Flexibility is about releasing the major muscle groups where you experience tightness. There are lots of Yoga poses that target these common areas – namely hamstrings, shoulders and hips. Increased flexibility and mobility in the calves, quads, intercostals and pectorals tends to also increase as you are never really stretching one muscle in isolation. Here are some accessible poses that allow you to feel a nice deep stretch in those common areas of tightness.
This is done lying on your back. It’s a great stretch for the hamstrings as well as strengthening for the core – working against gravity makes this pose slightly more accessible than many of the other forward folding postures. Lying on your back, bring your legs together and flex your feet towards your face. Then inhale as you lift your right leg up straight and exhale as you lower it down. You’re aiming to have your ankle above your hip at the top of the inhale. Alternate between the right leg and the left leg a few times with the breath, and then stay with one leg up in the air for a few breaths, taking hold of the ankle, toes, sole of the foot or calf. Lift your head and chest up off the floor like you’re doing a crunch so you can reach a bit higher. Swap sides.
This is a variation of Supta Padangusthasana, or Reclined Big Toe Pose. However in Supta Padangusthasana you keep your head and shoulders on the floor, making it much more difficult to reach high up your leg. Whichever variation you choose, you want to let the head of your femur settle into your hip socket as you stretch the leg so that both hips stay grounded to the floor.
A place you can forget to stretch is the chest and shoulders. This pose is great for both. You start by sweeping your arms up above your head. Then sweep your arms back down in front of you and with your elbows bent, wrap your left arm under your right arm, aiming to bring the palms to touch. Keep your elbows at the height of your shoulders and press your forearms away from your face. Repeat on the other side.
A big area to give attention to when it comes to flexibility and mobility is your core, neck, shoulders and spine. And this is a great movement targeting all of those areas. Start this pose on all fours, making sure your wrists are below your shoulders and your knees are below your hips. With your weight evenly balanced across your body, inhale as you allow your belly to fall towards the floor whilst raising your chest and chin. Then exhale and press into your hands to round your spine up towards the ceiling, tucking your chin to your chest as you do so. Continue this movement for about 1 minute.
This is by far one of the most effective stretches for increasing flexibility in the hamstrings and hips. Start in a straddle sitting position (spreading your legs as wide as you can whilst still keeping them straight), place your hands on the ground in front of you and begin to lean forward from your hips. You can choose whether to do this with your back straight or by rounding through the spine. To go deeper, you can ask a friend to sit back-to-back with you and lean back onto you as you fold forward. Then as you walk your hands away from your body you might be able to lower your forearms to the floor and turn your palms to face the ceiling so the backs of your hands are resting on your mat. Draw your shoulders back and down whilst releasing your chin to your chest.