Yoga is an ancient practice that can help improve flexibility and overall health. Many people find that gentle and restorative yoga poses help increase flexibility over time and can also create better alignment in the body. In this article we will discuss the best yoga poses and sequences for improving flexibility.
Benefits of Flexibility
Having a flexible body offers a range of benefits which include:
Improved posture - being flexible makes it easier to stand and sit with correct posture.
Decreased risk of injury - a flexible body is less likely to sustain injury due to overextension, because it is more able to handle sudden changes in movement and intensity.
Reduced joint pain - individuals with tight muscles may be more prone to joint pain because tight muscles pull on joints.
Better balance - having strong, flexible muscles helps to create better balance and support for the body.
Enhanced physical performance - a flexible body is better able to move quickly, powerfully and efficiently greatly increasing performance.
Yoga can help to improve flexibility, making it an excellent choice for those looking to increase their range of motion and experience all the benefits flexibility has to offer.
Different Types of Yoga
Yoga is a wonderful way to stretch and become more flexible. There are many types of yoga which can be used to help improve flexibility depending on your individual needs and preferences. Here are some of the most popular types of yoga:
Hatha Yoga: This type of yoga is great for increasing flexibility and strength, as well as relaxation. It is slow-paced, relaxing, and includes poses, breathing exercises, and meditation. Hatha yoga can be customized easily to the individual’s needs making it perfect for beginners.
Vinyasa Flow: This type of yoga focuses on rapid and dynamic movements, linking each pose to the next. This is best for experienced yogis since the level of difficulty is higher.
Restorative Yoga: This type of yoga is designed specifically to relax the body and bring about deep inner peace. Using props like blankets and blocks, the poses are held for longer periods of time to safely stretch out the body.
Ashtanga Yoga: Ashtanga yoga is a fast-paced, physically-demanding type of yoga that links each posture with breath. It is best for people who are up for a challenge.
Yoga is a great way to become flexible while also relaxing or challenging yourself. It is important to find the type that speaks to you and your personal goals.
Best Yoga Poses for Flexibility
Practicing yoga has a multitude of benefits for your body, which range from improved balance and coordination to increased strength and flexibility. However, certain yoga poses can be especially beneficial for flexibility, as they encourage your muscles to relax and open up.
Try these 5 poses to improve your flexibility and start feeling better:
Downward Facing Dog: This pose stretches the entire body, including the calves, hamstrings, spine, and shoulders.
Child’s Pose: This pose is great for relaxing tight hips, back, and chest muscles.
Crow Pose: Not only does this pose challenge the core and arms, it also stretches the hips, groin, and spine.
Low Lunge: This pose helps to open up the hip flexors and the quadriceps. It also stretches the spine and front of the thighs.
Cobra Pose: This pose gently stretches the chest, abdomen, and shoulders, as well as strengthening the core and spine.
For best results, be sure to practice these poses regularly—even a few times a week can make a big difference in your flexibility and your overall well-being.
Having a healthy posture while doing any type of yoga is essential to its effectiveness. To achieve this, focus on keeping your spine straight and your head in line with your shoulders. Keep your chin tucked in and your shoulder blades pulled together. Pay attention to where your weight is distributed, making sure you’re not overcompensating in any one direction.
Remember to work within your current range and to not force yourself into any positions which feel too extreme. Holding poses for just a few breaths at first, or just a few seconds, can help you to understand your body's current level of flexibility and learn when to progress. Over time, as your flexibility and strength improve, you can begin to hold poses for longer.
Focus on Breath
As yogis, we know that the practice of yoga helps us increase flexibility and strength, but often overlooked is the importance of breath. In-depth breathing gives us an opportunity to connect with our bodies in a deeper way.
With each breath, begin to focus on how your body feels, as well as the spaces in between each breath. Notice the sensations or areas of resistance in your body. During postures, tune into your breath and let it flow through each movement.
Certain postures are especially beneficial for the development of breath awareness, like the Cat and Cow sequence, Plank Pose, Sun Salutations, and Three-Legged Downward Dog. These postures create an opportunity for you to strengthen your breath with each inhale and exhale.
Ujayi breath is also an excellent tool for breath awareness to access deeper spaces within your practice. As you inhale and exhale, begin to move your breath from the center of the body and let it ripple outward in all directions.
Short controlled breaths are beneficial for discomfort during transitions and when holding poses. Stay mindful and find balance between rest and effort. Make sure you don’t forget to breath.
The practice of yoga, when practiced with breath awareness, will help you reach your goal of increased flexibility and strength.
If you are looking for an easy way to use yoga to increase your flexibility, below are a few sequences that you can get started with:
Sphinx Pose - Shoulder Opener - Start by laying on your stomach, open your chest and arms beside you, and with your hands pointed back and your elbows close to your armpits. Rest your chin on the floor, and use your core and back muscles to stay in the pose for up to two minutes before releasing.
Cat Cow Pose - Get on your hands and knees and alternate inhaling and exhaling while arching your spine and bringing your head up and curling it in.
Downward Dog Pose - Start in a plank position then place your hands firmly just under your shoulders and press your palms into the ground. With an exhale, send your buttocks up and back and your legs and heels into the ground. Keep your legs and arms straight and slightly wider than your body.
Camel Pose - Start by kneeling off your mat, then drop your soft elbows close to your hips. Slowly lift yourself up to a standing position and press your tailbone forward and up. With your hands on your lower back, press down and feel your ribs, spine and pelvis expand.
These are just a few poses that can help you increase your flexibility and keep you feeling limber. Always remember to respect your body and if you ever come across a pose that’s too intense or causes discomfort, just move on to the next one. Namaste!
Once you finish your yoga session, it’s important to do some cooling down exercises. Cooling down helps your heart rate slow down, your body temperature to lower, and your muscles to relax. Cooling down also helps prevent dizziness and unnecessary tiredness. Some cool down poses to try are downward facing dog, seated forward fold, and cat/cow. Make sure to take your time with these poses.
Downward Facing Dog
Start in the tabletop position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Lift your hips towards the sky to create an upside-down V shape, your chest towards your thighs, and your heels towards the ground. Press into your palms and your feet as you hold the pose for up to a minute. To come out of the pose, softly release your knees to the ground, one at a time.
Seated Forward Fold
Sit with your legs extended in front of you. Take a deep breath, and on your exhale, hinge forward at your hips and reach your arms out towards the ground, either reaching for your feet or coming to rest on your knees. Take deep breaths in this pose, allowing your body to melt a bit more with each exhale. To come out of the pose, slowly roll your spine back up, one vertebra at a time, and come back to a seated position.
Start in tabletop position. On your exhale, round your back like a cat, tucking your chin towards your chest, and pressing your hands and feet into the ground. On your inhale, lift your chest and mid-back towards the sky like a cow, looking towards the horizon. Repeat this flowing movement for at least 5 breaths.
Tips for Success
Yoga can have tremendous physical and mental benefits, but it’s important to remember to practice safely. Here are some tips to help you achieve the maximum amount of flexibility safely and effectively.
Warm Up and Stretch
Before beginning any yoga practice, it’s important to warm up and stretch your muscles. This will help reduce the risk of injury during the yoga poses and stretches. To warm up, try doing a few minutes of gentle cardio, such as walking or jogging, to get your heart rate up.
Start with Beginner Poses
If you’re just beginning yoga, it’s best to start with beginner poses. This will help you to learn and master the proper form and alignment, and will also help you understand the basic breathing techniques and moving principles.
In order to see the full benefits of yoga, it’s important to practice consistently. Try setting aside a specific time each day for yoga, and gradually increase the length and difficulty of your practice as you become more experienced.
Listen to Your Body
When practicing yoga, it’s important to listen to your body. If you are feeling any pain or strain in your muscles or joints, be sure to back off and adjust your poses accordingly. Yoga is about finding the balance between the mind and body.
Find the Right Yoga Style
With so many types of yoga available, it’s important to find the right style for you. Take your time, do your research and talk to your teacher to find the style that suits your needs and goals.
Yoga is one of the best exercises for increasing flexibility and overall body strength. Using the right combination of poses and breathing techniques, one can become more flexible without risk of injury or strain. Different yoga practices can help increase flexibility in different areas of the body depending on the individual’s goals. For example, there are specific stretches and poses that target deep hip and spine flexibility. In addition, integrating other practices such as meditation, pranayama, and asana can help further increase flexibility. Doing all of these will ultimately yield the best results.
No matter how experienced or new to yoga an individual may be, incorporating all these yoga techniques into their fitness routine is bound to bring many benefits. With patience, discipline, and dedication, yoga can help any individual become more flexible.