Yoga is learning to come back to yourself. It's about finding your limits, expanding your boundaries and being able to truly relax in who you are - Christina Brown, author of 'The Book of Yoga'

From relaxation to muscle building, the practice of yoga is a goldmine of benefits for the body. Binding mind, body and spirit in the best possible way, this gentle practice has more than one trick up its sleeve when it comes to wellness. Practising yoga also allows you to know how to stretch.

Who has never dreamed of being more flexible or of having more cooperative muscles when at the start of their day? In that sense, doing yoga means enjoying a good, prolonged stretch. When practised regularly, this type of stretching helps preserve and protect one's body alignment and maintain good posture.

Many of yoga's benefits act indirectly on the mind, bringing about a good mood and a positive mindset. However, as yoga is a fitness discipline full of promise, it would pay for its practitioners to know what to focus on. Whether you feel the need for extra stress relief or when you just need a limbering stretch, you should plan your routine accordingly.

Not all yoga is the same; planning your sessions makes for a better practice of physical activity!

Whether you are a beginner or a more experienced yogi, your yoga routine must be set up effectively. To do so, you might need some practical advice. Are you interested in flexibility? Are muscle techniques your hobby or do you just need a bit of tranquillity at the end of your day?

Here are Superprof's tips for setting up yoga habits with this in mind.

Dedicate a Block of Time to Your Yoga Stretching Practise

Like any activity, yoga for stretching requires a certain amount of dedication - not just of your mind and body but of your time. To see the incremental effects regular yoga practice can bring, you will need a bit of schedule organisation.

Unless you want it to, yoga needn't take up entire hours of your day.

Yoga classes may last up to 90 minutes but stretching at home doesn't have to
A typical yoga class may last up to 90 minutes but you could complete a stretching routine in less than 30 minutes. Photo credit: HerryLawford on VisualHunt / CC BY

In as little as 20 to 30 minutes, you could cycle through several asanas that target major muscle groups, connective tissues - your tendons and ligaments, and your joints.

To be effective, you should dedicate a particular time slot or a given time to the practice of yoga. That's provided you know the postures, stretches... the exact content of your sessions. You should also plan the number of days you want to do yoga (why not every day?), as well as the time you want or can devote to it.

For example, you might plan for twenty minutes of your day to be dedicated to stretching and working on your flexibility. Make a note in your planner that you have an appointment with the most important person: yourself!

Note: 45 to 90 minutes is the ideal amount of time for many yogis who go to yoga class once or twice a week but quick, 20-minute daily sessions would work well, too. Always provided you know how to adopt every pose.

Don't make the mistake of cycling through asanas without knowing each one!

Give Each Session a Purpose

The most important equipment you need in yoga are your body and your mind - Rodney Yee

Building a stretching routine is not always easy, however effective the practice may be. Some days, you're just too busy. Other days, the motivation may not be there - perhaps your morale is not good so you might have trouble focusing on your breathing and doing each asana properly.

To overcome these occasional challenges, why not set guidelines for yourself?

Giving your sessions a purpose involves telling yourself why you are putting your body to work. Just as you would save money to buy something you really want - rather than vaguely declaring it's all 'for the future', your savings now have a specific purpose whose end-result you keenly anticipate.

Likewise, with yoga. You might wonder from which perspective today this postural training will ultimately benefit you. Declaring an intention for each session gives your stretching routine and asana sequences a purpose and meaning for that day, all while contributing to your overall, perhaps-distant goals for fitness.

These intentions are very personal, and can vary over the days. One day might compel you to learn how to control your breathing, the next might focus on feeling your body move, while the third one might focus on working your joints.

Or you may, quite simply, want to have a good day. Yoga can help us become more flexible, but it can also serve as a daily support.

Breathing: Your Best Ally for a Productive Yoga Session

For a yoga session and an effective stretching routine, knowing how to breathe well is essential. Before learning to breathe better, you have to understand how the air we inhale and exhale - a perfectly normal and vital bodily function is the foundation of a sound yoga practise.

When it comes to stretching and yoga, your physical condition is not the only criterion that comes into play.

You don't have to be this flexible to focus on your breathing
You may decide to work on your flexibility one day and focus on your breathing the next. Photo credit: Pictova on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

A good stretch also requires inner balance and harmony. Exhaling while making a stretching movement guarantees a gentler, more peaceful posture that is easier to adopt. One where flexibility will be less difficult to implement than a toning exercise.

This implies that pranayama (breath control) is a powerful practice that will make your stretching routine more pleasant and more effective.

Do not hesitate to do breathing exercises before and after you do these top ten exercises during your sessions. Pranayama and yoga always make for a better day!

Don't Force Yourself Into Your Stretching Routine

In yoga as with everything else, finding the experience pleasant is the surest guarantee of repetition.

Yoga has certain specific, fundamental purposes, namely the pursuit of a harmonious, peaceful existence, physical wellness and strength. Still, for a yoga routine to be successful  - meaning that you will return to it again and again, you must find pleasure in it.

Few would describe their yoga classes as fun; 'invigorating' is more apt. Indeed, these sessions are more a case of listening to your body. After all, how can you succeed in being flexible if you don't listen to what your body is telling you? By that, we mean everything from muscles yearning for activity to avoiding getting hurt as you go deeper into your asanas.

For example, if a pose such as the Seated Forward Fold doesn't have the desired effect on you, your body will tell you. In fact, if you try to bend farther than your body's flexibility allows, you may even feel pain.

It is important not to confuse effective stretching with pain, in which case you could seriously hurt yourself.

Likewise, if you want to loosen up your lower body, don't go all out on it. Instead of working your lower body exclusively, switch your routines up. One day, work your lower half and, the next day, focus on your abs or arms. Trust your body to remember each pose and to build on the work you did before.

Yoga and stretching are two disciplines that go very well together, but it is always relevant to know how to dose them as precisely as possible. The key is balance, and it's in your hands.

Instead of asking yourself how flexible you have to be to do yoga and then working like a devil to get there, just have a good workout, and enjoy your yoga classes.

Yoga Poses to Populate Your Stretching Routine

Pigeon pose is an easy asana to open your chest and hips
The Pigeon pose is great for opening up your hips and chest while focusing on breathing. Photo credit: Pictova on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

What would a stretching routine be without postures? You can't fling your limbs about willy-nilly, do a couple of sit-ups and claim you're well stretched!

Regular yoga practice, with its many relaxing workouts, can take a whole different form from one day to the next because there are so many different asanas (poses) to choose from. Some correspond to specific points in the body. Others are intended more for people in a hurry while some that also allow you to relax and link yoga and meditation.

What follows is a selection of poses to build your yoga routines around. They are specially designed to help you become more flexible all while helping you relax.

Floor postures - those done on your mat are often the best suited to work on flexibility, quite simply because it is often a question of holding a position. That's much easier to do when sitting or on all fours.

One good beginner exercise calls for you to sit on your yoga mat, focusing on your breath. Slowly spread your legs as you can (without forcing them) with your hands resting on the sides of the pelvis. Inhale, and, as you breathe out, tilt forward, bringing your chest as close as possible to the ground.

Don't worry if you don't get too far in your first few tries; remember that progress is slow at the beginning.

This posture has the advantage of being suitable for both beginners and more experienced. To go even further, you can try reaching for your toes. You will feel your muscles working and perhaps feel a bit of tension. When you do, stop. That's your body, telling you it's not ready for that deep a move yet.

The main thing is, once again, to know how to listen to yourself. Now try this pose...

In the same position, seated and legs apart, raise one arm in the air. Now arc it over your head to bring your hand to the other side, above the opposite shoulder. Be careful, the idea is to lean to the side, and not to pitch yourself forward. This posture allows you to become flexible, especially in the back, and to relax.

This next pose is particularly suitable for relaxing.

In a seated position, join the soles of your feet as if you were aiming for a cross-legged position. With both feet together and your back straight, you only need to breathe calmly to feel your hips and inner thighs working. Even when adopting this Butterfly pose, exercise caution. If your knees don't quite reach the mat, you may prop them on yoga blocks.

Still on your mat, you flow into the Candle. In yoga parlance, this pose helps to soften the spine. Start by lying face-up on your mat, and then bring your knees up and lift your pelvis. Your hands should rest under your hip bones, ready to support them as you lift. Finally, straighten your legs, reaching them heaven-ward.

For a more intense stretch, try to curve your spine so that your toes reach behind your head. Hold this pose for a few seconds, long enough for calming inspiration to flow.

With these tips and some examples of yoga poses, you are ready to incorporate this new flexibility routine into your life. Don't hesitate! Roll out your yoga mat, map out the purpose of your stretching session which asanas will get you there... and don't forget to listen to your body. Have a great session!

Now, learn all you need to know about yoga and flexibility...

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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.