Yoga for flexibility, ever wondered just how effective it is?
Flexibility is an essential aspect of good physical health that promotes joint health and range of movement and helps prevent pains, strains and injuries.
Yoga and flexibility go hand in hand. However, there’s a common misconception that yoga is reserved exclusively for those who are already flexible. This perceived emphasis on natural flexibility often deters would-be-yogis.
This could not be further from the truth! In reality, flexibility is not a prerequisite to yoga but instead the hard-earned result of consistent yoga practice.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- Why is flexibility important?
- How does yoga make you more flexible?
- Why is consistency important for flexibility?
- 10 yoga poses to increase flexibility
Let’s get into it!
Why is flexibility important?
Flexibility refers to the ability of your muscles to stretch, allowing your joints to move through their full range of motion.
In order to live a mobile, pain-free life, a decent level of flexibility is required. This is especially crucial if you work out, run, or play sports. But don’t panic – this doesn’t mean you need to be a contortionist! It simply means that your muscles need to be able to stretch when necessary.
Stress, age, poor posture, and lack of exercise can lead to tension and tightness in your muscles, which has a series of knock-on effects on the surrounding muscles, tendons and joints.
Not only does this limit your mobility, but it can also cause back and shoulder pain, joint health problems, chronic injuries and more.
It’s important to prioritise nourishing your joints and maintaining your flexibility as you would your strength or cardiovascular fitness.
The benefits of flexibility include, but are not limited to:
- Improved range of motion
- Better posture
- Less muscle tension
- Less joint pain
- Reduced risk of injury
- Improved stress levels
- Increase in energy
- Better party tricks!
How does yoga make you more flexible?
It’s well known that practicing yoga regularly is a highly effective way to ease the tension in your muscles and build flexibility. However, few of us can explain how this really works.
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty and explore yoga for flexibility on a muscular level.
When stretching, you not only affect the muscles surrounding the joints, but also the yellow ligaments and stretch receptors. Stretch receptors are nerves that tell our muscles to contract, relax, and to stop stretching. Therefore, a key part of stretching is to dampen these signals over time.
Key muscle groups for increased flexibility
Yoga poses for flexibility target three key muscle groups:
Your hamstring muscle group is located along the back of your thigh bone.
These muscles are activated in almost every motion that occurs in the lower extremities, which range from your hips to your toes. They are responsible for extending the hip and flexing the knee joint by contracting and pulling on the bony attachments.
Your hips are densely packed with muscles. The muscles of the hip flexor are responsible for keeping your hips and lower back strong, flexible and well-aligned.
Sitting at a desk all day shortens the iliopsoas – the strongest group of muscles in the hip flexors that connects the spine to the femur. This causes multiple problems with running, such as a shorter stride that throws off your natural gait. In turn, this can lead to muscle injury.
The importance of shoulder flexibility is not to be underestimated. Not only is it pivotal to everyday tasks involving carrying and reaching, but it also helps increase strength and decrease the load that your ligaments and bones have to carry.
Improving your shoulder flexibility will also help build up more strength in your upper body by giving you better posture and making you stronger.
static vs dynamic stretching | yoga for flexibility
Yoga involves three key components: static stretching, dynamic stretching, and breathwork.
Static stretching means arriving in a yoga pose and resting there for an extended period of time, in order to allow the muscles to loosen and release.
Breathing deeply helps deepen the stretch and also reduce any stress you might be holding, so try not to hold your breath – tempting though it may be.
In contrast, dynamic stretching means moving within and flowing in and out of poses quickly, linking them through careful breathwork.
Dynamic stretching helps warm up your muscles, decrease resistance and prepare them for activity. Additional benefits of dynamic stretching include increased joint stability, coordination, strength, and power.
Static stretches are more effective than dynamic stretches for improving flexibility and range of motion.
However, it’s important to still incorporate dynamic stretching into your routine in order to warm up your muscles and prevent injury.
Why is consistency important for flexibility?
One of the most frustrating things you’ll find when trying to improve your flexibility is that it takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and nor will you be able to do the splits overnight.
Like anything, flexibility takes time, willpower and consistency to build. The key is to start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time you can hold a pose with the correct form.
We recommend stretching each muscle group for 30 minutes, at least 3 times a week. However, if this seems too time-consuming, stretching for 20 minutes every other day is still enough to start seeing results.
People typically see real results within 3 to 6 months, but this figure depends on how often you practice. Remember, flexibility gains are slow to build but quick to lose, so try to incorporate stretching into your daily routine!
10 yoga poses to increase flexibility
These yoga poses for flexibility will help you lengthen and stretch key muscle groups in a safe, controlled way. In order to see results, make sure you practice these poses consistently.
Whilst some discomfort is to be expected, at no point should you experience pain whilst practicing these poses. If so, you are overstretching and risk injuring yourself. This can put you out of action for a while, so take care and be gentle.
This classic pose is an easy way to stretch out tight hamstrings.
Remember to keep your hips over your ankles, bend your knees slightly to avoid hyperextension, and bear in mind that the goal is less to touch the floor with your hands and more to bring your chest to your knees
2. Standing Forward Fold with Hands Behind the Back (Uttanasna variation)
This variation pose combines the hamstring stretch with a deep shoulder stretch.
Join your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers, before folding forward from the hips on the outbreath and letting gravity do its work. If you can’t join your hands behind you, grab your elbows instead.
One of yoga’s most recognised poses for good reason!
This pose stretches out stiff shoulders and tight hamstrings. Starting from your hands and knees, curl your toes under and lift your seat to the ceiling by straightening your legs. Peddle your feet gently here to deepen the stretch.
Try not to collapse your lower back and shoulders, and bend slightly at the knees to avoid hyperextension.
4. Eye of the Needle (Sucirandhrasana)
This pose is a great way to target your hip flexors.
Place your ankle on top of your thigh and bring your knee to your chest, creating a gap through which you can clasp the back of your thigh and deepen your stretch. Switch legs after 10 deep breaths.
This fluid pose helps improve mobility and flexibility in your core, neck, shoulders, and spine.
Make sure your wrists are directly below your shoulders and your knees are below your hips. Inhale as you push your core to the floor and raise your head, and exhale as you tuck your head in and round your spine toward the ceiling.
Start by practicing this pose for 1-3 minutes at a time. Move between your cat and cow slowly, gradually increasing the speed as you feel your spine become looser and more flexible.
Place your hands under your shoulders, palms down with elbows pressed into your ribs and pointing towards the ceiling.
Remember, your back should be doing more work than your hands here.
7. Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
This is a more advanced hip opener pose, so consider using a cushion to create space between you and the ground if your hips feel particularly tight.
Once you feel comfortable with this pose, see if you can bend forwards toward the ground.
8. Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Straighten your front leg as much as possible, and don’t worry if your hand doesn’t reach the floor. Twist your core and reach toward the sky, creating length with your arms and neck.
If you find yourself putting too much pressure on your leg by leaning on it, you can use a yoga block to rest your hand on instead.
9. Straddle Sit (Upavistha Konasana)
This pose is a great way to stretch your inner thighs and groin.
If you feel comfortable in this pose and want to push yourself, you can take a forward fold here – but make sure you keep your spine log instead of rounded.
10. Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
This reclining backbend and chest-opening pose helps stretch out your hips, back and shoulders.
Raise your hips and press your interlocked arms into the mat. If this pose feels too intense, you can always try a supported bridge by placing a yoga block under your lower back.
Final Thoughts | Yoga For Flexibility
Stretch regularly, stay hydrated, and work hard. You may be surprised at what you can do!
Check out our article on How To Build a Daily Yoga Routine for tips and tricks to help you achieve your flexibility goals.