Back bends, wheel pose, handstands and shoulder stands are particularly advanced yoga moves that are designed to improve flexibility and utilize the length and stretch in the muscles. For many, these are the poses that present the greatest challenge, as they require more extensive preparation and skill. If you find that flexibility is your weak point in yoga, here are some easy tips to help make your muscles longer and leaner.
First, make a simple stretch routine by listing the tightest areas of your body, particularly the places that feel especially strained during a yoga session. Use time outside of class to focus on stretching these trouble spots. Write down all the stretches you need and put the list somewhere like the refrigerator or next to the television. If you do this, you will see it often and be reminded to stretch. The most important part of flexibility training is consistency.
Poses like Monkey and King Pigeon require loose and limber legs. Unwind tight hamstrings beforehand by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, spine upright. Then, reach your hands toward your toes. Grab your legs or feet as far down as you can and pull your upper body to your legs. The goal is to eventually have your chest lying on your knees. This stretch will give you lax and lean hamstrings and allow you to get into Monkey pose with ease.
Shoulders and Spine
To loosen up tight shoulders, begin by hugging yourself while in a seated or standing position. Then slowly curl forward, rolling down your spine. This will make it easier to manage poses like Camel and Rabbit, both that require a loose spine to perform.
The butterfly stretch is a good way to gently loosen your hips. The more flexible this area becomes, the easier it will be to get into poses like King Pigeon and Lotus. The butterfly stretch is just simply sitting down with feet pressed together, and slowly extending your knees down towards the ground.
There are not many poses that require and focus on neck flexibility, but having a loose and limber neck will help you relax and really feel the benefits of all aspects of yoga. To stretch out your neck, sit up straight and tall with your spine straight and lifted. Then, drop your chin down, curling your neck such that your chin comes down to your collarbone. Hold this and breathe.
Next, slowly roll your neck clockwise, keeping your chin tucked down toward your collarbone as much as possible. Take as much time to stretch as you need. Then reverse the circle. This will loosen up your neck and make poses like Wheel and Fish less strenuous.
Get Some Heat!
While you can stretch anywhere at any time, it’s best to do so in a warm environment. Turning on the heater at home, or stretch in a patch of sunlight. The warm temperature will loosen up your muscles better, making it easier to achieve greater flexibility while also reducing the risk of injury brought on by tight, cold muscles.