“I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” You’ve heard that one before, haven’t you? You might have even said it yourself. Well, I’m here to tell you that your inflexibility actually makes it easier to do yoga! “Wait, what did he just say?” I hear you, but think about this for a moment. You’re in a yoga class on your mat next to a ballerina. The teacher tells the class to do Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana). You can barely bend forward because your hamstrings are so tight. But you feel that stretch, don’t you? You sure do! That flexible neighbor of yours, however, she may not feel it. It’s definitely going to take her more searching and pulling and prodding to get to the same stretch you’re feeling. So, you see, the fact that you’re not very flexible actually makes it easier to do yoga. Eureka!! You’ll find those stretches much more quickly than little miss Gumby next to you!
Here are 6 basic stretches to help increase that flexibility of yours. Remember, always breathe deep and never ever move into pain. The pose should feel like a good, healing stretch, but never painful. I always recommend moving somewhere between a 6 and an 8 on the scale if 1 is nothing and 10 is pain. I look forward to hearing how you did!
Standing Forward Fold with Shoulder Opener – Utanasana variation [lower back, hamstrings, shoulders]
Here we simply fold forward and add a shoulder stretch. You’ll stretch your legs, lower back and your shoulders.
From a standing forward position, take your feet about hip width apart, fold your upper body down like you’re bending down to pick something up off the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your back, do your best to straighten the arms and bring your arms over your head toward the floor in front of you. I don’t expect your hands to get to the floor, some of you may not even straighten your arms. In that case use a towel or a strap. Make sure you’re moving your shoulders away from your ears, breathe as you stretch, and think about melting that tension and tightness away!
Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana [hamstrings, calves, achilles]
Down Dog strengthens your shoulders and arms while stretching your hamstrings, calves, and achilles tendons. It also calms the brain.
Essentially, you’re putting your body into an upside down “V” shape. You’re on your hands and feet and if you looked at yourself from the side, you would be in a triangle shape. From your wrists to your hips is a straight line and from your hips to your heals is also as straight as you can be. When you’re newer, your knees should be bent slightly and your body may be bent at your shoulders as well. I recommend building the strength to hold this pose for at least 2 minutes. In the beginning 30 seconds will be a lot, but I promise, you will build that strength! You can always drop into Child’s pose to rest at any time.
Crescent Pose – no sanskrit [hip flexor, quad strengthener]
This is one of my favorite poses. I love it because it’s a pose that strengthens and stretches all at the same time. You’ll strengthen your right leg when it’s forward while stretching your left hip flexor and vice versa. Crescent pose also increases your focus and balance.
Starting from Down Dog, step your right foot up to your hands. You may need to scoot it up their if you’re not super flexible. You’ll be in a runner’s lunge, picture yourself as an Olympian on the starting blocks. Make sure there is some distance between your feet, so you’re not feeling unbalanced. Balance will still be challenging in this pose. Then you lift your upper body up, so you are standing on your two legs in that lunge. Crescent pose is sometimes referred to as a high lunge. With both arms straight up to the sky, palms facing each other, shoulders relaxed, make sure your gaze is steady on one point. And remember to breathe deep! You can hold this for 30-60 seconds or more if you’re feeling stronger.
Child’s pose – Balasana [lower back, quads, ankles, shoulders]
This is a resting pose. It will stretch your lower back, your quads, the tops of your feet and shins. It will allow your body to relax, your heart rate to slow down a bit and your mind to focus.
Start on your hands and knees. Bring your big toes together and bring your knees slightly wider than your ribcage. Move your butt down to your heels and allow your torso to rest on your thighs. You can reach your arms in front of you, which will give you a slight shoulder stretch or bring them behind you, which is more relaxing. There is also an option where the knees are together. Neither is right or wrong, just two different options. The most important thing is that your knees do not hurt when you bend them.
Easy Pose – Sukhasana [hips, gluteals]
Here we open the hip and stretch the knees, glutes, and ankles. If you’re leaning forward you’ll also be stretching the back, as well.
Sit in a cross legged position. If your knees are far away from the floor, it means your hips are on the tighter side. If they are closer to the floor, you’re more open in that area. It’s important to understand that flexibility has absolutely nothing to do with your self-worth. Sometimes, I’ve heard people say, “I’ll be happy when…” Please remember just because you’re flexible doesn’t make you any better than anyone else.
Spinal Twist – Supta Jaṭhara Parivartānāsana [spinal column]
Spinal twists are a wonderful way to increase your lateral flexibility. You’ll be stretching the spine, neck, and even the shoulders. Every so often you’ll feel your back crack into place. Don’t ever push too hard, as pain is never the goal. If your back does crack and there is no pain, it’s usually very safe and actually healthy for your spine to realign itself.
While lying on your back, pull your right knee into your chest. After a breath or two there, roll completely onto your left hip. If that right knee touches the floor, great (and if not, great!). It doesn’t matter, but that’s the direction your moving. Then if it’s okay for your shoulder, you can reach your right arm back away from the right leg. Also, if your neck is okay, you can also turn your head toward the right as well. You will feel this throughout the spine, shoulders, and neck.
There you have it! 6 basic poses that will help you increase your flexibility and keep you feeling fancy free and mobile! As always, I’m here to help if you need, @teddymcdonald
Source: 30dB.com – Yoga and Flexibility
“Social is onboard. At 85% positive and great volumes Social’s a fan of flexibility gains from yoga.” – Howard K. 30dB