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Improve Your Flexibility With Yoga

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Updated June 16, 2014

If you ask people why they exercise, most will stay to stay healthy, keep fit, or because it makes them feel good. Not a lot will mention flexibility, but it's a key part of maintaining your health and avoiding injury, especially as you age. The stretching you do in yoga is a great way to improve your flexibility. It's a commonly held misconception that you have to already be flexible to do yoga. In fact, the opposite is true: doing yoga regularly is a sure way to become more flexible. If that's your goal, here are some poses that target major muscles groups that tend to get tight from sitting for long periods or even from other types of exercise, like running. Staying in the poses for several minutes is the way to get a good stretch. Many times you can feel several different phases of opening as you stay in a pose for longer. Don't expect overnight changes, however. For best results, do your stretches daily. The following poses are intended to give you some options to fit your current level of flexibility.

Hamstrings

gettyforrwardbend.jpg
John Freeman/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images
The muscles running along the back of your thighs are the hamstrings. Most people are pretty tight in this area, but it's an important place to stretch as tight hamstrings can cause back pain. Forward bends are a great way to loosen this area.

Standing Forward Bend - Uttanasana

© Barry Stone
A standing forward bend is a simple way to stretch your hamstrings. Try to keep your hips over your ankles; most people have a tendency to let their hips creep too far back. Microbend your knees to avoid hyperextension. A nice variation is to take hold of opposite elbows and let your torso hang.

Triangle Pose - Utthita Trikonasana

Triangle Pose - Trikonasana
© Barry Stone
Use a yoga block under your bottom hand if you have one and need help reaching the floor. It's better to put pressure into the block than into your leg by leaning on it.

Reclined Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangustasana

© Barry Stone
Using a yoga strap around your raised foot makes this pose accessible to even those with the tightest hamstrings (you can also use a regular old belt is you don't have a strap handy). Let the head of your femur settle into the hip socket as you stretch the leg so that both hips stay grounded on the floor.

Seated Wide-Legged Straddle - Upavistha Konasana

Seated Wide Legged Straddle - Upavistha Konasana
© Barry Stone
A wide-legged position is a good way to stretch the insides of the thighs. If you are more open, you can take a forward bend here, but try to do it with a long spine instead of rounding your back. It's also just fine to stay sitting up if that's a better fit for you.

Hips

Hip flexibility is complicated because there are so many muscles packed into this small area. Poses that stretch the hip flexors, including the psoas, iliacus, and parts of the quadriceps and glutes, are a good way to accomplish greater freedom of movement in the hips.

Eye of the Needle - Sucirandhrasana

Eye of the Needle Pose - Sucirandhrasana
© Barry Stone
This is a great pose for people with tight hips because it's very customizable. Start just by crossing one ankle onto the opposite thigh. This might be enough for some people. If you want to go further, lift the bottom leg off the ground incrementally. Stop when you find the place where you feel a good stretch but you're not in pain.

Pigeon - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

© Barry Stone
Pigeon is an amazing hip opener, but it can be a tough one for people with very tight hips. The best thing to do in this case is use plenty of props. Eventually, your butt comes to the ground on the forward-leg side. If that's not happening, use as much padding as is necessary to bring the floor up to meet your behind. Once you feel supported, see if you can begin to forward bend. That added pressure on the front leg can open you up even more. But take it gradually if you are very tight to avoid injury.

Double Pigeon - Agnistambhasana

Knee to Ankle Pose - Agnistambhasana
© Barry Stone
If pigeon felt awesome, you can take on double pigeon. Keep the feet flexed and the shins as parallel as possible. This pose is also called fire-long pose. You can imagine your shins as the stacked logs. If this is too intense, skip it for now.

Shoulders

Like the hamstrings and hips, shoulders are another area that gets tight from too much riding in cars and sitting at desks. If possible, take stretch breaks at work to avoid serious repetitive stress injuries like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
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