“Oh, I’d love to try yoga, but I’m just not flexible enough…”
It’s the number one thing I hear from people whenever I say I practice yoga.
I completely understand the hesitation. Hop on Instagram and the sheer number of yoga photos with people bending and twisting in mind-boggling poses is enough to leave anyone feeling like they’re not flexible enough for yoga.
But here’s the thing — you don’t have to be flexible in order to practice yoga.
What Is Yoga Really All About?
Although Western culture places a strong emphasis on the physical postures in yoga, or asana, this is actually only one small (and relatively new) aspect of yoga. Before flows and postures, the practice of yoga primarily consisted of breathing exercises, chanting and meditation.
Whether you choose to practice yoga for the total mind and body benefits or as a way to learn more about the ancient philosophy of yoga, being flexible is not a necessary prerequisite to getting started.
Yoga Will Make You More Flexible
If your flexibility is a concern that is holding you back from yoga, it’s important to note that with regular practice, yoga will dramatically improve your flexibility. We all start from somewhere; no one will judge you if you’re not as bendy as the most advanced practitioners in your class.
But with consistency and dedication, you will likely find that the yoga poses that once seemed impossible soon become well within your reach.
I know I’m guilty of this myself. If someone asks me to do push-ups, I’ll moan and complain, emphatically explaining that my arms are simply not strong enough to do more than a couple.
But I also know if I made an effort to start with a few push-ups and regularly practice each day, I would notice improvement in no time.
As you begin practicing yoga, it’s important to listen to your body and know the difference between discomfort and pain. If you have extremely tight hamstrings, it is not going to feel “good” to practice a seated forward fold.
But by learning to breathe into tightness (and also knowing when to come out of the pose when your body has had enough) you will begin to improve your flexibility dramatically.
Modifications And Props Are Your Friend
When I teach a yoga class, I love to incorporate props as often as possible. While sometimes our ego can convince us that we don’t need a block or strap, using these tools can help us to realise the full effects of certain yoga poses — even if our lack of flexibility prevents us from moving fully into the pose.
For example, if your spine is not quite flexible enough to move into the full expression of Wheel Pose, or Urdhva dhanurasana, then try a gentle bridge pose with two blocks beneath the lower back for support.
As you continue to stretch and strengthen your spine, you might one day be able to move into Wheel Pose with ease.
Yoga Postures Are Also About Strength And Stability
Finally, it’s important to note that yoga poses are also fantastic ways to build strength and stability — two crucial characteristics of a healthy and happy body.
If you are not flexible but you do have upper arm strength, then you might find arm balances come more easily to you. Again, don’t worry if you’re not strong or stable enough right now.
But for those who excel in these other physical areas, you’ll be pleased to discover that not all yoga postures will challenge your flexibility.
Yoga Poses To Improve Flexibility
As mentioned above, one of the best ways to become more flexible is through the practice of yoga. These are a few fantastic beginner’s yoga poses to incorporate into your practice:
- Sit back onto your heels with the knees spread far apart, toes touching.
- Inhale to sit up straight, then exhale to begin to fold over the legs.
- Bring your forehead to the ground (or a block or blanket).
- Keep the arms by your sides, or extend them out overhead.
This is an excellent stretch for the lower back.
- Begin standing with your feet together.
- Inhale the arms up.
- On the exhale, hinge at the hips to fold over your legs. Bend the knees as much as you need to here.
- Take your hands to the floor or blocks.
- Stay here for as many breaths as you like, slowly allowing yourself to move deeper into the pose.
This is a powerful stretch for the hamstrings and lower back.
- With the right leg extended, cross the left foot over the right thigh, keeping the left knee pointed towards the ceiling.
- If this is comfortable, you can wrap the right leg around the left side of the body, providing that the sit bones stay plugged into the ground.
- Inhale the right arm high, exhale to take the elbow to the left knee. On each inhale, lengthen the spine. On each exhale, twist (moving from the core) to the left.
Twists are excellent poses for improving flexibility of the spine.
Remember, yoga is for every body. There is no requirement to be flexible in order to practice yoga. Even if you can’t touch your toes (yet!), you can begin to practice yoga.
Is your flexibility holding you back from practicing yoga? What postures have you found help the most with flexibility?
If instead you want to have a simple start in yoga, try out this exercises you can do even in your office (from JFK blog)