Do you need flexibility to practice yoga? 10 Yoga Poses to improve your flexibility.

Updated: Aug 23, 2018

A lot of people seem to think that they cannot practice yoga because they feel that they are not flexible enough. This is a common misconception which I am going to debunk.


First of all, we are all born extremely flexible. The yoga asana “Happy Baby” didn’t come from thin air, it came from the fact that all babies can do this pose with extreme ease, as well as sucking on their own toes!

So how can we, as adults not do this anymore? It’s simple. We just don’t move the way a baby does. We spend hours sitting at our desks, and maybe running or weight training, which is healthy but does nothing for flexibility.

As a child at school, I remember play-times as a time to practise splits, handstands, cartwheels and crab (wheel pose). I could also walk on my hands. Fast forward 20 years and I was stiff as a board, unable to even touch my toes. Once I moved to secondary school (age 11), cartwheels weren’t cool anymore. It was just cool to hang around in groups, possibly smoking and eating crisps (not at the same time).

So how did I become flexible? Well first, I’m not 100% flexible. It is a work in progress and hopefully one day I’ll be able to scratch my head with my toes. In order to gain flexibility, you have to stretch. And when I say stretch I don’t mean sitting in runner’s lunge for 5 seconds before moving to the next “stretch” .

You must stretch your body for long periods of time and breathe. Unless you were a ballerina as a child or professional dancer (lucky you), you aren’t going be able to do the splits straight away. This takes time, especially if you have spent many years sitting at a desk and running for fun without stretching properly after (me). Slowly does it, and once you find your edge (the point where the stretch starts to feel painful), back off slightly and breathe. Inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Imagine as if you are exhaling freedom to the stretch. I like to inhale for the count of 4, and exhale slowly for the count of 8.

How can yoga help improve flexibility?

This is the million-pound question. Practising yoga, especially Yin Yoga can increase circulation. Passive stretching during Yin slowly lengthens the muscles, improves flexibility, releases fascia and expands joint mobility. Many people experience an increased range of motion in their soft tissue from the sustained holds whilst practising Yin Yoga.

When I started my yoga journey, I could not even touch my toes. After a few months of going to a studio and learning beginners’ yoga, I was watching TV one night and I found I was doing weird stretches and that I could grab my toes. I was really surprised as I had only wanted to learn yoga to get stronger and flexibility wasn’t something that I was thinking about. Slowly after a few months I found I could comfortably bend into positions I never thought I could ever do.

When I started to learn Yin Yoga, I found these classes extremely uncomfortable. I couldn’t breathe properly because I was so tense, and my hips were very tight. I realised that I was still not as flexible as I thought and decided to practice Yin daily to improve my flexibility. It was only a week or so ago I actually managed to get my head to touch the ground in wide-legged-forward-fold! I had never felt so proud and excited on how much more flexible I could still get.

If you are looking to improve your flexibility, here are some tried and tested stretches to help you get there. Incorporating these stretches daily with (or without) your yoga practice is a guaranteed way to get to your desired flexibility.

Reclining Leg Stretch (Hamstrings)


1) Lie on your back and bend your knees, keeping your feel flat on the ground. Relax your hands. Loop the strap and place the strap on the ball of your right foot. Place the other part of the loop around your head (above the ears).

2) Slowly extend your right leg to the sky, keeping a micro bend if needed. Pull your shoulders towards the ground and extend your left leg to the ground. Recline back so your head and shoulders are touching the mat, this will activate your right hamstring. Relax your neck.

3) Once you find your edge, inhale slowly and make your exhale even longer. Slow and steady breaths towards your hamstring. Stay in this pose for a minimum of 60 seconds. Once completed, repeat with the left leg.


Frog (Hips)


1) Place a folded blanket on your mat. In table-top, place your knees on the blanket, and your hands on the mat. Keep your spine and neck long, looking at the ground.

2) Start to widen your knees as far as comfortably possible, and flex your feet, toes pointing out.

3) Without changing your alignment of the lower body, keep your chest lifted as you bend your elbows and walk your hands forwards until your arms, elbows and forehead reach the ground. Allow gravity to pull your hips down. If you cannot rest on your arms, use a pillow for support.

4) Once you find your edge, inhale slowly and make your exhale even longer. Slow and steady breaths towards your hips. Stay in this pose for a minimum of 2 minutes.

Bowtie (shoulders)


1) Lie on your stomach, with your legs fully extended. Bend your elbows into sphinx pose (elbows at 90 degrees) and place your hands flat in front of you. Lift your head and chest.


2) Slide your left arm behind your right elbow, aligning your elbows one behind the other. Turn your left palm to face upwards. Turn your right arm so it slides in the opposite direction of your left arm. Keep the right hand flat on the mat, palm facing down.


3) Extend your arms as far away from each other as possible. Lean forward so your head touches the ground, and your chest rests on top of your arms. You can use a pillow for your head if your head does not reach the ground.


4) Once you find your edge, inhale slowly and make your exhale even longer. Slow and steady breaths towards your shoulder. Stay in this pose for a minimum of 60 seconds. Once completed, switch arm positions and repeat.


Melting Heart (chest and shoulders)


1) Starting on all fours, keeping a neutral spine, knees below the hips and wrists below the elbow.


2) Slowly start to walk your hands out in front of you, to the top of the mat or even further. Stretch as far as your arms can go, whilst keeping your knees below your hips.


3) Drop your head to the mat (or a block) and feel your ribcage expand. Soften your neck and upper back.


4) Inhale slowly and make your exhale even longer. Slow and steady breaths towards your chest, ribs and upper arms. Stay in this pose for a minimum of 60 seconds.


Low Lunge (with variation for hips and quadriceps)


1) Place your hands and knees on the floor, on all fours. Knees below the hips and wrists below the shoulders. Keep your neck and spine long. Look down in between your thumbs.

2) Step your right foot forward in between your hands and extend your left leg behind you, allowing the hips to drop down.


3) Bring your hands to rest on your right knee, keeping your spine and neck long. Allow gravity to pull your hips down.


4) Inhale slowly and make your exhale even longer. Slow and steady breaths towards your hips. Stay in this pose for a minimum of 60 seconds.


5) For a variation, bend your left knee and grab your left foot with your right hand, pulling the heel towards your glutes. Soften your shoulders and allow gravity to pull your hips down. You will also feel a stretch in your left quadricep. Breathe in and out towards your hips and quadriceps for a minimum of 60 seconds.


6) Slowly reverse out of the posture and return to all fours. Repeat with bringing your left foot in between your hands. Alternatively, stay in pose and move on to Runners Lunge.


Runners Lunge (Hamstrings and calves)


1) From Low Lunge (with your right foot in front), slowly start to wiggle your right foot towards the top of the mat, lift the toes and stretch your leg out as far forward as possible. Make sure your hips are still in line.

2) Placing your hands either side of the outstretched leg, lengthen your spine and slowly fold. Bringing your head to your right knee.

3) Stay in this pose for 1 minute before slowly bringing the right heel towards you and bending your knee back into a low lunge.


Lizard (hip flexors)


1) Starting on all fours, with your wrists below your shoulders and knees below the hips. Keep your spine and neck long and gaze between your hands.

2) If starting from low lunge, start to shuffle your right foot over to the right side of the mat.


3) Step your right foot outside your right hand, toes pointing to the top right-hand side of the mat. Keep your right knee in line with your right ankle and place your hands on your right knee. Sit up tall.


4) Extend your left leg behind you, allowing your hips to drop down. Keep your left knee on the ground.


5) Slowly start to bring your hands down to the mat, keeping your hands to the left side of your right foot. Stay here, or if you have flexibility try to see if you can bring your forearms to the mat. Relax your body and breathe into your hip flexors.


6) Inhale slowly and make your exhale even longer. Slow and steady breaths towards your hips. Stay in this pose for a minimum of 90 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.


Pigeon (hips)


1) Starting on all fours, with your wrists below your shoulders and knees below the hips. Keep your spine and neck long and gaze between your hands.


2) Slide your right foot forwards and underneath your body until your right knee reaches your right wrist, making your leg almost parallel with the top of the mat. Keep the outer side of your right foot in contact with the mat.


3) Fully extend your left leg behind you and lower the hips to the floor. Keep the top of your left foot flat on the ground. Sit up tall and take a deep inhale,


4) As you exhale, walk your hands forward until your forearms and elbows are flat on the mat. If you want to go deeper, see if you can drop your head on the mat. If this isn’t available to you, place a block on your forehead for support.


5) Relax the rest of your body, try to release any tension elsewhere and inhale slowly and make your exhales even longer. Slow and steady breaths towards your hips. Stay in this pose for a minimum of 3 minutes. Repeat on the opposite leg.


Supported Bridge (back, you will need a block)


1) Lying on your back, bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the ground. Relax your arms by your side, keeping a block next to your preferred hand.


2) Press your feet into the mat and slowly tilt your pelvis up to lift your hips up towards the sky. Use your core and release any tension on the glutes.


3) Position the block on its long side directly under your sacrum and in between your hips. Relax your arms by your side.


4) Relax the rest of your body, try to release any tension elsewhere and inhale slowly and make your exhales even longer. Slow and steady breaths towards your hips. Stay in this pose for a minimum of 90 seconds.


5) For a variation that works your hips, you can extend your legs out in front of you.



Wide Legs up the Wall (hips and groin)


1) Sitting about a palm’s width from the wall, slowly roll on to your back, rotating the body until your tailbone faces the wall.


2) Stretch your legs up straight against the wall and shuffle your tailbone and hips as close as you can get to the wall.


3) Slowly widen your legs as far as possible. Maybe use a bolster or pillow between your thighs to add some weight. You can also use dumbbells or blocks on your lower calves for weight.


4) Once you find your edge, inhale slowly and make your exhale even longer. Slow and steady breaths towards your hips and groin. Stay in this pose for a minimum of 2 minutes.


5) Once completed, bring your legs slowly together, shuffle away from the wall and lie back in Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Butterfly) for 10 breaths. Bring knees together and towards your chest and give yourself a hug.


Are there any other poses you do to gain more flexibility? Let me know!

© 2018 by Sanne Storm.

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