Despite the story Instagram tells you, you don't need to be an acrobatic contortionist to maneuver yourself into yoga postures. Gaining flexibility is one of the primary goals of yoga, which means you shouldn't worry about being flexible before you get to class. You can even think of this way: the stiffer you feel, the more you'll gain from the practice. Plus, there are lots of yoga poses that people who aren't flexible can easily start with to begin opening up.
As a yoga teacher, I've seen my fair share of people come up to me after class and actually apologize for not being more bendy. It may sound like a ridiculous thing to say sorry for, but they mean it sincerely. To them, I say: First of all, never say sorry for your abilities. Secondly, remember that if flexibility is something you want to improve, you can work on it both in and out of the studio.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults engage in flexibility training at least two or three times a week in order to maintain a healthy body. If you're looking to get much more supple than where you're at now, you may want to devote more time to yoga than that, even if it means you stretch at home on your own. This is a good place to start.
Here are nine yoga poses for people who aren't that flexible.
1. Child's Pose
This posture gets tossed to the wayside way too often. It might be considered a "resting pose," but it stretches you out in many different ways. It opens up your hips and gives you a delicious release in your lower back. And you can do it anywhere (yep, even in bed).
How To Do It: Separate your knees as wide as you'd like and let your hips sink toward your heels. Let your forehead rest on the ground. Play around with variations: stretch your arms forward; let your arms release alongside the body to relax the shoulders; thread your arms underneath you, grab opposite heels, and turn your head to the side. Stay for as long as you'd like.
2. Standing Side Stretch
Rarely do we ever get to stretch out the sides of our waist like this — and it feels hella good when we do. If your spine isn't used to bending on the regular, this is a good introduction.
How To Do It: Start with your feet together. Bring your arms over your head; interlace all fingers except your thumb and index finger, or grab your left wrist with your right hand. Stretch up the ceiling first, then slowly bend your body over to the right. Hold for about 30 seconds and switch sides.
2. Wide Legged Forward Bend
Your back needs a break from being upright all the time. That's where this posture comes in. By hanging upside down, you briefly decompress your spine, as well as open up the hips and stretch out your hamstrings, no matter how inflexible they may feel. The trippy rush of blood to the head doesn't hurt either.
How To Do It: Open up your feet at least four feet apart, parallel to one another. Reach your arms out the side and bend forward with your chin up and back straight. You can grip your peace fingers around the big toes or let your arms dangle. Ensure there's no tension in the neck.
3. Pigeon Pose
It may look like you need to be Gumby to pull this one off, but don't be fooled. There are a lot of ways to modify, and whatever version you choose will feel tasty for your lower half. Pigeon pose has been dubbed the "king of hip openers," after all, so this is your one-way ticket to flexibility.
How To Do It: Bring your front shin parallel to the top of your mat. The closer you bring your heel into your groin, the less intense the stretch will be. No matter what, make sure your back leg is straight and in line with your hip.
4. Bound Angle Pose
This one is perfect for tight inner hips and groin area. If you wince from just glancing at that picture, you should probably prop a blanket or a block underneath your hips, giving your pelvis more space to work with.
How To Do It: Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall out to the side. Adjust your heels to come in as close to your hips as you can, and grab your big toes with your peace fingers. You can use your elbows to apply pressure to the inside of your knees. Instead of just plopping over, keep your head lifted and think about bringing your chest to your feet.
5. Bridge Pose
This simple backbend packs a big punch. It's also a hip extension that improves your posture and opens up your hamstrings. The fact that it tones your butt in the meantime is just icing on the cake.
How To Do It: Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Raise your hips toward the ceiling, making sure your knees are lined up directly over your heels. Interlace your hands underneath for extra oomph. Draw your chest toward your chin, not the other way around.
6. Pyramid Pose
It's all about the hamstrings with this gem, one of the stiffest parts of our whole body. Don't be alarmed if your brain screams at you during the first few tries. It gets better with time.
How To Do It: Bring feet three to four feet apart, the front foot facing forward and the back at a 45 degree angle. Turn your hips to face the front leg, which should remain straight, and fold over. A block under each hand can do wonders here.
7. Upward Facing Dog
The front side of your body — chest, abs, and frontal hips — will love you for this one. It feels good in your lumbar spine too while toning your arms. If you ever take Vinyasa flow, this posture comes up a lot, so it's good to have the mechanics nailed down.
How To Do It: Lie on your belly. Bring your hands underneath your shoulders, close to your chest, and push up until arms are straight. If you can, get your knees off the ground, pressing through the tops of your feet. You can look up if it suits your neck.
8. Seated Spinal Twist
Twisting is crucial for a healthy spine, so don't give it the cold shoulder. A posture like this wrings every part of your back, even the cervical spine, granting you with more mobility in the long run.
How To Do It: For this particular variation, bring your right leg straight out in front of you and bend the left so the knee faces the ceiling. You can either cross your left over the right thigh or leave it where it is. Bring your right arm up and over, pressing gently into the left knee. Look over your left shoulder. Hold for several breaths and switch sides.
9. Chair Pose
This isn't exactly anybody's favorite, but it sure does sneak into everyday classes a lot. You wouldn't think this particular posture builds flexibility, but it does exactly that for your chest and shoulders. Additionally, if you do it right, it's a nice relief for your lower back.
How To Do It: Stand with feet together and sink your hips down as your reach your arms up alongside your ears. Keep the neck long and body weight in the heels. Only sit down as far as you can without pitching into the lower back. Hold for five breaths.
If you're just starting off, you might be tempted to get a head start and try all nine of these postures every day at home. Set a more realistic goal for yourself. Pick a couple you want to work on for a week and do them every morning. Soon enough you won't even recognize that new bendy body of yours.
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