Does yoga improve flexibility?
Yoga and flexibility go hand in hand but it’s not because yoga is for flexible people – yoga makes you more flexible! Even if you are extra stiff, yoga is one of the best tools for flexibility training.
Want to learn more about yoga for flexibility? Read on!
Why is flexibility important?
Flexibility means the ability of your muscles to stretch, allowing your joints to move through their full range of motion. A certain level of flexibility is necessary for you to go about your daily life – to move freely and pain-free. If you also work out, flexibility is crucial for your movement technique and injury prevention.
When your muscles are too tight, not only does it limit your mobility, it can also cause bad posture, back and shoulder pain, and injuries. Joints require movement through a wide range of motion in order to be well-nourished. If that doesn’t happen, it can lead to joint health problems, and it can have a knock-on effect on surrounding muscles and tendons, increasing the risk of chronic injuries.
Being flexible doesn’t mean being a super-flexible contortionist, it simply means that your muscles are able to stretch when needed, so you can move in the best possible way.
How does yoga make you more flexible?
Yoga practice includes both static and dynamic stretching, and also breathwork – all that helps to increase your flexibility.
Static stretching means that when you arrive in a pose, you stay there for a little while, allowing your muscles to release. In yoga poses, you always breathe deeply and this deepens the stretch. It’s a much better approach than a quick post-workout stretch when you may be holding your breath for the few seconds you hold the position.
Dynamic stretching means you move in the pose – bouncing up and down – or that you move into the pose and out of it repeatedly. Yoga practice includes these movements and also links them with the breath. As a result, you’re more flexible, mobile and better at balancing!
One of the major effects of yoga is that it lowers your stress levels, tones down anxiety, and releases tension – and that’s also the last puzzle piece in how yoga improves your flexibility. Some of the mental tension we experience translates into physical tension. When we release it, our muscles are often able to stretch a little more.
Yoga for flexibility and strength
What’s the best yoga for flexibility and strength?
Flexibility and strength are best trained together. Of course, you can be strong and inflexible, or you can be flexible and weak, but having a good balance of the two is ideal. It’s because you need a certain level of strength to move your body efficiently and safely, and flexibility to move in your full range of motion.
Yoga automatically increases both your strength and flexibility. Most yoga poses train the strength of some of your muscles while stretching the opposite side of your limb or body. This is an ideal scenario because you’re stretching and strengthening at the same time!
Some naturally flexible people need more strength training to stabilize their joints and prevent injuries. For those, some yoga poses may be easy to get into but holding the pose correctly or repeating it then increases their strength. All this results in a well-balanced body and stable joints.
How long does it take to become more flexible?
How long do you have to do yoga to become flexible? This is a million dollar question! Why? Because everybody is different. The good news is that everyone can become more flexible with yoga.
Yoga practice warms up your muscles before stretching them, and that’s the first key step to flexibility training. A warmer muscle is a more pliable muscle!
The second key step to increasing flexibility is to practice several times a week for steady progress. Most teachers, instructors and sports experts recommend training more than twice a week – three to five times is best. Your muscles also need to rest and recover, so make sure to have at least one rest day per week.
With consistent practice, you can expect noticeable changes after a month, but truly big flexibility progress may take months and even a year. You may also notice that some areas of your body are much easier to stretch than others, and that’s perfectly normal.
Bear in mind that while some limits in flexibility are just muscle or tendon stiffness, others are due to joint anatomy. The way your bones fit together determines your range of motion – some of your joints may be more ‘open’ allowing a wider range, while others are more limited. Work with what you have and don’t compare yourself to others.
A good way to track your progress is to take a photo of where you started, and then take another one after a month and so on. That way, you won’t just see your flexibility progress but also your form, and can make adjustments based on this visual feedback.
What yoga is best for flexibility?
To become more flexible, you need yoga combining dynamic movements and longer holds. For example, this 20-minute Full-Body Flexibility yoga practice is ideal.
Some of us have better flexibility results with static holds coupled with deep breathing, others with movement or ‘bouncing’ but in general, a blend of both suits most people. That’s exactly what yoga for flexibility practices designed by Skill Yoga do, inspired by hatha and vinyasa yoga.
Don’t be afraid to use props in your yoga practice – a strap or a block to bridge the gap between your hands and feet, or the floor, depending on the pose. They help you achieve the correct alignment and that, in turn, makes your flexibility training more effective. Props also make progress tracking easier because you’ll see how much closer you’re getting to not needing them and then, one day, you won’t need them at all!
Best 5 poses for shoulder flexibility
Our shoulders can be stiff from stress, bad posture or unbalanced training. Tightness in the shoulders is dangerous because it can increase your risk of suffering a tear in the surrounding tissues. If you suddenly need to move your arm beyond your limited range of motion, you can rip a muscle or tendon.
Tight shoulders can also contribute to bad posture, neck and back pain. That’s why working on shoulder flexibility shouldn’t be underestimated! Here are the best yoga for flexibility poses:
Forward fold with hands behind the back
- Stand upright, feet hip-width apart
- Join your hands behind your back, interlace your fingers
- With an inbreath, straighten up, pull your shoulders back, and lift your joined hands away from your sacrum
- With an outbreath, fold forward from the hips, keeping a bend in the knees, and let gravity pull your arms over your head
- Modification: If you can’t join your hands, grab your elbows instead
- Stay there for five to ten deep breaths, then slowly come back up
Thread the needle
- Start on all fours, knees under your hips, hands under the shoulders
- With an inbreath, lift your right arm sideways and all the way up
- With an outbreath, lower it down, and thread it under your left shoulder, bending the left elbow. Place the right hand palm up on the ground
- Rest your right cheek on the mat, putting weight on your bottom (right) shoulder
- Optional: Lift your left arm up above your left shoulder
- Stay there for five deep breaths, then return to the starting position and repeat on the other side
- Starting on all fours, keep your hips above your knees, and walk your fingers forward
- Lower your chest towards the floor, rest your forehead on the mat, and walk your fingers a little bit forward
- Keep your fingers tented (palms not on the mat), and your hips up
- Stay there for five deep breaths, then return to the starting position
- Sit cross-legged or kneel, breathe in and spread your arms out
- Breathe out and bring the arms in front of you, the left crossing over the right one
- Bend your elbows, bringing your hands together, right fingers touching the palm of the left hand. If that’s not possible, the backs of the hands touching or hooking your thumbs are also good options
- With an inbreath, lift your elbows up, and your hands away from your head so they are aiming straight up
- Remain in this pose for five deep breaths, then repeat on the other side
- Start on all fours, and lift your pelvis up, creating a triangle shape, your sacrum being the highest point – walk your feet further away if needs be, and make sure they are hip-width or wider apart
- Your legs don’t have to be straight, keep them a little bent, but they should be parallel to each other, heels pressing down
- Press into your hands, as if you wanted to push the ground away from you, elbow pits are facing each other, head hanging down
- Actively push the sacrum upwards – bend your knees a little more to achieve this, pressing equally into your hands and feet
- Remain there for at least five deep breaths
Best 5 poses for hip flexibility
Tight hips are a common problem – we sit too much, we train and don’t stretch enough, or we drive too much. All these things can make your hips super-tight. That, in turn, can cause pain, lower back issues, shortening of your stride or chronic IT band problems.
Try these poses to increase the flexibility of your hips:
- From a standing position, bend forward so your fingers are touching the floor, and step your right foot backward, lowering the right knee to the ground
- Now correct your alignment – your left knee should be above the ankle, and not falling in or out; hands are on either side of your left foot
- With your hands still on the floor, shift the weight of your pelvis forward
- Breathe in and lift your arms up above your head but don’t let your shoulders ride up
- Keep your pelvis level, hip bones facing the front, not tilting or opening to the side
- Stay there for five deep breaths, then bring your hands back to the floor, step forward and repeat on the other side
- From low lunge with the left foot forward, hands on the floor, walk your left foot to the left, so it’s just off the mat, toes facing forward
- As you’re moving the foot out, move the left hand in, so both your hands are directly under your shoulders, palms on the floor
- If you can’t reach the floor with your hands, put a block under each hand to bring the floor closer to you
- Move in the pose a little, exploring your left hip’s range of motion, and either remain there, or lower down onto your forearms – don’t force it
- Stay there for at least five deep breaths, then repeat on the other side
- Start in low lunge, right foot forward – shuffle your right foot across to the left, so it’s between your left knee and arm
- Lower the right knee out to the right, slide backwards with your left knee, and ‘sit’ into the position but keep your hips level, careful not to collapse to the right
- Your body is upright, supported by your hands in front of you, left leg is outstretched directly behind you
- Slowly lower onto your forearms – this may be enough
- If you want to go deeper, stretch out your arms on the floor in front of you and lower your upper body down over your right shin and knee
- Stay there for ten deep breaths, then repeat on the other side
- Stand upright at the front of your mat, facing forward
- Keeping the left foot in place and bending the knee, take a big step back with your right leg. When you land, turn your right toes to the right, foot parallel with the short edge of the mat
- Bend your left knee, so it’s above the ankle, not falling in or out, keep your right leg straight and foot planted firmly into the mat, front and back heel aligned
- On an inbreath, raise your arms in line with your shoulders, parallel to the ground, focus on your front (left) fingertips and breathe – stay there for five breaths
- Make sure your back is upright, not arched or tilting forward
- When you’re done, step to the front of your mat, and repeat on the other side
Butterfly/bound angle pose
- Sit with your knees bent, and let them fall out, joining the soles of your feet – wrap your fingers around your feet to keep them together
- Straighten your back, and lower your knees as much as possible
- If your knees are high up and you’re hunching to hold your feet, modify the pose: keep your feet together but don’t hold them – put your hands on the floor behind your pelvis instead. Keep your arms straight and push your hands into the floor to support your back
- Now you have two options – either hold the pose and breathe deeply or bounce your knees up and down. Or start bouncing and then stop and hold for ten deep breaths
Best 5 poses for hamstring flexibility
Hamstrings are very strong muscles that bend your knees, help to propel you forward when you run, and stabilize both the hip and the knee. They work very hard so naturally, they have a tendency to be tight. Sitting for long periods of time also shortens them, and most of us need to work on their flexibility.
- Stand upright, feet hip-width apart and well-grounded, arms by your sides
- Breathe in and lift your arms up, looking up
- Breathe out, spread your arms wide, bend your knees a little, and fold forward with your back straight, bending from your hips – not waist. Let your back curve only when you get into a deep bend, and allow your arms to hang freely
- Breathe in the position and adjust your alignment – don’t lean forward or back, tilt your pelvis slightly as if you wanted to lift your tail, keep your spine long and neck relaxed
- Stay there for ten deep breaths
- Stand upright, feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips
- Take a step back with your right foot – not too big, about the length of your leg
- Turn your right toes out at about 45° angle, your weight is evenly distributed between your feet
- Breathe in, make sure your pelvis is facing forward, and breathe out slowly bending forward with your back straight
- Keep a microbend in your front knee, and think ‘ribs to thigh’, rather than ‘head to knee’
- When you reach your deepest fold, put your fingertips on the floor, tenting them out to support your back not rounding
- Stay there for five to ten deep breaths, then repeat on the other side
- Start in a low lunge (see above) with the right foot forward, left foot back. Shift your weight back so your pelvis is above the left knee, right leg stretched out in front of you
- Walk your hands back towards your body, or your right foot slightly forward (depending on your body proportions)
- Lift the right toes off the floor, resting the weight of the leg on the right heel, keep a small bend in the right knee
- Your back should be straight-ish, not rounded, your neck in one line with the spine
- Once you’re well-aligned, remain in the pose for at least five deep breaths
- Sit on the mat with your legs stretched out in front of you, bend your right knee, and let it fall out, placing your right sole on the inner left thigh
- Straighten your back, and push the right knee down
- With an inbreath, raise your arms up, and turn your torso towards the left leg
- With an outbreath, slowly lower your torso and arms over your left leg, keeping your back long
- If you can reach your toes, great! If not, place your hands on either side of the left leg or on the shin
- When you settle in the pose, stay there for five to ten deep breaths
- Lie on your back, knees bent, hands by your sides palms down
- Draw your knees to your chest, and use your abs to lift the pelvis off the ground, using arms as a lever
- Keep lifting your body, and straighten your legs to reach over your head with your toes
- When your toes touch the floor behind your head, make sure your body is symmetrical, not leaning one way or another, then straighten your legs – if that’s impossible, keep them a little bent
- Stay in the pose for five to ten deep breaths, then slowly unravel and rest
Best 5 poses for back flexibility
Most of us are very good at rounding our backs and hunching. That means most yoga poses for back flexibility alternate spine movements, bend the back backwards, or twist it to counterbalance our default posture.
- Start on all fours, hands under your shoulders, ankles under your hips, spine neutral
- Breathe in, arching your back – dipping your mid-back down, looking up
- Breathe out, rounding your back, tucking you ‘tail’ under, looking down
- Repeat ten times
- Lie on your belly, legs straight, tops of the feet flat on the mat
- Place your hands under your shoulders palms down, elbows are next to your ribs and aiming straight up
- Press your pubic bone and tops of the feet into the floor
- Breathing in, slowly lift your chest and head – looking ahead, not up
- Don’t put too much weight on your hands, your back should be doing most of the work here
- Breathe out and lower your chest and head down
- Repeat five times, then relax your lower back by wiggling your pelvis side to side while still lying on your belly
- Kneel with your hips above your knees, legs hip-width apart, tuck your toes under
- Place your hands on your lower back, press your shoulders back
- With an inbreath, look up and curve your upper back into a slight back-bend, engage your glutes to protect your lower back – stay there for five deep breaths
- That may be enough but if you want to go deeper, put your hands on your heels, bending your upper back even more – stay there for five deep breaths
- To come out, first return your upper back and head to normal, then sit down on your heels to ńeutralize the spine, and rest
- Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor, hip-width apart
- Place your arms next to your body, palms down – try to move your feet so close to your pelvis that you can brush your heels with your fingertips
- Root down with your palms and feet, and with an inbreath lift your pelvis off the floor as high as you can
- With an outbreath, slowly lower your pelvis back down
- Repeat five times, then stay up and take five deep breaths – optional: interlace your hands under your back for the final hold
- Lower down to the mat, move your feet mat-width apart, and let your knees fall in to relax your lower back
- Lie on your back, legs straight
- Draw the right knee towards you, hug it with your arms
- Stretch out your right arm to the side, and rest it on the floor
- Keep your left hand on the right knee, breathe in
- Breathe out and draw your right knee over your body to the left, resting your left hand on top of it
- Stay there for ten deep breaths, then return to neutral and repeat on the other side
Bonus pose for full body flexibility
This pose stretches your hip flexors, glutes, inner thighs, shoulders, and spine – an all-in-one wonder yoga pose!
Twisted and bound crescent lunge
- Start in lizard pose (see above), right foot in the front, hands on the floor
- Bend your left knee, lifting your toes off the mat
- Lift your right hand, twist to the right, and grab hold of your left foot
- Settle into the pose, twisting your chest more towards the right, allowing your pelvis to sink a little deeper
- Keep pressing your left foot into your right hand – as if you wanted to kick out
- Stay there for five to ten deep breaths
Start improving your flexibility today
Doing yoga for flexibility is easier than you think. We don’t promise instant miracles but with consistent practice, you will become more flexible, less injury-prone and you’ll feel great!
Try this Mobility Foundations program – each practice has around 30 minutes and is suitable for beginners and intermediate yoga practitioners.