By far the most common excuse heard for not trying yoga is “I’m not flexible.” If your muscles are tight and your joints are inflexible this is all the more reason to begin to practice yoga. Inflexibility in the body is not a minor issue; there’s a danger in being inflexible. Poor flexibility can cause joint stiffness, muscle tightness that leads to injuries, lower back pain and other postural and health-related problems.
Here are some suggested yoga poses for flexibility that will help you lengthen and stretch your muscles in a safe and effective way. Do these poses three times a week, taking five to 10 deep breaths or holding the pose for 30 to 60 seconds and see how it goes. As you progress, hold poses for 90 to 120 seconds.
In this kind of practice, you’re maintaining the posture long enough to affect the plastic quality of your connective tissues and create structural changes that add up to a permanent increase in flexibility. Don’t forget to take deep breaths. Use each inhale to create space and each exhale to let go of any tension you might be holding on to.
With regular practice, you will find that your body begins to change quickly, and even more exciting, your mind will begin to open up as well. Once you commit to your yoga practice, you may even find that it wasn’t your body that was tight to start with — your inflexibility was all in your head!
THREAD THE NEEDLE
Stretches the chest, increases flexibility in shoulders and spine
Parsva Balasana (PAR-S-VA bah-LAHS-anna), also known as the Thread the Needle or Revolved Child Pose, is a simple posture that gently compresses the chest and opens the shoulders while calming the body. If you are dealing with chronic shoulder or back pain, this posture can help gently loosen the muscles and relieve tension. During this exercise, make sure to maintain a focus on your breathing.
Get on all fours or Table Pose. Place your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips to the top of your mat. Place your shins and knees hip-width apart. Inhale and open up your chest to the right as you extend your right arm to shoulder height out to your side. On an exhalation, slide your right arm underneath your left arm with your palm facing up. Let your right shoulder come all the way down to the mat. Rest your right ear and cheek on the mat, then gaze toward your left. Keep the left hand where it is or crawl it a bit to the right, toward the head if possible, to intensify the stretch. Breathe deeply here, hold for up to one minute.
To release, press through your left hand and gently slide your right hand out. Return to Table Pose then switch sides then repeat the pose on the opposite side for the same length of time.
If you experience discomfort in your knees, fold your mat or place a towel or blanket under your knees to pad them or get knee pads if you have sensitive knees.
If you have weak wrists that hurt in the starting position, place your forearms on the floor instead, or start with your hands-on foam yoga blocks. Those with larger chests or stomachs, and women who are pregnant, can practice this pose at a wall, while standing.
• Face the wall, standing an arm’s distance away. Press your palms flat against the wall.
• Slide your right arm beneath your left arm and bring your right shoulder and ear to the wall then gaze toward your left. You may need to step closer to the wall to do this.
• Hold for up to one minute, and then repeat on the opposite side.
Stretches the back, hamstrings and shoulders, but can also build strength in the upper body.
Adho Mukha Svanasana also known as Downward-facing Dog. Begin on the floor with your knees directly under your hips and your hands slightly forward from your shoulders and internally rotate. Spread your fingers wide and press your hands evenly into the mat. Tuck your toes and raise your knees off the floor. Lift your hips all the way up as you drop your chest back towards your thighs. Keep your knees bent. Check that your feet are hip-width apart and that your toes and knees point straight ahead. Lengthen your tailbone to the ceiling, keeping your head between your arms (neck relaxed). Gaze at your toes through your legs. Feel the stretch through your back and hamstrings as you gently work to touch your heels to the ground.
Straighten your arms as much as you can. Lift the weight up out of your wrists by drawing your shoulders up and back. And then outwardly rotate your upper arms to feel a broadening across your upper back. Your body should look like an upside-down “V”. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
— Nerry Toledo is a Dubai-based yoga instructor. She conducts regular give-what-you-can community classes with the goal of making yoga more accessible for everyone. For schedules and locations, go to nerryfit.com.
Those with larger chests or stomachs, and women who are pregnant, can practice this pose at a wall, while standing: