Asanas, or the physical side of yoga, focus on many, many things, including balance, strength, concentration, stability, breath and relaxation. They also focus on, and improve, flexibility. Here are 8 beginners’ yoga poses that increase flexibility.
But Yoga Is For Flexible People, Right?
Myth: You have to be flexible to practice yoga. Reality: Yoga is for EVERY body.
You don’t have to be slim, flexible, strong or particularly coordinated to start yoga. In fact, when trying yoga out for the first time, people tend to either be naturally flexible or naturally strong. It is rare that someone trying it out for the first time would be able to hold crow pose for a long period of time and then twist themselves into a pretzel pose. Over time, a yoga practice develops and increases flexibility and strength.
Yoga is non-judgmental, non-competitive and never completely mastered. In other words, you will be a yoga student your whole life. There are always more levels, deeper poses and different ways of practicing yoga. And you will naturally continue to build upon your flexibility as you practice, as well as your strength, balance and concentration.
Yoga For Flexibility
These poses are great to practice on their own or as part of a sequence. Over time, they will help release tight muscles, benefit your nervous system, and increase flexibility.
Even simply sitting cross-legged and twisting is a great start to building flexibility, if you are particularly stiff or inflexible. Twisting from the core stretches the back and spine, relieving stiffness in the body and even the hips if you are cross-legged.
Start in staff pose, sitting up straight with your legs crossed. Inhale and raise your arms above your head, lengthening your spine. As you exhale, twist from the core to the right, placing your left hand on your right knee and right hand behind you. Inhale and lengthen your spine a bit more, then exhale and twist a little deeper. Stay there for three breaths and then move back to neutral. Repeat on the other side. If sitting with your legs crossed is too difficult to begin with, you can straighten your legs and cross one over the other, twisting with your opposite elbow on the outside of your bend knee.
If you have tight hips or are inflexible around the groin and inner thighs, then spending a bit of time in bound angle is a great way to release that whole area. This pose can be performed in three different ways – each with slightly different benefits. But all three options help with flexibility around that target area.
Start sitting up straight with your legs out in front of you, in staff pose again. Fold your knees out to open your hips, and place the soles of your feet together. Hold your ankles or clasp your fingers together around the outside of your feet. Bring your heels in as close to your groin as you can. Your legs should make a diamond shape. Make sure your back is straight, not curved. Start to gently flap your knees up and down like a butterfly to help release any tension you may be holding. You can also try swaying from side-to-side, gently pressing your elbow into your inner thigh to carefully encourage it closer to the ground.
If you can, move your chest towards the ground, leading with your heart to get a deeper stretch around the hips. Stretch your arms out in front and rest your forehead and chest over your feet and on the mat.
Reclined Bound Angle
For reclined bound angle pose, start by lying on your back with your knees bent. Slowly release your knees apart towards the ground and place the soles of your feet together. Make sure you’re not straining the insides of your thighs and groin. You can place blocks underneath your hips to reduce any extreme tension. Rest your hands either out to the sides with your palms facing up, or rest your hands on your belly. You can add a bolster under your spine to open your chest and rest here for as long as you like. This is a popular restorative pose.
This is one of those go-to stretches that people think of when talking about flexibility. ‘I can’t do yoga – I can’t even touch my toes’, is a common statement heard by yoga teachers. The aim, however, is not to touch your toes. It is to stretch the muscles in the backs of your legs and release the spine. Whether that means your hands get as far as your thighs or down to the ground is irrelevant. Having said that, though, the more you practice, the closer you will get to the ground! The most important thing to remember here is not to force it. This is something that takes time and practice.
Forward bends can be done standing up or seated. If you are standing, start in mountain pose with your big toes touching and about an inch of space between your heels to slightly rotate your thighs inward. On an inhale, lift your arms up above your head, opening your chest and looking up. Make sure your knees are lifted and your core is engaged to protect your back. Release your shoulder blades down your back.
On an exhale, fold forward from your waist, leading with your chest, and keep your backs straight. Keep a bend in your knees if your legs are tight, and if you are comfortable enough to straighten them, make sure you still have a micro-bend in them (don’t lock the knee joints). Allow your spine and neck to lengthen, and release your head towards the floor. Your hands can rest on your thighs, shins, on the ground, around your ankles, or you can hug around the back of your knees. Stay here for five to 10 breaths.
If you are practicing a seated forward bend, start in staff pose with your torso and back straight and your legs out in front of you. Point your toes to the sky, lengthening the backs of your legs. Inhale and open your chest, looking up. Lean forward on an exhale, leading with your chest again. Slide your hands along your legs. Either hold the bottoms of your feet, or rest your hands on your thighs or shins, releasing your head, and lengthening your spine and neck. This is where a yoga strap can come in handy. If you have one, loop it around your feet and walk your hands down the strap as you exhale. Hold the pose for five to 10 breaths.
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