One of the many benefits of yoga is improved flexibility. In this article we cover a brief definition of flexibility followed by 7 simple yoga stretching exercises you can practice to improve your range of movement.
What Is Flexibility?
Flexibility is the ability of a joint or group of muscles to move through its full range of motion. There are different types of flexibility and different range of motion/movement (ROM) for the different muscle groups or joints.
What Are The Different Types Of Flexibility?
There are two basic types of flexibility according to the type of movement involved.
1. Dynamic Flexibility – involves movement of the limb through its full range of motion in the joints, e.g a serve in tennis.
2. Static Flexibility – Do not involve movement
What Is Range of Motion (ROM)
The range of motion/movement is the amount of movement your joints can move in different directions-flexion, extension, adduction, abduction and rotation.
If you are like most yoga beginners chances are you do not stretch or move your joints through their full range of movement. We are creatures of habit and if you have a sedentary office job or spend all day driving chances are your range of movement is limited to your usual work related tasks. Even at home, most people do not move their joints through their full range of motion. Over time, lack of use leads to reduce mobility and stiffness, especially as you get older and less active, every day activities such as walking the stairs, lifting or bending can become difficult and uncomfortable.
Yoga routines increase your flexibility and extend the range of movement around the various joints. Most yoga poses help to improve your static flexibility, which increases your overall ability to stretch and be flexible off the mat.
Side note: I remember one yoga student started yoga as her daughter had a baby and my student realised how stiff and inflexible she had become after caring for her grandson. She found it difficult to pick him and play with him. After a few yoga sessions, my student said she found it easier to play with her grandson as she had more mobility in her shoulders and her back and knees didn’t ache so much from constantly bending down to pick him and his toys up!
Here’s Seven Simple Yoga Stretches To Improve Flexibility
As with any form of exercise, please exercise caution, respect and patience for your body and, consult your GP before embarking on an exercise programme. As you practice, be gentle and move slowly into the stretch. Any form of discomfort or strain, please stop and relax.
As you practice this routine, pay attention to your breath; breathe slowly and deeply in and out through your nose as you focus your awareness of the part or parts of body where you feel the stretch the most.
One: Sideways Neck Stretch
Take a long deep breath in and as you breathe out, slowly lower your right ear to your right shoulder. Breathe in and return your head to an upright position. Breathe out and lower left ear to your left shoulder. Breathe in and return your head to the centre. Repeat 3 – 5 times each side.
Two: Head To Chest
Take a long deep breath in and slowly breathe out. Lower your head towards your chest, be aware of the stretch on the back of your neck. Gently raise your head to upright. Repeat 3 – 5 times.
Three: Shoulder Stretch
Arms above your head – sitting or standing, raise your arms straight above your head. Interlace your fingers and turn your palms upward. Take three – five rounds of deep breathing as you keep stretching up. If you can, try to keep your elbows beside or behind your ears as you stretch. Slowly separate your fingers and gracefully lower your arms to your sides. Repeat twice more.
Four: Hands Behind Back
Interlace your fingers behind your back. Gently bend forward. Stretch your hands and arms up and back. Gently breathe into the stretch. Slowly release your arms and come back to an upright position. Repeat 3 – 5 times.
Five: Seated Forward Bend – Sit on the floor or bed with your legs straight out in front of you and toes pointing up. Inhale and bring both arms up parallel to your ears. Stretch your spine. Lean forwards from your hips, keeping the back straight and lifting up from your hips. Grasp your legs wherever comfortable as you allow the head, neck and shoulders to relax while keeping the chest open and eyes looking forward. Hold the pose for 3 -5 rounds of deep yogic breathing. Inhale, stretch up with your arms and repeat the posture once more.
Six: Lie on your back. Hug both knees to your chest. Curl your body up into a small ball. Rock gently from side to side 5 – 7 times. Lower your head to the bed, still holding your knees to your chest and take 3 – 5 deep breathes in and out. Gently move your knees from side to side, giving a gentle wringing action to the back muscles. Lower your feet back to the bed and slowly straighten your legs.
Seven: Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together. Lengthen your spine and relax your shoulders and jaw. Smile. Place your hands lightly on your knees and allow the out breath to soften and ease any tension you may feel in the groin. Stay focused on your breath for 3 – 7 rounds as you breathe into the stretch. Relax and release the legs.
To Improve and Maintain Your Flexibility
Repeat these seven simple yoga stretches. With time you will find it easier to get in to the stretch and stay in the pose for longer breaths; you’ll also relieve your body of strain and tension and feel calmer, refreshed and better able to move gracefully through your day.