„I am not flexible enough for Yoga.“ How many times did you hear that phrase? How many times did you think that it’s just an excuse? How often did you wonder how to make the whole topic around flexibility in Yoga more accessible to your audience in class?
As a yoga teacher, I am constantly looking for inspiration and information on how to transport the essence of Yoga to my students. With this article, I want to give you as an instructor or student the chance to explore the connection between Yoga and flexibility to boost your practice and your teachings.
Dissecting 26 yoga poses for flexibility regarding cues, benefits, and anatomic properties, are you ready?
Why flexibility is so important
Before we get into the different Asanas, I want to remind you of a few points why flexibility is so important not just in Yoga, but in life.
Besides the spiritual aspect of keeping body and mind in a more supple state, there are clear physical benefits more flexibility brings. As a matter of fact, anybody who’s working out should pay decent attention to stretch the body before and after the workout. Stretching your muscles not just improves posture and mobility, but also reduces the risk of muscle sores and injuries.
Increasing your range of motion, more flexibility offers you a way into a deeper Asana practice and keeps muscles from shortening over time. On top of that, increases blood flow in the muscles intensely while working with the deeper muscle tissue and fascia. In those areas, we hold tension based on muscle trauma and emotions. Stretching is, after all, an amazing way to experience release on not just a physical, but on an emotional level as well.
How does Yoga help to improve flexibility
When it comes to improve your flexibility, consistency is key. You won’t be able to drop back from a standing position into a wheel pose from one day to another. But if that’s your end goal, there are hundreds of Asanas that can help you to work towards it.
On an anatomical level, warming up your muscle cells with gentle movement and consciously getting into more challenging Asanas will stretch your fascia, the tissue in between and around your muscle cells. Holding certain poses for longer periods of time and breathing into the area where you feel the stretch will work in with your muscle memory and lead you towards more flexibility quite quickly when you see up your practice.
How long does it take to become more flexible
As a Yoga instructor, I always try to keep in mind that we’re all build differently. Not two bodies are the same, neither two ways towards more flexibility are the same. Age, bone structure, quality of tendons and ligaments, as well as your body shape play major roles in improving flexibility.
But no worries here. You can always work on it, starting where you’re at right now and working towards your goals step by step. That’s why I can’t give a general answer here (remember, everybody’s different) but can offer you some results of clinical studies about Yoga. With 8 weeks of daily Yoga, a team of scientists found out that all the suspects built up more than 35% improvement in flexibility regardless of age, body shape and previous practice.
30 Best flexibility yoga poses in 2022
Moving into the Asana part of the article now, I want to make sure you always listen to your body while practicing and observe your students with full attention whilst leading the through the poses. Make sure you don’t go beyond your bodies limits and remind your students to always do the same. Don’t push them, and always offer an alteration for those who might not be able to master the pose straight away.
Yoga Asanas for more flexibility in the legs
1. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
This seated forward fold is the ultimate opportunity for you to stretch all the muscles in your legs, from calves to glutes. It’s a great way to end a class. The pose not only stretches the legs, but also calms your mind.
- Begin with sitting down on your Yoga mat and extend both legs in front of you
- Flex your toes to slightly activate your legs
- Inhale your arms up, exhale bend forward to place your hands on your shins, ankles or even grab your toes
- Pull your belly in and breathe deeply, lowering a little more with every exhale
- Prioritize a straight spine before touching your toes
2. Chair pose (Utkatasana)
- Stand in mountain pose
- Inhale your arms up, exhale bend your knees and bring your thighs parallel to the floor
- Keep your spine straight and hold for 10 seconds
3. Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani)
Targeting the connection in between the lower back muscles and your glutes, this Asana is a great way to bring relief for those who spend most of their time in a seated position. When you have swollen ankles or feel like your legs are puffed up, this pose helps to get the blood flowing and removes sediments within your veins.
- Bring your yoga mat close to a wall
- Walk your feet up the wall until your legs are straight
- Move your sit bones towards the wall until they almost touch it
- Stay here as long as you like
Yoga Asanas for more flexibility in the hamstrings
4. Plow Pose (Halasana)
Make sure you’re warmed up before you get into this pose. As a full-body stretch, this inversion offers you a new perspective. Not only working the hamstrings, it targets the whole spine, including the neck. Be gentle with yourself to avoid neck injuries. If you don’t touch the floor with your feet, don’t worry, you’re on your way
- Lie down on your back and hug your knees into your chest for a moment
- Straighten your legs towards the sky and lift your lower back off the mat
- Lift until only your shoulders are touching the mat and support yourself with your hand on your lower spine
- Slowly release your legs towards the floor above your head
- Release the arms and place them flat besides the body
- After 5 breath cycles, lower your body down vertebrae per vertebra
5. Pyramid (Ardha Parsvottanasana)
- Come onto your knees and extend one leg in front of you
- The front foots heel and the back foots top are touching the mat
- Keep your hips parallel to the end of the mat as you bend over your front leg
- Fold at the hip crease and keep the back straight
- Support yourself with your arms and breathe calmly
6. Intense Side Stretch (Parsvottanasana)
Related to the half pyramid pose described before, we’re now coming into the full expression of the Asana. Besides stretching the legs, this pose boost your confidence and immunity.
- From mountain pose, step one leg back for 2 ft and turn your back foot outwards, so it points toward the front edge of the mat
- Keep your upper body including hips parallel to the front of the mat
- Inhale your arms up, exhale your torso down
- Support yourself with your fingertips on the mat
7. Head to Knee (Janu Sirsasana)
- Come into a seated position with the legs extended in front of you
- Bring the sole of your right foot towards your inner thigh of the other leg
- Inhale your arms up, exhale fold from the hips to reach towards the foot of the extended leg
- Make sure both hips are parallel to the front of your mat at all times
- Enjoy the stretch and repeat on the other side
8. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This famous Asana offers space for you to focus your mind and feel into your body. Always prioritize a straight spine before your heels touching the ground. If you have tight hamstrings, you can place a yoga block under your heels.
- Come onto all fourth
- Walk your hands about 1ft in front of you, spread your fingers wide and external rotate your elbows
- With an inhale, lift up through your knees and push your hips towards the sky
- Press into your hands and bend your knees slightly to come into a straight spine
- Breath per breath, straighten your legs and bring your heels closer to the floor uni you feel the stretch in your hamstrings
9. Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
- Come into a downward facing dog and gently step one foot in between your hands
- Lower the back knee on the mat and press the top of the back foot into the mat
- Make sure your front leg is in a 90° angle to our mat, toes anchored into the mat
- Inhale and lift up your torso as the tailbone draws down
- Lift your chest as you reach your arms above your head
Yoga Asanas Poses for more flexibility in hips
10. Cow Face Forward Bend (Adho Mukha Gomukhasana)
- Sit in Dandasana with your legs extended in front of you
- Bend your left leg and bring the foot towards the right sit bone
- Place both knees in top of each other and bring the right foot to the left sit bones
- Flex your feet and begin to bend forward with the exhalation
- Hold and repeat on the other side
11. Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
As the standing equivalent to the Low Lung, we meet the High Crescent Lunge often in transitions in between Asanas. As a whole posture on its own, it can offer a great chance to stretch glutes and groins.
- From Tadasana with feet hip width apart, step back with one leg, so your front thigh is parallel to the mat
- Come onto the ball of your feet of the back leg, pressing forward
- Squeeze your inner thighs together as you inhale and lift your arms above your head
12. Three Legged Dog (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Come into Downward Facing Dog
- Inhale and lift up through the right leg, hips remain squared
- Draw your toes back, activate the leg and stop here if that’s enough
- Pull your heel towards the back of the knee and open up through the hip entirely whilst drawing the leg towards the left if you please
13. Pigeon (Kapotasana)
Pigeon pose is the best way toped up your hips, groins and hamstrings safely and prepare yourself to sit still in a cross-legged position. With many variations, you can offer multiple ways to perform the Asana according to your classes needs.
- From down dog, bring your right knee towards your right wrist and lower it down with the shin aiming to be parallel to the end of the mat
- Bring your back leg to rest on the mat
- Keep the hips square as you inhale your upper body into a straight position and support yourself with your hands
14. Wide Legged Seated Forward Fold (Upavistha Konasana)
- Come into a seated position with your legs extended in a V in front of you
- Draw your toes back towards your knees to protect your knees
- Inhale arms up and then slowly bend forward on your exhale
- Place forehead, arms or hands on the mat depending on your level of flexibility
- Keep your spine straight and notice where it starts to round. This is your limit.
Yoga Asanas for more flexibility in the back
15. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This Asana offer you much more than just relaxation and resting. With deep breathing, you’re massaging your inner organs and offer your lower back a deep stretch.
- Find yourself on all fourth, knees mat width apart
- Exhale and bring your sit bones towards your heels
- Keep the arms extended in front of you and rest your forehead on the mat
16. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
- From Mountain pose, inhale your arms up and exhale folding from the hip crease
- Bring your arms towards the floor or on a yoga block as you keep your legs straight
- Drop your head and lengthen the back
17. Cat and Cow (Marjaiasana & Bitilasana)
Those two poses always come together due to the fact that every pose carries the counter pose as well. Rounding your spine in both directions warms up the spinal column and prepares the body for more intense Asanas.
- Come onto all fourth with your wrists directly under your shoulders
- Inhale, look up, pull the navel towards the mat
- Exhale, look down, press your navel up towards the sky
18. Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
- Bring your right foot towards your left sit bone and your left foot on the outside of your right knee
- Inhale your arms up, then hug your left knee and bring your right arm behind you
- Exhale deeper into the twist
19. Camel (Ustrasana)
With this more intense back bend, you get the chance to strengthen your whole body and explore your boundaries at the same time. Make sure you’re properly warmed up.
- Come into a kneeling position with your shins and top of feet on the mat and the upper body straight in one line
- Inhale, extends your arms, exhale, bring your hands towards your heels
- Tuck your toes under if that’s more accessible for you
- Press your hips forward as you grab your heels and drop your neck
20. Reclined Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
- Come into a supine position with your feet close to your sit bones
- Extend your arms to the sides
- Drop your knees towards the right as you turn your neck to the left
- Rest here and repeat on the other side
21. Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
As a deep stretch for your shoulders, this posture opens up the front and the back body at the same time. You’ll notice a difference in between both sides – a message of your body showing you where the work’s needed.
- Follow the steps of Cow Face Forward Bend for the positioning of your legs
- If your right leg’s on top, reach up through your left arm and bend your right arm, so the top of your right hand is touching in between your shoulder blades
- Lock your fingers together or use a yoga strap if you can’t reach it
- Repeat on the other side
Yoga Asanas for more flexibility in shoulders
22. Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
The Bridge pose offers a gentle opening for the shoulders. Keep your back straight at all times and pull your shoulder blades towards each other.
- Lie on your back, your feet close to your sit bones
- Inhale and push your hips towards the sky
- Your arms raise and come onto the floor above your head
- Pad your beck with a blanket if you feel uncomfortable
23. Eagle Arms Pose (Garurasana)
- Come into a standing position and lift both arms
- Bring your right elbow on the outside of your left elbow and warp your arms around each other so your palms are touching
- Create space in between your shoulder blades and then lift up through your left leg and wrap it around the right leg
- The left foot comes to hook into the right shin
24. Bow (Dhanurasana)
- Come onto your belly and bend your knees, so your calves are touching your thighs
- Breathe out and reach with your finger towards your ankles
- Inhale, press your feet back and lift upper body and quads off the floor
- Draw your toes back to protect your knees
25. Fish (Matsyasana)
- As you lie on your back, bring your forearms to the floor right next to your body
- Inhale and lift the upper body off the ground whilst keeping your lower body in touch with the mat
- Rest your weight on hips and forearms and hold
26. Cobra (Bhujangasana)
Working the lower back, shoulders and arms this pose is strengthening and challenging. With that challenge, flexibility in the shoulders is increased and the stabilizing muscles around your spine triggered to keep you straight
- Lie flat on your belly and bring your hands und your shoulders
- Draw your elbows down towards the body as you inhale and press your hand into the mat
- Lift your upper body off the floor whilst paying attention to your lower back
- Repeat dynamically and hold at the top with your last repetition for a few breaths
Are you ready?
After all this information, you surely have to take a break to let it all sink in. After, we highly recommend you to get into your own practice before you carry those Yoga poses for more flexibility into your classes. Make sure you understood all layers of the posture and embodies it yourself.
However you’re going to do it, I’m surely looking forward to you sharing your own experiences on the path to more flexibility in the comments. Do you have any more Yoga poses to add? Leave me a comment as well, so we can work together on offering a full guide for more flexibility.
Can’t wait for your comments!