Did you know that flexibility and stress relief are the most popular reasons for starting yoga?
Yoga also provides other benefits, from strength training and calorie burning to body connectivity and focus.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to improve your flexibility with yoga.
How to Improve Your Flexibility With Yoga
As you start your yoga for flexibility training regimen, it helps to keep in mind the different major muscle groups of your body.
The upper body includes the arms, shoulders, and neck. The back is an essential area, one that in most people could benefit from stretching.
Your hips and hip flexors also require special attention while stretching. Lastly, lower body yoga stretches focus on your thighs and calves.
In this piece, we’ll be focusing on back and hip flexibility. Knowing how to improve flexibility in these areas will help you avoid pain or injury and perform at the height of your athletic potential.
Yoga for Flexibility
There are many tools you can use to develop flexibility, but yoga is certainly one of the best!
One of the great things about yoga is that even though it places an incredible amount of focus on flexibility, it simultaneously provides many additional benefits at the same time.
While learning how to improve flexibility with yoga, you’ll also develop your cardiovascular system and become more resistant to injuries. You can even lose weight while performing yoga, especially the more difficult yoga poses.
Stretching is great for flexibility, but if you want to enjoy all of these benefits and more at the same time, then yoga stretching is the option for you!
How to Improve Back Flexibility
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “about 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes.”
They add that lower back pain is the most common ailment related to work. In fact, many people are dealing with this back pain almost constantly. The Institute finds that more than 1 in 4 people has dealt with lower back pain in the past 3 months.
With numbers like that, practically all of us are going to need to develop a system at some point for managing pain.
Fortunately, yoga can provide that system. Yoga poses for back flexibility range from basic to intense. They can all help you manage chronic pain.
Over time, you can progress from a beginner to an expert in the ways of the limber back. There’s an amazing feeling that comes from being pain-free and in control of your body!
The Forward Bend
The forward bend is the first pose for stretching out your back. Also knows as Paschimottanasana, this pose is easy to start, but can take years to master.
Sit on the floor or your yoga mat and keep your legs flat on the floor and together. Lean your whole upper body forward and let your hands slide across the floor towards your feet.
The head relaxes in this pose, so rather than looking forward, let it drop down. Advanced performers of this pose can bring their face all the way down to their legs, bending their whole body completely in half.
As with most yoga poses, it’s important to pay attention to the breath as you perform the forward bend pose. Make sure you consciously inhale before you begin to bend forward and let your breath come out relaxed and controlled as you bring your hands towards your feet.
Once you’re in position, hold the forward bend pose for a few breaths. On each exhale, you can slip a little farther forward into the stretch if you feel able.
The Half Spinal Twist
The half spinal twist, or Ardha Matsyandrasana, is a pose that stretches one half of your back at a time. It can be a great choice if one side of your back needs special attention.
To perform this pose, sit on the floor and bring your knees up towards your chest with your feet on the ground. Then put one of your ankles behind the other, making it the back leg.
Let your back leg’s knee drop towards the floor as you bring your foot back towards the opposite hip. You should be able to feel this stretch your thigh.
Now make sure the other leg is still supported with your foot on the floor and your knee in the air a little distance from your chest. You’re going to use that high knee as an anchor to stretch your back.
Turn your body towards the back leg’s foot. This rotation will really start to stretch the vertebrae in your back.
As you continue to turn, let your hands move towards the floor. One of your arms will now be close to your raised knee. Place the elbow of that arm against the inside of your knee, and use it to push yourself deeper into the stretch.
The other arm can reach behind you to keep you supported and help you pull into the pose.
Afterward, perform the mirror image of this pose to stretch your back the other way.
The Extended Cobra Pose
The extended cobra pose, or Bhujangasana, is a great way to relieve tension in the back.
The extended cobra also works out your back muscles, combining strength and flexibility training into one.
To perform the extended cobra pose, start by lying face down on the ground. Place your hands on the ground and use them to push your upper body up off the ground while your lower body stays the same.
You’ll want to push yourself so that your chest and head are totally vertical, like when you are standing. Meanwhile, keep your feet about a shoulder-width apart.
As you push your upper body up, exhale, and really feel the stretch in your back. You don’t want to have your shoulders pushed up hunched against your neck, so keep your arms bent and let your shoulders relax.
How to Improve Hip Flexibility
Hip flexibility is essential to enjoy a full range of motion in your legs. Having tight hips can decrease how powerfully you can exert your muscles, decreasing your effective strength. It can also cause lower back stress and pain, or even lead to injury.
The Knee to Ankle Pose
The knee to ankle pose resembles the meditation poses you might see performed by monks on TV or in movies. With a simple adjustment, however, this pose can work as a potent hip flexibility trainer.
To perform the knee to ankle pose, sit cross-legged on the ground. Then place the knee and the ankle of one leg on top of the other leg.
Your high knee should be lying flat on the other foot’s ankle, and your high ankle should be lying flat on the other leg’s knee. From this position, you should already be able to feel some good tension in the hip.
Take a calm breath, and let your upper body drift forward on the exhale, with your arms stretched forward across the floor in front of you. You’ll hold this pose for several breaths.
On each breath, let your fingers slip forward a little more. This will deepen the pose, stretching out your hip and your back.
After completing the pose with one leg on top of the other, switch so that the other leg is on top.
The Head to Knee Pose
The head to knee pose is another powerful tool that helps stretch your hips and back at the same time.
Start by sitting on the ground with both legs extended in front of you. Then bring one leg back towards the opposite leg’s inner thigh. You’ll keep the other leg straight forward while this leg bends.
Next, place the hand from your straight leg’s side on the ground a little above the knee. You’ll use that hand to help support yourself for the next stage.
Lastly, you will drop the head forward towards the foot of the straight leg.
Eventually you may be able to bring your forehead all the way to your shin, but that will take a lot of practice.
As with the knee to ankle pose, you will exhale as you bring your upper body forward. Slip a little deeper into the pose on each subsequent breath, while supporting yourself with the hand on the ground.
Since this pose also stretches one half of your body at a time, you’ll want to perform the mirror image pose after completing the first half.
For all poses, it’s important to challenge yourself without overstretching. Push your poses deeply enough to find some tension, but not so far as to cause pain.
Some additional poses to consider for increased flexibility are the standing forward fold, the bow pose and the bridge fold.
Yoga For Flexibility
Yoga is the best way to develop flexibility while improving other aspects of your body at the same time. We hope you’ve learned something about how to improve your flexibility with yoga. To learn more about stretching yoga or developing flexibility, check out our other articles!