If you are looking for an accessible practice that facilitates joint health, circulation and an overall sense of wellbeing, the Joint Freeing Series (JFS) is a great option. One of my Yoga Therapy books which covers the JFS, “Structural Yoga Therapy” by Mukunda Stiles, says that joint freedom is “the ability of each joint to move freely through its full range of motion without cracking, muscular stress, discomfort, or causing movement in the adjacent joints”. This is actually a tall order and I’d venture a guess that most people, at least most adult people, do not have full freedom or range of motions in their joints. Because so many of us are sedentary, stressed out and sitting in hunched over positions too much, our joints easily become stiff and lose range of motion. Obviously this is not a good thing and cause other problems.
The JFS is a sequence of movements that takes each joint through its full and natural range of motion. It is a wonderful way to check in with the body and to observe where the range of motion may be limited - and thereby giving us some goals to work towards in development of full range using yoga poses. I have personally used the JFS with much success and have used it with clients as well. I had one client in particular who dramatically reduced chronic shoulder pain just with the shoulder movements in the JFS. It is simple yet powerful, which is why it fits so well within Yoga Therapy programs.
The movement of a joint requires the action of muscles. Muscles contract on one side of the joint while the opposing muscle relaxes. So when you are bending your arm, moving your hand towards shoulder (as in a bicep curl) the bicep muscle is contracting and the tricep muscle is stretching. We work with this concept a lot in Yoga Therapy…. Strengthening weak muscles and lengthening tight ones which helps aid in proper joint mobility. So joint freedom is important in healthy muscular balance and vice versa. As Stiles says, “By learning to create relaxation, alignment, and space during motion, you bring about a transformation in your experience of living in the body home”. This is the whole point of asana as I see it.
The JFS is also a relatively simple practice that is not overly time consuming or complicated. It can really make a big difference in the health and wellness of the joints and body overall. When we keep our joints mobile, we are also hydrating muscles, maintaining healthy connective tissues and helping to move blood and lymphatic fluid throughout the body. We also circulate synovial fluid within the joints. All of these things are important for being healthy overall, in both body and mind, giving us the ability to enjoy life to the fullest.
The series begins with the lower body at the feet and ankles and works its way upward to the knees, hips, waist, spine and ends with the neck. This practice first and foremost just feels really good. One of my teachers said that when he held JFS classes they were always full. It is really the antithesis of a vigorous vinyasa class. There is nothing wrong with vinaysya, however most of us spend so much time moving fast from one thing to the next. It has become a novelty to move slowly and deliberately and use simple movements with meditative deliberation. The JFS really asks us to slow down and feel into our joints and muscles and become very familiar with each movement and how our body handles them. This mindfulness component is part of what makes the practice so effective.
A summary of benefits you can expect from practicing the JFS are below:
Develop awareness of sensation around stretching and strengthening muscles
Help to relieve joint pain and stiffness
Identify joints where range of motion may be limited
Determine what muscles need strengthening or stretching
Improve vascular circulation and facilitate the movement of synovial fluid within the joint capsule
Uncover motions that are “boring” - Motions that cause us to involuntarily 'zone out' could actually mean there exists some unconscious chronic tension or weakness
The JFS movements are shown in the diagram below. I also have a video HERE where I do the series with cuing. This practice offers us the opportunity to feel through each of our joints and related muscles, and simply observe how well we can move them. As noted the benefits of this simple yet powerful practice are numerous!
As always, reach out to me with questions!
Stiles, Mukunda (2000). “Structural Yoga Therapy: Adapting to the Individual”. Goodwill Publishing House.