Look, I know that when most people think of yoga, they think of some thin woman all pretzeled up in a complicated pose that looks seemingly impossible. I get it. I mean, I’m a part of that whole marketing machine that sells yoga that way here in the modern world.
However, the trust is that yoga is a holistic practice made up of so much more than the poses (asanas) themselves. You can learn more about all 8 limbs of yoga HERE to dive deeper into the understanding of this ancient practice beyond only the physical.
If you’re someone who’s drawn to yoga because you’re trying to cultivate more strength or flexibility in your body, then guess what- this is a great practice for you! Sure, it’s not only about the way the body can move and change. But asana is a key component in helping to calm the mind, as well.
Today’s post will share a round up of my top 3 tips for how to gain flexibility through practicing yoga. Plus, I’ll share 12 of my top picks of yoga poses to practice regularly in order to increase your flexibility.
How To increase Flexibility With Yoga
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’m not flexible enough for yoga.” The funny thing about that is that you go to yoga classes in order to gain flexibility! How will you become more flexible if you stop yourself from even trying?
Don’t worry, I have a beginner’s guide to yoga post HERE for anyone who thinks they’re not flexible enough to give yoga a chance.
I also have plenty of all level classes on my app for those of you who are looking to get started with your yoga practice in the comfort of your own home.
When it comes to gaining flexibility the most important thing to remember is consistency. The same way you can’t hit the gym super hard to get a six pack, and then once you have it expect it to stay there if you stop going to the gym- you can’t expect flexibility to just happen overnight. And you certainly can’t expect it to last if you’re not keeping up with your practice.
I’m a big fan of pushing people to do a little bit every single day. I know the everyday part sounds scary, but what if it was just 5 minutes? I bet you could do it. If not, then set another small attainable goal that is accessible with your life and schedule.
Next up, when you’re working on flexibility, it’s important to maintain some semblance of strength as you open up your body. This means, rather than locking out your joints, or sitting in hyperextension- you’re actively lengthening and opening the muscles with intention. This is especially important for those of you who are hypermobile.
When you’re working on active flexibility, you’ll notice that your muscles and ligaments will feel more supported than when you’re practicing passive flexibility. This is the beauty of balancing strength with opening.
Focus On Full Body
Most people have a specific part of their body that needs a little more attention, recovery, or care. That’s okay! However, it’s also important to remember that the body works as a whole.
As you embark on your flexibility journey, don’t forget to work on flexibility throughout your entire body, rather than only focusing on the areas that you feel need it most. It’s all connected. So, even if your shoulders need to open because you hunch over a desk all day, trust me when I say that working on your hips will also help to open your chest.
Why Flexibility Is Important
Flexibility is really important to maintain, especially as your body ages. And if you’re reading this, no matter how old you are, you’re aging. At this very moment.
Our modern world has placed a big emphasis on sitting. We sit in front of laptops, we sit on our long commutes to work, so on and so forth. All of that sitting causes the body to get tense and tight, which overtime, results in pain.
Working on gaining more flexibility can help to reduce pain or discomfort in your body. Plus, it can also ensure that as you also work on your strength. You’re not becoming so tight or rigid that you’re stiff and immobile.
Flexibility helps us to do things like bend over and tie our shoes, or reach for an itch in the middle of the back. It comes in handy all the time, and is certainly something that should be prioritized. Not ignored.
Yoga Poses For Flexibility
- Puppy Pose
- Downward Facing Dog
- Gate Pose
- Modified Side Plank Side Stretch
- Forward Fold With Chest Expansion
- Upward Facing Dog
- Low Lunge, Half Splits Pulses
- Bound Low Lizard
- Standing Backbend
- Wide Legged Forward Fold
- Half Pigeon
The truth is, all yoga poses help with flexibility and strength. These postures are meant to be a beautiful balance between the two, and they certainly work to achieve both overtime.
The postures listed are meant to be accessible to all level practitioners. And poses that don’t require an intensive warm up. Remember, if you’re looking for even more mellow poses, or you simply need more support in your practice, then check out this post on yoga poses with the wall.
Cat and Cow are postures that are often introduced in the warm up portion of the class, and truly feel good anytime. Really, the point of Cat and Cow is to arch and hollow the spine by tucking and tilting the hips underneath you.
This means that while Cat and Cow are traditionally done on all fours, you can also achieve the Cat/Cow motion of the hips and spine in any position that’s comfortable for you.
Puppy Pose has got to be one my favorite yoga poses. Because it honestly just feels amazing every time I visit it. Which is almost every day.
This pose is really helpful for those of you who tend to round in, or work at a computer all day. It focuses on opening the chest, shoulders, and cervical spine.
Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog is truly a staple in the yoga practice. And it’s probably one that you’re already familiar with…even if you’ve never gone to a yoga class!
The reason that Downdog is so great is that it really works the entire body in an accessible way. You’ll gain length in the hamstring and entire length of the spine, while also cultivating strength in the shoulders and core.
Gate Pose is an accessible yoga pose for new practitioners, while still achieving a deep side bend opening that feels great for more advanced yogis, too.
I love that this posture is grounded with the back knee on the mat. Because it allows me to open more between the ribs as I reach up and back with my top hand. Remember to keep breathing.
Modified Side Plank Side Stretch
Modified Side Plank Side Stretch is another grounded posture that provides a juicy side body opening, and is best combined with Gate Pose to open one side, and then the other.
Try to focus on really cinching the waist line of your bottom hip as much as you spread the top hip bone away from the lowest rib. This will create an active flexibility motion of expansion, while still hugging everything in.
Forward Fold Chest Expansion
Forward Fold Chest Expansion is something I do all throughout my day, because it helps me to open my chest after a long day of writing, and I love the blood rushing to my head in a gentle inversion.
You can, of course, do a Forward Fold without the chest expansion. I like to add the chest expansion to target full body flexibility, rather than only the lower body and legs.
Upward Facing Dog
Upward Facing Dog is a backbend that targets the opening of the entire frontline of the body, from the tops of the ankles all the way up to the throat.
Don’t forget that if Upward Facing Dog is too intense, you can always lower your hips and knees down into High Cobra, instead.
Low Lunge, Half Splits Pulses
One of the best ways to open your hips is by flossing them out through Low Lunge and Half Splits pulses.
If you’re tighter in the hips, then place your hands onto yoga blocks (or anything sturdy that can bring the ground closer to you) so that you don’t have to hunch and round your upper body over your front leg.
If you’ve read my morning routine post, then you know that I start every day in Malasana. Trust me when I say, you should, too.
Now, if you’re tighter in the hips or ankles and sitting in Malasana for an extended period of time isn’t comfortable for you, then you can always sit your bum onto a block for more support. Make sure to keep pressing the weight to the outer edges of your feet, even if you’re on the block, as this will help to open the inner thighs and hips.
Bound Low Lizard
Mmmm…Bound Low Lizard is one of those intense but delicious poses that really opens the entire body by targeting the hips, quadriceps, chest, and shoulders.
This is a great pose to practice active flexibility, by flexing your back foot to draw your heel to hip, rather than reach back for the foot and yanking on it with the hand. Turn on your hamstring to bring your foot in towards your hip, and then place your hand on the foot to draw it in closer.
I know that a Standing Backbend can sound intimidating, but even as someone who’s super flexy, I have to say that I love the supported variation of hands to the low back even more than the fullest expression.
Make sure you press your hands or fist firmly into your low back as much as you squeeze your glutes in, as this will help to support the low back as the upper back lifts and opens. Continue to reach the sternum (that bony cylinder at the center of the chest) skyward as much as you draw your gaze up and back.
Wide Legged Forward Fold
Wide Legged Fold is a great reset after a big opening like Standing Backbend. Separating the feet nice and wide helps to create more space in the low back to find a deeper release without strain.
Don’t forget to point your toes slightly in, and to turn your heels a bit out as you fold. Challenge your balance by bumping more weight into the front of your feet as you invert, but maintain active flexibility by spiking into your heels simultaneously.
Yum…who doesn’t love Half Pigeon? This pose is a dream for anyone with tight tips or low back issues. However, it should be avoided if you have pain in the knees.
If your front hip is lifted super high from the ground, slide a block of pillow underneath it so it has something to rest on. As you fold forward, allow your forehead to ground onto something so that you can relax your head to find more length in your cervical spine.
I don’t know about you, but this post just made me want to jump on my mat and get to stretching! In fact, I think I’m going to do that right now.
Let me know which postures have helped you gain more flexibility in your yoga practice. And don’t forget to share your own favorite poses in the comments below.
Happy practicing, friends!