When someone starts a yoga practice, the motivation that brings them to the yoga mat is to gain more flexibility. The regions of the body that tend to be tight or inflexible are the low back, hips, and hamstrings. Here are a list of five useful yoga poses that can help diminish that tightness and result in greater mobility and flexibility.
1. Superman Pose
This is the name given to a lower back strengthening position formally called Viparita Shalabhasana (veh-PAR-ree-TAH shah-lah-BAH-San-NAH). Giving attention to the strengthening of the lower back also contributes to more flexibility in this part of the body. Here's how to do the pose:
You'll start this posture lying relaxed on your belly on your yoga mat. Place your hands underneath your shoulders (your elbows will be bent.) To engage your body, inhale to lengthen your legs by pointing your toes toward the wall behind you. At the same time, grip the mat with your fingers and palms, and feel as if you are pulling yourself forward to lengthen your spine. As you exhale, even though your are lying on your stomach, draw your naval up toward your spine. (Your stomach, of course, will not leave the floor, but you're engaging the abdominal muscles to support your body.) With the engaged and supported body, lift your chest and feet away from the floor a few inches. Inhale again to continue the sensation of lengthening your body in this opposite directions. Exhale, engage your abdominal muscles, and carefully lift your body a little higher. As you're able, lift your hands off the mat and extend them behind you.
The idea in the structure of this posture is to create length and space in the body, particularly in the low back region. Since you are engaging the muscles of the low back, and you're lifting the legs, arms, and chest away from the ground, you want to be mindful of the potential strain; you want to avoid pinching or binding this area of the spine. But if done with care, you can achieve greater strength and flexibility in this region of the body.
Another benefit of the pose is the potential it brings to other yoga postures you perform. By gaining more strength and flexibility in the low back, it will allow for a greater range of motion in twists and rotations, folding forward, and bending backward. Your core will be more supported and strong when engaging these types of bodily movements.
2. Seated Forward Fold
Those that start a yoga practice often complain of having tight hamstrings. Yoga will definitely help loosen up these stiff bands of muscles. Seated Forward Fold is a pose that anyone (yogi or non-yogi) can do to start the process of gaining flexibility in their legs. Start in a seated position on your yoga mat. Sit up nice and tall with your legs extending straight out in front of you. To help with lengthening your spine and torso, place your hands on your mat near your hips. Press down in order to sit up taller.
Now, take a full breath in and raise your arms into the air with the intention of maintaining that good length throughout the spine and torso. As you exhale, hinge at your hips and begin to fold forward. Take this in small increments; only fold downward a few inches. Take another breath to continue the lengthening of the upper body. Exhale and hinge forward a few inches more. (You can lower your hands to your legs and continue your progression.)
As you fold, you will start to feel the hamstrings stretch. You can pause your folding process at any time in order for the body to become accustomed to this new sensation. It is also fair to bend your knees in this process. It will allow you to fold deeper without hyperextending the ligaments and muscles around the knees.
3. Pigeon Pose
Along with having tight hamstrings and back, the hips can experience immobility over time. Yoga takes this into account; there are a wide array of hip opening yoga postures in the practice. A common one is Pigeon Pose. It hits three areas: the outer hip, the inner thigh, and the hip flexor.
You can start this pose on your hands and knees. Slide your right knee forward so it is just behind (or preferably, slightly to the outside) of the right wrist. Swing your right foot over toward your left wrist. (Ideally, the shin will be parallel with the front edge of your mat, but this is not conducive to all bodies. It poses a potential strain on the knee joint.) It is fine to keep the leg at about a 45 degree angle. Start moving your left leg back. This will create the desired sensation in the aforementioned regions of the hips and legs. You can also lower your upper body down toward the bent leg. While holding this position, you will experience a stretch in the outer hip of the right leg as well as a release in the right inner thigh. Meanwhile, the extended left leg creates a stretch and lengthening effect in the hip flexor. Be sure to practice this pose on the other side. The benefit of the pose is to reduce and potentially eliminate tightness and tension in the hip region. This is a very good yoga pose to practice.
4. Runner's Lunge
A deep lunge can also assist with more flexibility in the hip area. This Runner's Lunge can be quite effective for lengthening out tight hip flexors. To get into this pose, start in a Standing Forward Fold. While placing your hands on the mat by your feet, step your left foot back until you are in a lunging position. For good alignment, be sure your bent right knee is aligned over your heel or ankle bone to protect the knee joint. You'll be working the hip flexor of the left leg. Be sure to have it fully extended behind you. You can lift the knee off the floor, but letting it rest on the mat for this pose will still be beneficial. To engage the full stretch in that upper thigh region, you can do several things. One, you can keep your hands on the floor on the inside of your right foot to feel a stretch in the left leg. Two, you can place your hands on a set of blocks. This lifts the upper body more in order to experience a fuller stretch sensation in the extended leg. Or three, place your hands on the bent right knee. Again, this lifts you up a little higher in order to get a full stretch in the left hip flexor. Practice the pose on the other side.
5. Bound Angle Pose
Another great sitting posture that is effective in releasing tight hips and inner thighs is a yoga posture called Bound Angle Pose (sometimes called "Cobbler's Pose.") Sit up tall on your yoga mat. (If you have really tight hips, it's suggested that you sit on something like a yoga block or a folded blanket. This allows the hips to open more while maintaining good posture through your spine.) While seated, place the soles of your feet together. Your knees will be bent and opened out to the side. Hold onto your ankles or shins. This may be enough to create a sensation of stretching for the outer hips and inner thighs. If you need more, then hinge forward slightly. This will put more emphasis on the stretch in the inner thighs.
These yoga postures can really be helpful to you if you experience tightness in your body. Because most people have tighter hips, backs, and hamstrings, these poses are perfect to practice to gain more flexibility.