to all kinds of joint cracking? Even the unintentional kind? I often crack the knuckles of my fingers and my toes, but sometimes (more frequently as of late) during my practice my hips and knees will crack as well. Is this something worth investigating and working on or is this natural?