Yoga as an exercise provides great benefit for the body. From improving joint mobility to growing lean muscle mass and improving your control of one’s limbs, a daily practice means better health across the board. One great area yoga can improve the body is in the realm of flexibility.
For many in the United States, a sedentary lifestyle also means living with a low range of flexibility. Flexibility, in its most basic sense, is the ease at which one is able to bend, move, and stretch a body part. High flexibility means you’re very able to stretch yourself. Low flexibility means it’s difficult or painful to stretch.
Besides the fact that flexibility is important for many daily activities, improving one’s flexibility can mean injury prevention, improved muscle and tendon strength (which means less muscle pain), and improved posture, which means decreasing one’s likelihood to develop such ailments as back pain. Let’s take a look at a few poses that help improve and grow one’s range of flexibility.
1. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
The Standing Forward Bend looks a lot like the standard stretch you may have done in PE classes – touching your toes – but it’s crucial you remain more present with your body when getting into this pose. First, stand in Tadasana, with your hands on your hips. Align your hips to be in line with your feet, and slowly exhale as you begin to bend forward, arms out.
As you lower your body, feel encourages to microbend the knees to avoid hyperextension. This is the part of the stretch you has slowly work on removing as you improve your flexibility. Similarly, work on planting your hands, palms flat, in front of your feet.
Importantly, allow yourself a few solid, deep inhales and exhales while in this position. Adjust your knee bend and positioning of the hands to get a sense of where your body is growing in flexibility, and where it needs to work.
When releasing, bring your hands back to your hips then with torso straight, lift the body upright.
- What You’re Working On: Hamstrings, Calves, Thighs
2. Upavistha Konasana (Seated Wide Legged Straddle)
If you’ve ever attempted to sit cross legged and faced tight inner thigh pain, this is the pose for you. While sitting in Dandasana (seated, legs forward, back straight up), lightly lean back and open your legs to a 90º angle (the groin being the cusp of that angle). Bringing your hands to the floor to provide stability, rotate the thighs outward, keeping the knees point up toward the ceiling, and extend the legs out a few more degrees.
Slowly walk your hands forward, still on the floor between your legs. Remember to maintain the length of the torso, and avoid bending from the waist. Allow yourself to breath, and stay in the pose a few breaths, feeling the legs stretch. Raise the torso up when done.
- What You’re Working On: Inner Thigh, Legs, Groin
3. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Laying with your back flat on the floor, begin by bending your knees and planting your feet flat on the floor. In an exhale, press your feet and arms actively into the floor while pushing your tailbone up toward the pubis, lifting the buttocks off the floor. Work to keep your inner thighs parallel to your feet, and your knees above your feet. Clasp the hands under your pelvis, and push them out toward your feet to provide stability.
Keeping your knees above your heels, push them outward and your lift your pubis toward the navel. Slowly lift your chin away from your sternum, then lift your sternum toward the chin. Strengthen the arms and broaden the shoulders, lifting the chest. Remain in the pose for several deep breathes.
- What You’re Working On: Shoulders, Chest, Spine
4. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
Sitting in Dandasana, begin by bending the knees and putting the feet on the floor. Position the left foot under the right knee, and stack the right leg on top of the left, bringing both feet out toward the opposite hip, in a bit of a leg twist. Positioning yourself evenly on your hips, and provide stability if needed with a blanket or towel.
Next, inhale as you stretch your right arm out to the right, parallel to the floor. Rotate the arm inward, eventually hand your hands point straight down toward the floor (almost as if you’re reaching to the center of your back). The palm of the hand will be between the shoulder blades. Next, reach out the left hand to the left, parallel with the floor. Rotate the arm as you reach back behind the torso, aligning your forarm with the hollow of the back. The back of the palm will be between your shoulder blades.
You’ll likely feel the finger tips touching or within reach of reach other. If possible connect the palms (or use a Yoga Strap to complete the pose). Simply release and uncross the legs when finished.
- What You’re Working On: Thighs, Shoulders, Chest
Flexibility for Life
As you may have noticed, most of these poses do not require much else than firm ground to stand on. This makes these poses simple and accessible for almost anyone. Attempt to practice each post a few times a day, and within just a few sessions, you’ll notice more flexibility and mobility, from shoulders to feet.