It is a common misconception that a person must be flexible to practice yoga, but I can understand why so many people get stuck in this mindset.
The internet and social media are saturated with photos of long, lean yogis contorting their bodies into complex postures and unnatural shapes…
…of course, it makes us think we also gotta be flexible if we want to practice yoga!
But guess what?
This couldn’t be further from the truth! You do NOT have to be flexible to practice yoga. In fact, being inflexible is exactly the reason why you SHOULD try yoga!
With a regular yoga practice and lots of patience, yoga students can open tight hips, increase shoulder flexibility, and loosen up tight muscles fairly easily.
So I’m going to break it all down for you and show you how yoga for flexibility can work for you.
Yoga For Flexibility 101
Before I share my favorite flexibility exercises with you, I wanna address a few common questions that many yoga students have. The most important thing in each yoga posture is that you do it safely and have realistic expectations. So let’s take care of some of that housekeeping before we dig into those tight muscles.
Which yoga is best for flexibility?
Yin yoga is the best yoga style for increasing flexibility. It is gentle enough that yoga students of any skill level can join and specifically targets tight muscles. It is common to sit in a yoga posture for three minutes at a time with the help of props. By holding each yoga asana (posture) for an extended time, you’re allowing the target muscle group to relax and let go of any tension that might be keeping your muscles tight.
Does yoga improve flexibility?
Hell yeah, it does! A regular yoga practice of just 15 minutes a day is enough to increase flexibility in every major muscle group. Don’t be tempted to push yourself into a yoga posture that is too advanced for you, though. Simply do what you can and do it properly. Over time, the flexibility will come.
How long does it take for yoga to improve flexibility?
This totally depends on your body type, the way that your joints are formed, and your muscle composition. Some people seem to be able to lift their foot over their head right away while others struggle in child’s pose… and that’s okay. For me, it took me about 2 years of consistent yoga practice to be able to get into king pigeon pose comfortably and about 5 years (seriously!) to open up my tight hips. If you dedicate 15 minutes to the yoga mat each day, you’ll quickly see how responsive your body is to the stretches.
Is yoga or stretching better for flexibility?
It’s kinda the same thing, isn’t it? While traditional yoga doesn’t purposefully aim to stretch the body (it’s sorta like a byproduct of a regular yoga practice), modern yoga now includes a lot of dynamic flexibility exercises. Yoga styles like yin yoga and restorative yoga can give you a deep stretch that is likely more effective than the kind of stretching you might see athletes do. But a yoga stretch is just a stretch at the end of the day.
9 Best Yoga Poses To Increase Flexibility
Here are some of my favorite postures to help get into some of those notorious tight, inflexible spaces and increase flexibility:
1. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose is one of my favorite postures to release the glutes, hips, hamstrings and muscles around the knees. Increasing flexibility in our hips and lower body requires release and opening along with lengthening and stretching. You can stay in this passive hip opener for several breaths to several minutes. In addition to increasing flexibility in the hips and lower body, Child’s Pose also opens the back gate of the heart, promoting space and flexibility in the spine as well.
Learn how to practice Child’s Pose here.
2. Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
Pigeon Pose is a more intense hip flexor stretch that relieves stagnation from hip joints and stretches the piriformis, inner thighs and hips. I love using lots of props, like a yoga strap or yoga block, in Pigeon Pose to help me find the variation of the pose that is most optimal for my unique body. I also enjoy practicing Reclined Pigeon Pose or Ankle to Knee Pose on my back, which offers the same stretch as traditional pigeon pose. The possibilities are endless with this asana and can be adapted to meet you where you’re at.
Learn how to practice Pigeon pose here.
3. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Bridge pose is a wonderful asana to promote opening through the chest and shoulders as well as increase flexibility in the spine. With many variations, including supported bridge (using a block to support the sacrum), this back bending posture is accessible for most people. To add a little strength training to this yoga stretch, you can put a yoga block between the left knee and right knee to engage the inner thigh(s).
Learn how to prep and practice Bridge Pose here.
4. Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
In addition to being a powerful arm and shoulder strengthener, Dolphin Pose stretches and increases flexibility in the hamstrings, calves, and often neglected feet. Foot flexibility is something that many of us never think about but is so important to the health of our feet. Spend some time in Dolphin pose and your feet will thank you!
Learn how to practice Dolphin Pose here.
5. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward Dog is such a great yoga pose to find length and increased flexibility from head to toe! This pose stretches the hamstrings, calves, lower back, shoulders and arms. It also creates space between the vertebrae in the spine. Creating this space in the spine reduces compression and increases flexibility all throughout the back, which is a tremendous relief if you have tight muscles in the lower back or shoulders. To get an extra deep stretch in the calves and hamstring, pedal the feet while in this yoga pose.
Learn how to practice Downward Facing Dog Pose here.
6. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
This powerful yoga asana strengthens all the major muscles in the back body and stretches the entire front body. Bow Pose expands the chest, opening the diaphragm and shoulder joints, increasing flexibility in the chest, shoulders and spine. The quadriceps also get a good stretch too!
Learn how to practice Bow Pose here.
7. Extended Standing Pose (Urdhva Hastasana)
We often forget about the importance of lengthening and stretching the side bodies. This pose opens through the chest and stretches the torso, shoulders, arms and fingers. Extended Standing Pose also begins in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) or anatomical neutral which is so important to support a healthy and flexible spine.
Learn how to practice Extended Standing Pose here.
8. Dancer Pose (Natarajasana)
Dancer pose improves balance and promotes mental clarity. This intermediate pose also opens the chest and shoulders, strengthens the back body and stretches the hamstrings. Balance challenged? Practice near a wall or use a chair to help you stay steady.
Learn how to practice Dance Pose here.
9. Eagle (Garudasana)
Eagle Pose strengthens and stretches the entire upper body, calves and ankles. It also improves balance and mental focus. This is another intermediate balance pose that has many variations and can be practiced with your back against a wall.
Learn how to practice Eagle Pose here.
When practiced consistently, Yoga increases flexibility builds strength and improves your overall health, wellness and peace of mind. This magical practice is not reserved for Instagram sensations or the uber flexible, it is a practice accessible to everybody and every body.
The best part?
The more that you increase your flexibility, the more you can relieve muscle tension and reduce pain in the body.
Even just working a simple forward bend into your yoga routine can increase flexibility. So, my advice? Just get to your yoga mat and do a yoga routine that feels good for you right now. If you do this enough, then you will be super flexible in no time.