Many people turn to yoga in the hope of improving their flexibility and mobility.
While all yoga styles will help to improve your range of motion in some way or another, some yoga styles are more suited to developing flexibility than others.
Gravity yoga is the king of yoga for flexibility gains. It’s specifically designed to help your body open up, expand your range of motion, and get you more and more flexible every day.
Even better, it’s super simple – gravity does all the work for you.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What is gravity yoga?
- Gravity yoga vs Yin yoga.
- The 3 principles of gravity yoga.
- The benefits + precautions.
- 5 easy gravity yoga poses to try at home.
Ready? Let’s flow.
What is gravity yoga?
Founded by Lucas Rockwood in 2007, gravity yoga is one of the youngest yoga styles out there – and also one of the fastest-growing.
Gravity yoga consists of holding various flexibility-building poses for around 2 to 5 minutes or longer.
These poses can be are selected to target the deep connective tissues, ligaments, joints, and bones, with the intention of expanding the yogi’s mobility – that is, the range and ease with which the joints and muscles can move.
Unlike other styles which are focused in part on building strength such as ashtanga or Hatha, all the poses in gravity yoga are held passively. The whole body is kept completely relaxed, (or ‘limp’ as Rockwood describes), to allow gravity to do all the work of stretching – hence the name gravity yoga.
For this reason, gravity yoga is considered by many as a sub-style of the popular Yin yoga, which is also based on long, deep stretches. However, there are some key differences between the two.
For example, yin yoga is a highly spiritual as well as a physical practice, revolving around ancient Chinese philosophies and Taoist principles such as the channeling of Qi energy.
Another key difference is that in Yin yoga, standing poses are mostly disregarded, whereas gravity yoga features many standing postures such as Uttanasana or Urdhva Dhanurasana (see the poses below).
By focusing exclusively on flexibility, gravity yoga is designed to support, rather than replace, other forms of exercise or yoga. The practice is super simple, and revolves around three founding principles:
#1: Hang Loose
Rule number one – hang loose. The main principle of gravity yoga is to try to relax completely into the stretch. By totally releasing any tension and not engaging any muscles, you surrender to the force of gravity and enable it to work more effectively on your body.
#2: Breathing in 4/8 Rhythm
Rule number two is to breathe in through the nose for 4 counts and to breathe out through the nose for 8 counts – otherwise known as 4/8 breathing.
In addition to creating focus, the idea is that by slowing the rate of breathing and by extending our exhalations, we stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system which in turn subdues our stretch reflex.
For context, the stretch reflex is the automatic contraction of our muscles in response to their stretching. Yep, when we stretch, our bodies automatically contract the corresponding muscles in response to keep them within their regular physiological limits.
Our body does this to keep us safe from overextension and injury, however, as a side effect also makes it more difficult to push the limits of our flexibility – hence why it’s important to subdue this reflex during flexibility training.
#3: Meet Or Beat Your Hold Time
Rule number three – constantly pursue a longer hold time.
Gravity yoga states that ‘the gating factor for flexibility is time under passive tension (AKA how long you spend in these deep poses)’.
Put simply, the longer you can stay in these poses comfortably, the more flexible you will likely become. As such, poses are timed and progress is tracked, always pursuing an increase in holding time with every practice. The typical gravity yoga hold times are 2-5 minutes but can be longer.
The benefits of gravity yoga
The first is kind of an obvious one – gravity yoga will boost your flexibility and increase the range and ease with your body can move.
If practiced regularly, gravity yoga can mitigate against the effect that aging has on our flexibility and also can lead to dramatic improvements in our bodies’ alignment and posture.
In doing so, this style helps us to avoid injury as our bodies become more malleable and acclimatized to performing a varied range of movements. This is one of the reasons that gravity yoga is a great accompaniment to other forms of exercise.
#2: Pain Relief
A second, less obvious benefit is that this yoga style can offer a great deal of pain relief.
Very often, the source of muscle soreness, joint pain, and cramping are related to tightness and tension stored in our muscles and connective system – the exact target of gravity yoga.
It is thought that gravity yoga can reduce – and in some cases even eliminate – these pains, through targeting specific areas with intelligent mobility training.
By freeing you from these pains that can restrict your daily activities, gravity yoga can enable you to live a more active life outside of the yoga studio.
Last but not least, gravity yoga helps not only your body to relax but also your mind.
Due to the slow pace of the practice and its focus on controlled breathwork, studies show that this yoga style boasts many of the same physiological benefits as yin yoga, including stress reduction, lowered heart rate, better mood, and improved sleep.
The Safety precautions
Like any exercise, there are some safety precautions to be aware of. These are all similar to that of Yin yoga, which can be read here.
5 easy gravity yoga poses to try at home
Now you know the background, benefits and safety precautions of this unique yoga style, time to dive into some easy gravity yoga poses.
#1: Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Opens up and develops flexibility in the groin, hips, inner thighs, knees, ankles and shoulders/chest.
- Begin seated with your legs stretched out straight in front of you (Dadasana).
- Inhale and bend your knees, bringing the heels to your buttocks, soles of feet flat on the floor.
- Exhale as you slowly allow both legs to drop to the side. As they do so, bring the soles of the feet together and press them flat against eachother. (Baddha Konasana)
- Inhale and lean backwards, first bringing your elbows to the floor and then all the way so that your whole back is flat against the floor (as in the photo above).
- Shoulders should be away from the ears, arms relaxed along your side with your palms upfacing.
- Stay here for at least 2-5 minutes, breathing 4/8 as described above. Relax completely and try to allow gravity to bring your knees, thighs and tailbone closer to the floor.
#2: Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Opens up and develops flexibility in the hips, lower back, spine, shoulders and back of thighs and calves.
- Begin standing with your feet hip-width-distance apart at the top of your yoga mat (Tadasana).
- Inhale as you bring both arms up so that they are straight, fingers reaching to the sky, gaze between your hands (Urdhva Hastasana).
- Exhale as you sweep both arms out to your sides and down to the floor, keeping your back straight and the bend in your knee minimal. Look between your knees.
- If you can, rest your hands on the floor, if you can’t then allow your arms to hang loose or rest on your shins.
- Keep your shoulders away from the ears. To help, try to move your chest to touch your knees rather than moving your chest towards the floor.
- Stay here for 2-5 minutes, breathing 4/8. As the time passes, try to notice how gravity lengthens your spine and opens your lower back, allowing you to move deeper into the stretch and closer to the floor.
#3: Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Opens up and develops flexibility in the chest, spine, pelvis, hips, neck and knees.
- Begin lying flat on your back, legs straight and arms relaxed at your sides.
- Inhale and bring your arms our to the sides so your body is in a T position.
- Exhale and bend your right knee, bringing it close to your right buttock so that the sole of your right foot is flat against the floor.
- Inhale and slowly move your bent right knee to the left, keeping your left leg straight. Look to your right.
- Hold this position for 2-5 minutes, breathing 4/8 as above, and try to notice how your knee is able to get closer to the ground as the time passes.
- Return to centre and repeat on other side.
#4: Plow Pose (Halasana)
Opens up and develops flexibility in the wrists, thighs, pelvis, spine and shoulders.
- Begin by lying with your whole body lying flat on the mat, arms relaxed alon side your torso with palms down.
- Inhale and engage your core to raise both legs and hips up toward the ceiling, using your hands at the base of your back to support you if needed. Your torso should be perpendicular to the floor.
- Exhale as you slowly straighten your legs to come into a shoulder stand (Salamba Sarvangasana). Stay here for a few breaths to find your centre and survey how your body feels here.
- If you experience any pinching sensations or sharp pains in the back or spine, slowly exit the pose and rest in childs pose (Balasana).
- Then on your next exhale, engage your core to allow your legs to fall back and behind your head slowly and controlled, bringing the tops of your toes to touch the floor.
- Your hips should be stacked directly above your shoulders, your arms should form a V with hands held, as in the photo above. Keep a small space between your chest and chin.
- If your toes do not yet touch the floor, support your back with your hands to allow your legs as far as possible, keeping them straight.
- Stay here for 2-5 minutes, breahting in 4/8. As gravity does its work, notice how your spine is lengthening and your legs are able to move further behind you.
#5: Garland Pose / Yogi Squat (Malasana)
Opens up and develops flexibility in the ankles, shoulders, inner thighs, buttocks and lower back.
- Begin standing with feet mat’s width apart, feet turned outwards about 45 degrees.
- Exhale and bend both knees to come down into a low, wide squat.
- Bring your arms on to the inside of your legs, so that the bottom of your triceps are pressing against your knees and your hands are in prayer position (anjali mudra).
- Push your shoulders back and down, which will in turn widen your knees. Keep your back flat and straight. Tuck your tailbone under towards your navel and lift the crown of your head up to the sky to lengthen your spine.
- Stay here for 2-5 minutes, breathing 4/8. As you hold the pose, notice gravity doing its work and moving your tailbone closer to the floor.
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