Yoga is increasingly becoming more popular across the globe and once you start to experience greater flexibility, better mobility, feel stronger and become happier, you’ll understand why some people can just not live without their yoga practice.

Many newcomers are, however, a bit intimidated by yoga. They are worried that they might embarrass themselves and feel they lack the flexibility to do those weird poses. Let’s just start off by saying that yoga was created for everyone.

It is incredibly diverse and with a variety of yoga types, difficulty levels and instructor styles, you can be sure to find a yoga class or teacher that’s suited to your current level of fitness and flexibility.

Still worried you might not be able to do yoga for the first time?

Yoga is also a very popular treatment for trauma counselling and rehabilitation. Yoga therapy is used on patients battling certain diseases, and many yoga poses are also movement exercises that are typical of a rehabilitation programme for people recovering from injuries.

There are also yoga types like Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga, which helps to unwind and calm the mind. These are ideal for those who are worried about their first class and who prefer a slower, easier pace.

If you want to focus more on toning your muscles, work on mobility and cardiovascular health, you’ll probably be more suited for a vinyasa or hatha yoga class. These also have beginner level classes, and a good instructor will be sure to include a good mix of asanas (poses) to make a yoga sequence enjoyable for people of all experience levels. They will also make use of progressions to make a pose more advanced and regressions to make it easier.

Let’s look at how you can benefit from greater flexibility, how you can enhance your flexibility through yoga and some popular poses to open the hips, legs, spine and shoulders.

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What Greater Flexibility Means for You

Athletes warm-up and stretch their muscles before each intense competition, match or workout. This has been proven to prevent injury and allows greater mobility, movement and function of all the muscles. Stretching allows us to train the various parts involved to become better at bending and extending, which means they can experience more free movement and greater mobility going forward. It has also proved to improve an athlete’s overall performance and strength.

So, what if you are not an athlete?

Flexible, functional muscles and joints also allow us to do everyday activities with greater ease. Ligaments, muscles, joints and the overall body thrives on good and healthy work and many inactive people end up with an injury after doing something as simple as lifting a box.

If muscles aren’t used, they lose their strength and function, but luckily through practice and stretching exercises we can bring movement and life back into the lazy body parts.

Stretching has also been proven to reduce overall muscle and joint stiffness. So, whether you have tension in your neck and shoulders from stress, a tight spine and hips from sitting in front of a desk, or tight legs and tired feet from running and cycling frequently, the stretches and movements in yoga will allow you to lengthen those strained and tense muscle fibres.

This will relieve the pain and stiffness, but it will also improve your overall posture and promote blood circulation throughout the targeted area and the body at large.

Don't try a backbend straightaway; build your strength first
This pose can be beneficial or dangerous. Every limb and movement contributes to a safe backward bend.  Source: Visualhunt

Flexibility and Breath

Yoga is focussed on bringing the mind and body together to operate as a holistic, connected, healthy system. Breathwork, or pranayama, is one of the most popular techniques used in the practice of yoga to enhance and promote the benefits of the practice. The benefits you’ll gain from breathing properly, far outweighs just going through the motions of moving and stretching.

Breathing allows us to be more mindful in the yoga poses itself and science confirmed that mindful movement with breath helps the brain to build better plasticity and release stress. Movement together with deep, mindful and synchronous breathing also helps to improve overall circulation throughout your body and positively balances hormones while improving blood pressure as well.

One of the most useful lessons to learn from yoga is how your breath can carry you through challenging times.

Many yogis would say it’s more important to get the breath right than what it is to get the pose right. So be sure you have a calm, deep, focused, relaxed way of breathing. The breath can also signal to you when you are pushing yourself too far; the moment you feel your breathing changes significantly you know you’ve gone too far and need to take it back a bit.

A great tip is to use your breath to go deeper into yoga poses. When you stretch try and start by only stretching to about 60% of your capacity. Allow your body to soften and relax deeper into the stretch with each exhale.

Breathwork is an entire topic on its own, but we can tell you with the effective application, you’ll signal to your nerve endings to release those tense muscles and enjoy exponential flexibility using the same yoga poses as those who don’t apply breathwork. 

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Laura
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5 (12 review/s)
Laura
R400
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1st lesson free!
George
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5 (5 review/s)
George
R400
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1st lesson free!
Samantha
5
5 (2 review/s)
Samantha
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1st lesson free!
Charndre
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1st lesson free!
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Different Types of Stretching - Yoga for Mobility and Balance

With the help of science and research, different types of stretching were discovered, and each offers its own benefits. Static stretching is where a muscle is stretched and you simply hold the position, while dynamic stretching mimics a certain contraction of the targeted muscle. Yoga makes use of both of these.

One of the fundamental recent discoveries in physiology was the importance of fascia, a white substance that’s woven in our bodies. This is similar to the white pith of an orange and connects the whole while separating various parts. Fascia are in between the muscle fibres, and cover the muscles as well and all organs in the body.

If one part of fascia is experiencing tension or obstruction, it affects the entire being or other areas, and yoga is probably one of the best ways to work on the deep tissue muscles and fascia at the same time.

If you stand on one leg and lift the opposite as high as you can, you make use of a range of muscles to stabilise and balance in this position. The activation of those muscles also allow them to actively stretch with the help of opposing muscles. Not only will yoga allow you to work on all these small little intricate muscles, but it will also improve your overall balance.

Mobility is another key phrase in the fitness industry and stretching will certainly add to enhanced mobility, your ability to move more freely. The type of yoga you practise will influence the impact it has on mobility, but most forms including Kundalini, Vinyasa, Hatha and Hot Yoga have proved to have a positive impact on overall mobility.

Still not sure whether yoga will work for you? Read everything you need to know about flexibility and yoga.

You can simply sit cross-legged and meditate as yoga
You can take your mat and practise anywhere. Yoga is for mind, body and spirit. Source: Visualhunt

Tune into Your Body and Listen to it

Many new yogis are worried about getting a tricky pose right or getting the shape and form exactly the same as the teacher. Well you can relax because it’s not always about getting the exact shape right, but about getting the benefit of the pose. An example is using a full split pose or half split pose, both of these are providing the same benefits, one is just more advanced and intense or a progression of the other.

While you are stretching, something very important is happening in your nervous system as well. You are forming new links, connections and associations between the body parts and the brain, therefore developing a better mind-body connection.

A better mind-body connection means you’ll have a greater comprehension of how your mental state and body influence and affect one another. You’ll become better at recognising the signals of stress and injury on your body and will be able to take greater care of yourself by knowing what your body is capable of.

People who feel more connected with their bodies also show greater overall confidence. They learn to accept their bodies while they continue to work on improving the mobility and flexibility around it. Having compassion for yourself and your body can only develop if you are in touch with it and sometimes it’s important for us to release all the logical thinking while we try and tap a bit more into the experiential, sensational messages that the body send to us.

The ability listen to your body can allow the release of held-up tension and trauma.

Listening to your body means you’ll be able to know how far you can push it, what it needs and what is impossible. You should be able to reach a place in your practice where you allow yourself to take a calmer practice when your body is tired, while some other days you push a bit harder.

This fine balance between listening and learning will be an ongoing infinite gift that yoga has to offer.

Yoga Poses and Exercises to Become More Flexible

While yoga was developed for a healthier body and mind, there are some poses that were created to specifically focus on the flexibility of certain muscle groups. The more you learn and discover the practice, the more you’ll find new ones that are just right for targeting the stiff areas in your body. Here’s a list of some of the best yoga poses for flexibility:

  • Standing Forward Fold - Bending forward will stretch the back, back of the legs, open the hips and increase blood flow
  • Warrior 2 - A strong standing pose to open shoulders, hips and work into the legs
  • Cat Pose and Cow Pose - A spine and hip opener, that's done on the floor and anyone who can stand on their knees can try it
  • Child’s Pose - Resting and moving internally while you open your chest, shoulders and spine
  • Sphinx Pose - One of the best spinal openers, be careful not to lift the head too high to protect your neck
  • Downward Facing Dog - A yoga staple where you form a pyramid shape between your body and the floor
  • Crescent Lunge (Low Lunge) - Closer to the floor you can open your hip and bend your knee to go as low as you want to
  • Pyramid Pose - Great for runners and cyclists, try and get your chest closer to the leg in front
  • Yoga Squat (Malasana) - Getting your bum close to the floor as you open your hips to the side and lift your chest up
  • Cow Face Pose - Great for opening shoulders, your chest and your spine

Be sure you follow careful instruction around how to get into these poses as we couldn't cover it here. You can also read this article with step-by-step instruction how to move into 10 of the best stretches for flexibility in yoga.

Pranayama can help you release stress
Proper breathing can also help with muscle tension and flexibility. Source: Visualhunt

More Tips on How to Increase Flexibility in Yoga

If flexibility is the aim of your practice then there are a couple of things you should take note of to ensure you make the most out of your stretching. Here are some additional tips you can take to your mat:

Balance is Key

Be sure to stretch both sides and try to keep them similar. Most of us will be able to stretch more on the left(as example) than the right. That’s ok, don’t force the other side, but be sure you balance it out.

Warm-Up, Even Before Stretching

Warm-up your muscles before extending them too far. A good yoga sequence will have warm-up exercises, but be sure you don’t push muscles to the max if they are cold as this could lead to injury.

Enter and Exit Poses Safely

The set-up and how you move into a pose is important. Be sure it is slow and mindful as quick movements can lead to injury. Come out of poses the same way you went into them. Be sure you notice exactly how the instructor sets-up the pose through the correct placement of hands, knees and feet on the floor. Setting it up correctly means the position of the head, spine and neck will be more protected.

Check If You’re OK to do Yoga

Most people are ok to do yoga, but those with chronic conditions or who are pregnant need to be sure they do not do poses that can pose a danger to them. Be sure you check with an experienced health practitioner or doctor whether you can practise yoga before you attempt it on your own.

Get an Expert to Help

Be sure you have someone who is experienced enough to help you when you start out. They will know how to make certain yoga poses easier or offer alternatives if need be. If you are still worried about starting yoga, you can organise a couple of private classes with a private yoga tutor right here on Superprof.

Stay Hydrated and Eat Healthy

Be sure you get enough healthy food as this impacts your overall health and the way your muscles operate and functions. Water is fundamental for metabolic and ordinary bodily functions. Here are some additional mistakes to avoid as you become more flexible through yoga.

Yoga is what you make of it.

Whether you are looking for a daily practice to tone and shape your muscles, want to lose weight, calm your mind or balance your entire being, there will be a practice and a teacher to suit your needs.  Check out some great yoga sequences to get you started here.

We all have different bodies and try and respect that while you learn to enjoy the journey of discovering yoga. Can you be fully present? It’s not about getting it right, yoga is about giving your body and mind the love and attention it needs so that it can assimilate, exercise and heal.

Get ready to experience the compassionate, healthy and more flexible you, one day at a time.

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Mauritz

Writer and qualified yoga instructor, who is passionate about health and well-being.