Have you ever woken up in the morning and felt stiff and achy? Well, yoga is an extremely helpful method to gain flexibility. Many gurus, saints, and even world-class athletes use these asanas, or yoga poses, to better their bodies. Even the less flexible can try some of these simple techniques to retain energy and build up muscles. Be it from a long hike, a strenuous basketball game, or even a difficult cross country race, your body, especially your muscles, tend to become sore. But not to worry, these ten yoga asanas will improve your flexibility and have your muscles relaxed in no time!
The latest statistics even show that improving flexibility is the most popular reason for starting yoga, and research does prove that it’s one of the biggest benefits of regular practice. However, there are several asanas that can help to make you more flexible than the rest. So without further ado, here are the top 10 yoga poses for improving flexibility:
1. Adho Mukha Svanasama
(Downward Facing Dog)
The Downward Dog is one of the most popular stretches, and is known for relieving fatigue and stiffness of the legs and heels. The words "Adho Mukha" mean "to face downwards," while "Svana" means "dog" and asana means "seat" or "pose". This pose represents a dog stretching itself with its head and forelegs downward. As a runner, this is one of my favorite poses to relax my legs after intensive training and to improve my flexibility. Adho Mukha Svanasana is especially beneficial to sprinters as it helps to develop speed and lightness by improving blood flow and strengthening your abdominal muscles.
2. Urdhva Mukha Svanasama
(Upward Facing Dog)
Urdhva Mukha means "having the mouth upwards", and Svana means "dog" (as stated in number 1). This pose mimics a dog stretched out and helps to revitalize the spine. It is recommended for people who are suffering back ache or stiffness. Upward Dog strengthens the spine, and the chest expansion during this pose helps the lungs expand, helping you gain more oxygen with each breath. As an athlete, this exercise has really helped regulate my breathing while running and has improved my flexibility.
According to B.K.S Iyengar’s Light on Yoga guide, staying in this pose for half a minute to a minute with deep breathing is vital for obtaining the most from this stretch.
3. Paschima Ottanasana
B.K.S Iyengar's Light on Yoga states that Paschima "literally means west." This pose involves stretching one's back and head fully towards one's toes. According to the CNY Healing Art's Health benefits of Uttanasana, the Forward Fold pose stretches the hips and the hamstrings, strengthens the thighs and knees, keeps the spine strong and flexible, and relieves tension on the neck and back. It also calms the mind and soothes the nerves while also reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
The Camel (Ustra) pose is one of the most beneficial poses for relieving back pain. According to Yogi Approved, this pose is called the camel pose because when performing this stretch the back bends or curves into the shape of a camel hump. The Yoga Journal states the benefits of this pose are that it stretches the entire body, the ankles, thighs and groins. It also stretches the abdomen, chest and throat, while strengthening back muscles and improving posture.
Personally, this pose is one of my favorite stretches because it has had a major impact on my posture, as it helps me maintain a straight back and broad chest while running.
(Standing Half Forward Bend)
"In Sanskrit the word Uttanasana comprises of a Ut, which means "intense," and the verb tan, meaning to "stretch." (Yoga Journal) This stretch is performed standing up with the back and head bending all the way down directly towards your toes, with your arms grasping your feet. Some benefits of this pose are that it stretches the hamstrings and back, improves digestion, quiets the mind and relives headaches. This pose also stretches connective tissue when falling forward and mitigates anxiety.
As stated before, not only is this asana a stretching pose, but it can also reduce a large amount of anxiety. Whenever I'm about to run a race and am nervous, I always try to calm my mind by taking deep breathes and performing this asana. This pose will help you maintain focus and remain calm. When you're nervous and shaking before the biggest moment of your life, remember Uttanasana; it can be your biggest ally.
(Big Toe Pose)
"The Big Toe Pose is an asana of the Ashtanga yoga tradition that is performed while standing," YogaTeket writes. According to B.K.S Iyengar's Light on Yoga, the name Padhangusthasan comes from the Sanskrit word "Padha", which means foot, and "Angusthana" which means "thumb," implying "Big Toe." The Big Toe Pose is not necessarily about stretching the big toe itself. This pose is focused more on stretching the hips, thighs, calves and hamstrings.
According to Yoga Journal, some benefits of this stretch are that it strengthens the thighs, stretches the hamstrings and calves, and improves digestion. This asana also stimulates the liver and kidneys. A few teens may know that LeBron James and Shaq O'Neal are yoga buffs and to quote King James, "Yoga is the secret to endurance."
(Low Lunge Pose)
The Low Lunge Pose or Crescent Lunge exercises muscles throughout the entire body and is known for "providing a powerful stretch to the groin, quads and iliopsoas of the back leg." (Yoga international) The word Anjaneyasana comes from the Sanskrit word "Anjaneya," meaning "praise." According to CNYhealingarts, this pose has many benefits including releasing tension in the hips, strengthening your knees, stretching the hamstrings, groin and quads (as stated before), and building mental focus. Next time you're watching a NBA or NFL game, notice how most athletes perform the Low Lunge Pose as they warm up!
"Bheka" in Sanskrit means "frog." The stretch is performed using some of the main characteristics of a frog. In this pose, you lie on your stomach and bend the knees forward towards the head and lift the neck off the ground. Bheknasana is one of the asanas that has the greatest impact on the body in terms of flexibility. According to Fitsri, Bhekanasa improves the overrall flexibility of the body and has the greatest impact on the legs, back, shoulders and neck. It also removes stiffness from the knees.
This asana is also very useful for toning the core. I am not flexible enough to perform this asana, but for me this stretch can be extremely beneficial. As a runner, maintaning a strong core is very crucial and this asana is helpful for keeping a stable core. This pose is great for gymnasts, as this stretch removes stiffness from all parts of the legs, including the ankles. Before performing this pose, I would practice the other poses so you are more flexible and have some experience.
Marajariasana is one of the most unique stretches, as it helps strengthen the arms and wrists. "Marajari" means "Cat," and this pose involves a person who is on their knees and arms, with a curved back, like a cat (hence the name, "Cat Pose"). The stretch provides a massage to the spine and belly, according to Yoga Journal. Some benefits of this asana are that it makes the spine flexible, strengthens arms, wrists, and shoulders (as stated before), helps relieve back ache, improves digestion by massaging digestive organs, and stretches the back and abdominal muscles. I marvel at my cat, Mister, who performs this pose with ease everytime he awakes from a nap!
Matasyana, or Fish Pose, is often known for stretching the ribs and opening the throat. This pose is a reclining or back-bending pose. Imagine sitting crisscross while laying on the ground with your back bent and your chest puffed. This would be a perfect way to describe the Fish Pose. CNYhealingarts states the benefits of this pose are that it stretches your deep hip flexors and intercostals (muscles between ribs), and stretches and tones the front of your neck, including your abdominals. It also relieves tension on your back, neck, nose and throat, and stimulates the organs of your belly and throat.
Get your Yoga on!
All in all, improved flexibility can lead to less stiffness, less muscle ache, and less injury. Each of these asanas has their own history and own way of improving your flexibility. If you've never tried yoga before, now is the time to get your yoga pants on and practice some of these poses. After an intense or acute activity, you won't have to fret anymore. Just remember these 10 asanas, and before you know it, you'll be feeling completely relaxed and refreshed with zero stiffness!