YOGA FOR FLEXIBILITY: TOP TIPS AND BEST POSES
We often think of muscles like a rubber bands; pull them harder and they will stretch longer. The problem is that most of our muscles are old, rigid rubber bands that will snap the minute you pull them too far. Another problem is that our muscles don’t work exactly like rubber bands. So how do our muscles function and how do they stretch longer? Enter flexibility: range of body motion that loosens us up.
What flexibility is… and what it is not
Before we can pull our muscles every which way in our yoga poses, we have to loosen them up.
Believe it or not, our flexibility is not determined by our muscles; the nervous system determines our flexibility. Take tight hamstrings as an example. Say you have tight hamstrings and you do a deep forward fold. Your brain will send the flashing red “danger” signal to your hamstrings (via your nervous system) and your hamstrings will respond by contracting. They do this as a survival mechanism; when they contract they may lose flexibility, but they gain strength, which they use to protect you.
Why flexibility is important
Regularly practicing Yoga poses for flexibility has many health benefits. Stretching is a great way to increase your mobility, improve your range of motion and reduce the risk of injury. Flexible exercises are an important part of any workout routine. They help you avoid injury and keep your body limber. You should also stretch before and after workouts to prevent soreness and muscle fatigue. Stretching helps increase blood flow, improves circulation, and increases joint mobility. Flexibility is essential for maintaining a healthy spine and avoiding back problems.
How to improve your flexibility
I constantly remind my students that flexibility does not come from pushing past your limits, but from reaching your edge and staying there. The number one way to improve your flexibility is to keep practicing. Keep these flexibility tips in mind during your next yoga practice.
- Play with your limits—While you do not want to force yourself beyond your limit, you also do not want to stay too far on the other side. The only way to learn (and expand) your body’s limits is to play along the edge.
- Use your breath—With every inhale, focus on alignment and check on the integrity of your posture. With every exhale, think about letting go and sinking a little deeper into the posture.
- Remain calm—A lot of our muscle tension comes from a fearful brain. This turns on the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers muscle contraction. Keep your breath long and smooth and remind yourself that you are safe so your brain and nervous system can relax. This will inevitably lead to your muscles relaxing.
- Stay awhile—Maybe yin yoga is not your thing, but there is quite a bit of science that supports the argument that your muscles need time to relax. Staying in a pose for five breaths is good for your muscles, but stay for five minutes and you might be amazed by how much deeper your muscles relaxed at the end compared to when you started.
Yoga postures for flexibility
Most asanas have a balance of both strength and flexibility, but there are a handful of positions that will be most helpful to increase your flexibility. These poses require minimal effort so you can focus on relaxing, breathing, and relaxing into the stretch. Start with just a few of these poses each week until you feel comfortable enough to add more.
Bound Angle pose
Baddha Konasana is a great pose for beginners because you get to stretch your hips while opening your chest. Holding this asana for several deep breaths will stretch the adductors, inner quadriceps, and hamstrings. Feel your heart expand as. you let your shoulders drop down and your spine lengthen. This pose helps you release any tension and stress in your body and stimulates the reproductive, nervous, and respiratory systems. It also helps you prepare for meditation and other seated yoga postures.
Wide Legged Seated Angle pose
This hip opening pose is perfect for those who struggle with tight hamstrings. Upavistha Konasana opens up and stretches out your inner thighs while stretching the entire back side of the body: legs, back, and arms. It also helps Strengthens the calves, ankle, hamstrings, glutes, abdomen, and spine. If you find this pose difficult, try placing a folded blanket under your hip bones or use a bolster under your chest.
Utthita Trikonasana is a great pose for stretching out your muscles in your legs and in the sides of your body. The triangle pose can increase stability by activating your core muscles. Keeping the lower hand lightly touching the floor engages your core strength which helps you gain confidence and feel stronger. The triangle pose stimulates your organs, including your digestive system, which can improve your metabolism. It reduces stress by targeting the lower back, which can cause tension and pain. It can also help relieve stress, and anxiety and help stabilize emotions.
Balasana is a great pose to relax the entire body, and it’s a great resting pose after practicing a challenging asana. The child’s pose is a simple yet effective position that gently stretches the low back muscles. Breathing deeply in this pose also massages and tones the abdominal organs to help them function properly. It also helps reduce stress by calming the mind and soothing the nervous system.
Supine Pigeon pose
Supta Kapotasana is a great pose for beginner students or for people with tight hips. Reclined pigeon pose provides an opportunity for us to gently stretch the hips, thighs, and low back. It helps prepare us for backbends, as well as for sitting meditation. It allows us to open the front side of the pelvis, which is often tight and contracted when we sit still for extended periods of time. Reclined pigeon pose provides us with a great opportunity to practice patience and surrender.
Standing Forward Bend
Uttanasana is a great pose to lengthen your hamstrings. Standing Forward Fold stretches the hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves. It stretches the back side of the body, which improves posture and spinal alignment. It calms the mind and relieves stress. It also stimulates the liver and kidneys and helps improve digestion.
Seated Head to Knee pose
Janu Sirsasana improves flexibility in your back, hip, and thigh muscles. It also increases blood circulation in the lower abdomen and relieves stress. Seated Head to Knee is a great pose to stretch the hamstrings, the muscles of the inner thigh and groin. It helps to calm the nervous system, eliminate mild depression, and improve digestion. Janu Shirshasana helps us release tension in the hips, knees, and lower back. It’s a great pose to practice when you feel stressed out, anxious, or depressed. Use a yoga strap around the foot of the straight leg if you cannot reach your toes.
One Legged King Pigeon pose
Eka pada rajakapotasana is a deep hip opener that improves flexibility in the hips, legs, pelvis, and groin. It stretches the thighs, psoas, glutes, hip flexors, and piriformis muscles. This asana helps to release tension in your hips, lower back, shoulders, and chest. If your hips are tight, you can place blocks or blankets under your hip bones for support.
Breathing deeply in Pigeon Pose improves nervous imbalances and stimulates the internal abdominal organs. According to Ayurveda, stress, sadness, and worry are stored in the hips, so this asana encourages emotional release and regulation. Regular practice of this pose may help relieve anxiety or stress.
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