10 Best Yoga Poses for Increased Flexibility
Yoga brings so many benefits, such as peace of mind and a great way to escape. But what poses can help increase your flexibility? Here are some to try.
There are many fantastic reasons to do yoga, and I'm sure you came to this article knowing that wonderful fact.
Yoga helps improve athletic performance, builds muscle strength, and increases energy and breathing, all while protecting your spine.
Yoga also increases blood flow, improves immunity, reduces blood pressure, and enhances mood.
But one of the best and most popular reasons to practice yoga is because it enhances your flexibility!
In fact, a 2014 study that looked at the effects of hatha yoga on young women showed that doing yoga regularly improved the flexibility of skeletal muscles, improved spine mobility, and increased their range of motion with the standard "sit and reach" test.
And, while many yoga poses and positions may seem impossible if you’re starting, if you stick with it, you’ll see how your muscles start to loosen and lengthen.
Flexibility is essential to your well-being, and many inherent benefits exist.
Yoga is a central part of my health and fitness -- I make sure to get in at least one 10-15 min session each day, with longer 75-minute sessions a few times a week.
Get your yoga mat out, and let's get into the benefits of increased flexibility!
The Importance of Being Flexible
Did you know that 77% of men can touch their toes? That number is a lot higher than I would have guessed.
Stretching is something I do first thing every morning. It was a core component of my martial arts training and has stuck with me ever since.
Once you’re able to lengthen and open up your muscles, you’re likely to feel less pain and muscle cramps when working out. Once you improve your flexibility and strength, the chances of getting injured decrease.
When you become more flexible, you enhance your body’s range of motion.
Since your muscles will be working more effectively with increased flexibility, you can perform better physically.
When you’re more flexible, especially your muscles, you’ll have better posture and balance.
If you’re ready to leverage the many benefits of increased flexibility, check out these top yoga poses below.
1. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This yoga pose is central to most yoga routines -- it does an excellent job of stretching your calves, hamstrings, shoulders, hands, and lower back while also building strength in your legs and arms.
Start by getting on your hands and knees. Then, place your feet on the floor, lift your knees off the ground, and straighten your legs.
Make sure your neck is relaxed, and your arms and legs are perfectly straight while your body weight is distributed equally between your hands and your feet.
Down dog takes an extremely long time to get right. When doing it, think of "pushing away" the floor, and you’ll want to maintain your body like an inverted V.
2. The Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
This position allows you to tone your lower body while stretching the arms, neck, groin, belly, shoulders, chest, back, and lungs.
This yoga post helps you strengthen your ankles, thighs, and calves while improving both flexibility and stability.
First, you’ll need to step your right foot forward and lower your left knee to the floor. You can deepen the stretch in your hips by moving your knee forward over your toes.
Now, lift your arms and reach up while moving your shoulders down. You can lean backward by reaching your arms back for a deeper stretch.
You can get into a crescent lunge pose fairly quickly into your yoga flow.
3. Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
With this yoga pose, you are stretching and lengthening various parts of the body, such as your ribs, calves, shoulders, spine, groin, chest, hips, and hamstrings.
This yoga pose also strengthens the ankles, butt, and thighs.
Start in the downward-facing dog position, and put your right foot to the left of your right hand. Then move your hand slightly forward and push up so your fingertips are grazing the floor.
Touch your left hip with your left hand and lift your foot up off the ground while straightening your leg so it’s parallel to the floor, and point your foot down to the floor.
Lift your left arm up to the ceiling while opening up your chest.
This is a great position in particular because, in addition to improving your flexibility, you’re also working on your coordination and balance.
4. King Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)
This is a complex pose, where you start kneeling with your hands pressed on the back of your pelvis. Then, you lean your head and shoulders back as far as you possibly can and release your sternum.
You essentially want to reach your hands overhead to the floor behind you and end up with your head between your feet and your hands resting on the bottoms of your feet. You’ll need to lift your pelvis, extend your spine, and move your hips forward.
This pose is believed to invigorate the body while also improving posture, and strengthening back muscles, while stretching your hip flexors, thighs, groin, chest, throat, abdomen, and ankles.
If you're looking for the ultimate flexibility, this position is for you.
5. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
This is a fantastic pose for anyone looking to increase flexibility in the back and spine.
Bow pose opens up your hip flexors, vertebrae, and lungs. Like the previous pose, this yoga pose stretches the thighs, groin, abdomen, chest, throat, and ankles.
For this position, you start by laying on your belly and then grip your ankles with your hands.
Lift your heels up away from your butt, and also lift your legs slightly off the ground. This pose is considered intermediate-to-advanced and will do wonders in lengthening your muscles.
With all these yoga poses, start slow, especially this one!
6. Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
This position does a whole lot of stretching from your calves, thighs, and hamstrings to your knees, ankles, and groin.
As a bonus, it’s also believed to calm the mind and stimulate both your kidneys and liver.
For this pose, you stand with your legs 3 or 4 feet apart, facing the side of your mat. Then, turn one foot forward and extend that arm parallel to the floor.
Next, drop that hand down and try to reach the floor. Using a [link_widget link="yoga+blocks" search=true]yoga block[/link_widget] is common for this exercise for those that can't reach the floor.
Reach your left hand down to the floor and drop your left hip as you stretch your opposite hand up towards the sky, then back if you can.
7. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
The forward fold is another central pose to yoga, especially in "sun salutation" flows.
It's a relatively straightforward pose that will help you stretch your hamstrings, calves, and hips while strengthening your thighs and knees.
Uttanasana has a calming effect and can help improve digestion.
You’ll start standing with your feet together and standing tall in mountain pose.
Bend your upper body towards the ground and put your hands on the floor in front of you. Keep your legs straight and extend your torso down with your head towards the floor.
You can help increase the stretch by grabbing behind your ankles or calves.
If you can't reach the floor, you can "dangle" here to help increase blood flow and elongate your spine.
8. Garland Pose (Malasana)
This is a great pose for beginners that will give you a great stretch in your back, torso, groin, and ankles while also helping you tone your midsection.
For the garland pose, all you have to do is squat down and move your feet as close together as you can while keeping your heels on the floor.
Your elbows should be pressed up against the inner parts of your knees, and your palms should be touching. Your knees and elbows should be pushing against each other.
For a deeper stretch and increased flexibility, extend your hand out in front of you, similar to child's pose.
9. Warrior One (Virabhadrasana)
This is an excellent pose for flexibility, especially in the hips, and it allows you to stretch your shoulders, neck, belly, groin, lungs, and chest.
You will also strengthen your calves, ankles, thighs, back, arms, and shoulders.
Start with your feet about 3 to 4 feet apart, and lift your arms up so they’re parallel to each other and perpendicular to the floor.
Rotate towards the right and bend your right knee over your right ankle to the extent that your shin is as perpendicular to the floor as possible.
Reach your arms up to the sky and put your palms together while looking upwards.
Warrior one is a fairly easy pose to start, and it's one that you learn to "sink into" over time.
10. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
The Cobra lets you stretch your back, ultimately allowing you to loosen up and strengthen your spinal column. You also tone several body areas, including your shoulders, legs, and butt.
For the Cobra, lie on your belly with your face facing the mat, your arms by your side, and your legs stretched out behind you.
Spread your legs open by a few inches and place your elbows close to your sides. Make sure your wrists are under your shoulders, and lift your head and chest up while maintaining the lower part of your ribcage on the floor.
This is one of my favorite yoga poses, as you can get into it almost anytime.
Statistics show that yoga fever is spreading, and for good reason. The body has countless benefits, and flexibility is indubitably one of the most important.
Flexibility allows you to lengthen your muscles, reduce the risk of injury, increase your range of motion, and improve your athletic importance.
Or, better yet, start now! Place a mat on your living room floor and try out these top yoga poses for increased flexibility.
If you're new to yoga, check out the Down Dog app -- I love it, and it's how I never miss a day of yoga.
Tony Lee, MS, RD
Tony Lee, RD, MS, is a highly qualified and accomplished Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Arizona State University. Tony brings over two decades of experience in dietetics, specializing in sports nutrition. Interests include studying all aspects of wellness, fitness, genetics, and peak health performance.