by Chitra Chandrasiri
Most people exercise to stay healthy, keep fit or simply because it makes them feel good. Many fitness enthusiasts and athletes push themselves to the limit without balancing the strength and stretching of the muscles. If you are a runner, most likely you may notice your muscles are stiff and tight. You can run a marathon but can’t touch your toes? You are not alone.
Whatever is your fitness goal, gaining flexibility will improve your form, efficiency, balance and whole-body strength even if you could never touch your toes. Flexibly is a key part of maintaining your health & fitness and avoiding injury especially as you age.
Yoga is a great way to improve the flexibility of your body and mind. Physical, mental and spiritual approach in yoga teaches you how to integrate the body, the breath and the mind to stay strong and flexible in every aspect of your life; in sports, career, business or relationships. It helps you cultivate flexibility of the body and mind, the capacity to remain calm, staying aware of the present without feeling overwhelmed no matter what comes your way.
It’s a common misconception that you have to be flexible to do yoga. But In fact, the opposite is true; doing yoga regularly is a sure way to become more flexible.
Here are some yoga poses that target major muscles groups that tend to get tight from sitting for long periods or even from other types of sports and exercises. When it comes to lengthening tight muscles, there are no shortcuts. It just takes regular practice and patience and consistency is the key. So, let’s get started.
Forward bends are a great way to stretch hamstring muscles that run along the back of your thighs. Most people are pretty tight in this area and it is important to stretch these muscles as tight hamstrings can cause back pain.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
- Stand straight (Mountain Pose) with your weight balanced evenly on the feet.
- Bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist while exhaling.
- Keep your knees straight, bring your palms or finger tips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet, or bring your palms to the backs of your ankles. If this isn’t possible, cross your forearms and hold your elbows and let your torso hang.
- Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minutes breathing deeply. Then come up gently on an inhalation maintaining a long front torso.
Triangle Pose – Trikonasana
- Stand with your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart.
- Raise your arms parallel to the floor, shoulder blades wide open and palms facing down.
- Turn your left foot in slightly to the right and your right foot out to the right 90 degrees. Align the right heel with the left heel.
- Exhale and extend your torso to the right directly over the plane of the right leg, bending from the hip joint, not the waist. Anchor this movement by strengthening the left leg and pressing the outer heel firmly to the floor.
- Rest your right hand on your shin, ankle, or the floor outside your right foot, whatever is possible without distorting the sides of the torso.
- Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, in line with the top of your shoulders.
- Look up, gazing softly at the left thumb.
- Use a yoga block under your bottom hand if you can’t reach the floor. It’s better to put pressure into the block than into your leg by leaning on it.
- Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up, reversing the feet and repeating the pose for the same length of time to the left.
Seated Wide Legged forward Bend – Upavistha Konasana
A wide-legged position is a good way to stretch the insides of the thighs.
- Sit in with legs wide open in Dandasana (Staff Pose). If you cannot sit comfortably on the floor, raise your buttocks on a folded blanket.
- Walk your hands forward keeping your arms straight or grab hold of your big toes with each hand and bend forward. Increase the forward bend on each exhalation until you feel a comfortable stretch in the backs of your legs.
- Stay in the pose 1 minute or longer. Then come up on an inhalation with a long front torso.
Hip flexibility is complicated because there are so many muscles packed into this small area.
Pigeon – Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Pigeon is an amazing hip opener, but it can be a tough one for people with very tight hips. The best thing to do in this case is use props. Use as much padding as is necessary to bring the floor up to meet your seat. Once you feel supported, see if you can begin to forward bend. That added pressure on the front leg can open you up even more. But take it gradually if you are very tight to avoid injury.
- Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Place your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Slide your right knee forward to the back of your right wrist.
- Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor.
- Left leg should extend straight out of the hip (and not be angled off to the left).
- Lift your torso away from the thigh. Lengthen the lower back by pressing your tailbone down and forward.
- Lift your chest and maintain the upright position of your torso with the support of your hands on the floor. Drop your head back.
- Stay in this position for a minute and repeat with the legs reversed for the same length of time.
Like the hamstrings and hips, shoulders are another area that gets tight from sitting at desks, working on computers and driving.
Eagle Pose – Garudasana
Eagle pose improves your balance and stretches your upper back, shoulders and outer thighs. Regular practice of this pose will give you a great shoulder stretch. This pose opens the pelvic area, strengthens the legs, knees and ankles and creates space between shoulder blades. Breathing evenly and gazing at a distance of about 4 or 5 feet away will help you maintaining the balance.
Be cautious if you have shoulder, arm, and hip or knee problems. If you have shoulder or arm problems, keep your arms in the prayer pose and lift the hands and arms toward the ceiling without straining the shoulders. Lightly touch the wall if necessary while performing the pose to help you maintain balance.
- Stand in Tadasana. Bend your knees slightly, lift your left foot up and, balancing on your right foot, cross your left thigh over the right. Point your left toes toward the floor, press the foot back, and then hook the top of the foot behind the lower right calf. Balance on the right foot.
- Stretch your arms straight forward and cross the arms in front of your torso so that the right arm is above the left, then bend your elbows. Snug the right elbow into the crook of the left, and raise the forearms perpendicular to the floor.
- Press the right hand to the right and the left hand to the left, so that the palms are now facing each other. Press the palms together (as much as is possible for you), lift your elbows up, and stretch the fingers toward the ceiling.
- Stay for 15 to 30 seconds and then release the pose and unwind the legs and arms.
- Repeat for the same length of time with the arms and legs reversed.
Yoga is a practice incorporating physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exercises to create a stronger, healthier, more flexible body and mind. As you gain experience with yoga, you’ll learn to use your breath and your form to find strength beyond physical flexibility.