Rigidity and stiffness are companions of death. Frailty and flexibility are companions of life. - Lao Tze

Yoga is a very popular activity when it comes to stretching, controlling breathing and toning your body, whether you are a beginner or advanced yogi. That is the richness of yoga: it is all-encompassing and promotes a comprehensive range of benefits.

Survey after survey proves this point: the number of Pilates enthusiasts and yoga devotees continues to grow. Logically, masses of people wouldn't embrace and adhere to an activity that yields few to no benefits, right?

Thus we establish that, between stretching, alignment, pranayama and postures, regular yoga practice guarantees various effects. However, there is one physical aspect that concerns everyone, insofar as their ability to practise yoga: flexibility.

How often have you wished you were more flexible? Maybe like those contortionists we see sometimes on the telly? The thing is, not everyone is predisposed to twisting themselves into pretzels.

Even for those who regularly practise Hatha yoga, Kundalini, Ashtanga yoga or even prenatal yoga, the discipline seems to promise remarkable suppleness. That is purely a misconception! Just like running every day will not make you faster (although it will build your endurance), daily yoga will not make you more flexible than your body's natural capacity for it.

Luckily, yoga does not necessarily require your knowing how to contort yourself to any extreme.

Yoga is a discipline that is open to all, even the most rigid - the state most beginners find themselves in. Don't believe us? Get out your yoga mats, Superprof is going to lay it all out for you.

In the Beginning: Yoga and Flexibility

Flexibility is not a key ingredient needed for yoga asanas and being good at the discipline but that doesn't mean it is useless. In fact, if you've noticed you've lost some flexibility, that's a good reason to start practising yoga. After all, this is a physical discipline and moving is good, thus it follows that a few stretches and poses will improve your physical wellbeing.

Just don't let that inflexibility put you off of taking yoga classes!

Don't try a backbend straightaway; build your strength first
Don’t get discouraged if, in your hatha classes, your teacher and other yogis adopt poses you’re far too rigid to mimic. Source: Visualhunt

Starting your yoga class all gangly and rigid is a good way to give yourself a goal and room for improvement. Between the breathing exercises, the postures and the sequences, budding yogis such as yourself often feel that they found the right workout regimen. You too may come to see, as you cycle through the Cat pose and through the Child's pose, that you are at home on a yoga mat.

The best part is that, as so many asanas are fairly effortless, you may not realise that they are the perfect way to gain flexibility... unlike gymnastics or Pilates, both of which are more active and, thus, require you to be more flexible from the start.

Still, you have to know how to start building your suppleness. The key is regular practice.

Have you ever notice how, the first time engaging in any exercise routine, be it weight lifting, isometrics or callisthenics, every muscle you worked aches? That is not usually a feature of yoga; you're more likely to feel invigorated and, over time, you will find yourself becoming more flexible.

We have to accept that flexibility is not a gift and, anyway, not everyone will attain the same level of flexibility. That's encouraging, right? Enough to quiet your qualms about adopting yoga as your fitness regimen? How about a few more incentives?

Among yoga's many advantages are those that come from developing balance. Even the more straightforward asanas such as the Tree Pose, that entails standing on one foot while reaching up to the sky makes our limbs more flexible.

Yoga's best-kept secret is the development of deep muscle tissue, those muscles we don't always work - even during the most rigorous workouts. Repeatedly engaging them through specific yoga postures designed to target them directly makes our bodies stronger and, thus, more flexible.

A final tip for beginners: practising yoga with your eyes closed (when possible, of course!) can sometimes make your poses easier to hold. Why not try it for yourself?

Or, if you're still in doubt, find out everything you need to know about flexibility in yoga...

Yoga as a Way to Gain Flexibility

Often, after their yoga class, many yogis feel supercharged - physically and mentally. If they also feel more flexible, as so many do, it's worth finding out why.

We already know that flexibility is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Presumably, the goal of practising yoga is to be your best self and, if you're reading this, it's likely you're seriously considering yoga as the path to get you there.

What yoga does for your mind and spirit is the topic for another time, so let's talk about what practising yoga will do for your body.

This discipline is a body gold mine, which allows us to forge a much deeper relationship with our own body - from feeling it work towards becoming better - to understanding its need to do that work. What could be more satisfying than discovering your natural physical inclinations?

Still, it bears repeating that you shouldn't seek flexibility at all costs when practising a yogic sequence, whether you do yoga at home or in group classes. Remember, it is not necessarily a goal in itself, or even a constituent component of yin yoga or vinyasa yoga.

As you cycle through your asanas, the main thing is to strive for is the right alignment, rather than poorly reproducing a pose by trying to incorporate more flexibility than it calls for. Indeed, to be stiff and faithful to the asana's intent is much more effective than to be flexible and hurt yourself with exaggerated movements.

The essence of yoga is balance, after all.

You can simply sit cross-legged and meditate as yoga
yoga is not all about exercises and practices. Meditation to release stress and focus your mind are also key ingredients. Source: Visualhunt

Working on your flexibility through yoga allows you to reconnect with yourself, to learn to know what you are capable of and what you were never meant to do; and so, come to grips with two key notions of yoga: temperance, and letting go.

In your quest for flexibility, often, persistence is not key. It's better to understand that yoga is about so much more than flexibility! And, anyway, it's always better to enjoy yoga stretches for longer rather than trying to go deeper into them.

Is there a 'top-10' list of yoga poses to ensure flexibility?

The Amazing Bond Between Flexibility and Breath in Yoga

Breath is the cradle of rhythm. - Rainer Maria Rilke

It goes without saying that we must breathe to live. Obviously enough, the same holds in practising yoga but, in that practice, breathing takes on an entirely new function. One that can be directly linked to flexibility. Indeed, in addition to connecting us to our deeper self, breathing helps to make certain efforts easier while complementing others.

For instance, think once more about distance running or weight lifting: when you breathe deeply and evenly, both of those activities are much easier to do, right? And can't you run farther and/or do more reps when you control your breathing? Why should stretching and flowing through asanas be any different?

Indeed, by exhaling through the nose, the feeling of being ill at ease will gradually fade as calm assurance slowly guides your moves. Over the course of your yoga sessions, the stress and tension in your body will diminish, making it easier for you to go deeper into each pose. The net result is a gain in flexibility.

Practising yoga is, above all, knowing how to link the different aspects of the discipline together so that they will work for you.

Stretching while breathing shallowly or jerkily will be less effective - indeed, possibly more painful and maybe even injurious than if each movement is accompanied by an adapted breath that reflects the harmonious state of your mind and body.

The idea, once again, is really to know how to listen to yourself. This is a key ingredient of yoga!

Listening to Your Body to Gain Flexibility

For all of the 'keys' we've proclaimed throughout this article, this one is for real.

Many people approach their workout as a chore to be ticked off their weekly list. If practising yoga is a chore for you, one that you cycle through mechanically as you would your laundry, then flexibility will be unattainable. You may simply get annoyed at the slightest difficulty, and that annoyance may be compounded because you're not showing any signs of improvement.

As mentioned before, being flexible is not a necessary component of yoga. Still, becoming flexible can be rewarding... but first, you have to understand how your body works and what it's capable of. What is it trying to tell you as you bend, reach and stretch? How does it let you know what its limits are? What physical responses should you adopt throughout your yoga sessions?

Some people prefer to do their yoga sessions at the end of the day so they can feel relaxed before sleep. Others prefer to start their day with a few asanas since the body is usually less tense in the morning. Still others favour a set routine - repetitive movements every week to train specific muscles.

So many little things which, put end to end, help you grasp that becoming more flexible is also the work of the mind, not just the body.

Note: don't forget to keep hydrated, Your muscles, ligaments and tendons - those things that usually creak, need water to stay supple. They have to stay in good working order because they are the guarantors of your flexibility.

Find out about other mistakes to avoid as you become more flexible through yoga.

Pranayama can help you release stress
meditation and breathing are two practices that can do much to combat stress, which may be one reason you are so tense and inflexible. Source: Visualhunt

The Best Yoga Poses to Gain Flexibility

Do you want to do stretches and postures to become more flexible in yoga? You're in luck: virtually every asana works some part of your body, if only to a minimal degree. The best way to benefit from yoga, especially if you're a beginner, is to blend a few more challenging poses with those you've likely been doing all of your life but had no idea were so yogic.

So, here are some names of asanas that could allow you to see an improvement in your flexibility. If you're unfamiliar with some of them - and especially if you're new to yoga, do not hesitate to ask a private tutor for help to do them right. Maybe a Superprof yoga teacher online?

  • The Half-Bridge pose
  • The Table pose (also try Cat-Cow pose)
  • The Downward-Facing Dog pose
  • The Upward-Facing Dog pose (you may also try the Cobra pose)
  • The Pigeon pose
  • The Forward Fold pose
  • The Shoelace pose
  • The Thread the Needle pose
  • The Cow-Face pose
  • The Tree pose

The Pigeon, Cat-Cow and Tree pose prove that flexibility is not a necessary ingredient for the good practice of yoga. On the contrary, it can be a real challenge when starting the practice. Still, we have to admit that being flexible makes it easier to achieve certain postures. Not better, mind you; just easier.

So, as in life, so in yoga: strive for a fair balance of work according to your desires, abilities, and enjoyment. Remember that the main thing is, above all, to have fun and not to force yourself too much. Good luck!

Join the discussion: which yoga stretching routines work the best?

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.