Updated: May 5, 2021
Straight away - Yoga is not about flexibility, nor do you have to be flexible to do yoga.
Your yoga practice is simply a tool to align your mind with your physical body.
That being said, it’s nice (and feels good!) to make more space in your body. This blog has 2 parts:
You can do the postures every day and consistency is really the key here. Let's get started!
Tips for Safely Increasing Flexibility
1. Active Flexibility is KEY
Active flexibility is the range of motion you can move into without an external force helping it go there, i.e. you hand, the floor, body weight, a strap.
Strength training along side flexibility training is the dynamic duo to win here. Active flexibly requires a muscle to contract in order to move into a stretch. It also requires more mind<>body awarenes because the our stretches are now very intentional.
2. Warm up your muscles first!
Warming up the body increases blood and oxygen flow to the muscles making them more pliable and susceptible to a greater range of motion. It also means less likely to injure. Here are 3 ways to build some heat before your stretch:
Go on a run/elliptical (Recommended)
2-3 minute run in place, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, burpees, etc.
3. Play with Flexing and Pointing Feet
This plays into active flexibility in #1! Just like how it sounds, play with flexing and pointing your feet in various poses. For instance, if you're in a sitting forward fold, alternate between pointing and flexing your feet. Not only will this help with foot/ankle/toe mobility which often deteriorates sooner in the body, but it allows for an awareness of different sensations with small changes like a simple point or flex.
Protip: Dorsiflexing your foot is great for protecting your knee in poses like pigeon or sitting forward folds.
4. Don't Hang out at Your Max Stretch
Staying at max stretch puts a lot of consistent stress on your muscles and ligaments and can lead to injury.
Instead, find very small pulses into a deeper stretch then slowly come out.
Try to incorporate small gentle movement into your stretches versus a static hold.
If you're swaying or pulsing in a stretch, do it softly and with kindness.
5. Stretching Consistently is Key
It's better to stretch for 5 minutes every day than for an hour once a week.
You don't need to spend an hour stretching or in asanas every day. Starting off with a few simple stretches for a shorter amount of time will get you in the habit of lengthening your muscles. You'll start to look forward to your practice knowing that it ignites your body and mind.
ProTip: integrate stretching into your normal activities: check email in pigeon pose (remember to switch sides!), read in a forward fold (uttanasana - shown in #4 below), you can do more passive postures, like butterfly, while watching Netflix.
6. Take Stretching Slow - Allow it to Happen Naturally
This isn’t a Drake song - we don’t go 0 → 100, real quick. Your body will open up naturally as you breathe into a posture. You will notice the difference between 20 seconds in and 1 minute in. When you're holding a stretch notice where you may be griping or clenching and relax that area. Intentionally find ease.
Enter stretches slowly, allow your body to open, reverse out slowly. You do not ever want to feel sharp/electric pain in a stretch, however, a deep muscle sensation is fine. Listen to your body.
Note: Each day will be different.
Don't compare today’s movements to yesterday’s movements.
Be kind to yourself.
4 Asanas for Full Body Flexibility
I want to stretch:
#1. High or Low Lunge - Anjaneyasana
Muscle Targets: hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings
Alignment: Press down into all 4 corners of your front foot, engage your back thigh, your back foot's heel reaches toward the sky, and lengthen tall through your spine.
Hold for 5 breaths on both sides.
Modification: Place your back knee down on the mat. Option for hands on blocks.
Challenge: Exhale and take a sight backend (shown here), reaching long through your fingers and hold for 5 breaths.
#2. Cow Face Pose - Gomukhasana
Muscle Targets: upper back, upper arms, chest, hips, thighs
Hold 10 breaths or 1 minute each side. See more tutorials like this on my Instagram.
Alignment: Heart your open, keep your collarbones spreading back. Stack your knees, and point your feet toward your glute. Your whole body is engaged!
Modification: Use a strap or towel if your hands can't meet behind your back. Sit in an easy seat.
Challenge: With your elbow pointed straight up, gently look up toward the ceiling for an added shoulder stretch - shown as #3 in video. A beautiful traditional Cow Face Pose by: @samdrogi on IG
#3. Forward Fold - Uttanasana
Muscle Targets: hamstrings, calves, hips, groin,
Alignment: Feet together or shoulder-width, lengthen through your spine, relax your neck, forehead, and jaw. You can add gentle movement like swaying side to side or shaking your head yes/no. Option to bend knees deeply. :)
Hold 10 breaths or however long it serves you.
Modification: Take a generous bend in your knees to release pressure on your lower back, and feet shoulder or matt-width apart. Option for hands on blocks here.
ProTip: Engage your abs to pull you into a deeper fold. I show how using a wall can leverage into a deeper, active forward fold.
#4. Puppy Pose - Uttana Shishosana
Muscle Targets: spine, shoulders, upper back, arms, abdominal
Alignment: Hips over your knees, arms shoulder-distance apart - reaching through your fingers, press into palms and lift elbows and forearms off the mat, gently release your forehead down to the ground, sit bone reach to the ceiling. This is a feel-good heart melter. :) Hold 10 breaths or however long it serves you.
Modification: Child's pose with knees together or apart.
Challenge: Place blocks under your hands for a deeper shoulder stretch.
Image of Modification - Traditional wide-knee'd Child's Pose by @Eviekay on IG
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