Yoga For Flexibility: 10 Yoga Poses To Try Now For Better Mobility

We've all been in a yoga class where the teacher demonstrated an advanced pose, making it look elegant and effortless. But when we tried it, our body said, “No way, that's not gonna happen!” The fact of the matter is, your teacher has been practicing yoga for flexibility, and in this article, you’re going to learn some of the best yoga poses that help with stiffness and increase mobility. 

In the above scenario, you may have wondered, “How did they become so flexible?” Is it just down to years of yoga practice, or am I missing some secret yoga for flexibility trick?”

After reading this article, you will have a much better understanding of the mechanics of yoga for flexibility. Keep reading because I'm sharing my experience as a certified yoga teacher of 5+ years, revealing how different styles of yoga help to increase flexibility by stretching both the muscle and the fascia and ligaments and the best styles to practice if improved mobility is your goal.

I'll then share the flexibility-building exercises I teach to my beginner students to relieve tightness and tension – plus five intermediate to advanced asanas for those looking to add flexibility challenges to their practice! 

Read on for my top tips and recommendations.


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3 yoga poses for tight hamstrings

Many beginner yoga poses can help improve leg flexibility. Here are my top tips for working on your mobility in these three common asanas.

1. Downward dog

Start with this gentle asana to warm up and relieve tension in the hamstrings and calves. You may find it beneficial to “walk the dog” by bending one knee and straightening the other for 10 to 12 repetitions before holding the pose for 5 to 10 breaths. Downward dog is also great for building strength.

2. Pyramid pose (intense side stretch)

In this standing posture, you fold over the front leg, giving a deeper stretch to that hamstring and a gentle stretch to the back leg. If you cannot straighten the front leg, keep a slight bend in the front knee. Moreover, if you cannot reach the floor with your fingers, place yoga blocks on either side of the foot to rest your hands.

3. Reclined leg stretch

In this pose, loop a yoga strap around the sole of the raised leg and hold it with both hands. This allows you to gently pull the leg towards you, deepening the stretch as much as your body allows. Take long, full breaths, going deeper on the exhale.

3 yoga poses for tight hips

Stretching both the inner and outer hip muscles will help you relieve tension in the hip flexors while improving mobility. Here are some pointers for these beginner-friendly poses.

1. Low lunge

Keep the back knee on the ground (place a folded blanket underneath if you have sensitive knees) and bring your hands to yoga blocks on either side of the leg. Alternatively, reach the arms overhead to stretch the spine.   

2. Butterfly pose

This seated yoga pose is a wonderful stretch for the groin. The closer you place your feet to your body, the more intense the stretch, so I recommend creating a diamond shape. Rock the knees up and down 8 to 10 times to loosen the muscles, then rest the knees on blocks as you hold for 5 to 10 breaths.  

3. Reclined figure 4

This supine hip stretch is a gentler alternative to the popular but sometimes challenging pigeon pose. It targets the same muscles as the pigeon pose, including the glutes and piriformis, but allows you to choose the intensity your body can handle. If tightness makes it difficult to clasp your hand around the back of the thigh in this pose, use a yoga strap instead. 

3 yoga poses for spinal mobility

A lack of spinal mobility can cause poor posture, shoulder, and back pain, and even affect the respiratory system. Backbends, forward folds, twists and side bends are all great for releasing tension and increasing your range of motion. 

1. Gentle backbend

Warm up the spine with gentle cat-cow movements (cat-cow pose involves both flexion and extension of the spine before going into a deeper backbend. I recommend a supported bridge pose where you place a block under your lower back, adjusting it to the height that works for your body.

2. Side bend

The triangle pose creates lateral flexion (side body stretch) and activates the core muscles to improve balance and stability. Place a block by your front foot to rest your hand if you cannot reach the ground. 

3. Forward fold

Finish with a couple of forward bend stretches like a child's pose and standing forward bend (Uttanasana). These introspective poses relieve stress, promote body awareness, and improve blood flow.

Best yoga pose for tight shoulders

Tight shoulders are prevalent in office workers and those who spend long hours on a laptop. Tightness in the upper body doesn't just cause pain; it can affect your posture and hinder your progress in your yoga backbending practice.

To relieve tension in the shoulders, I recommend doing dynamic shoulder opening exercises using a strap.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Hold a strap in front of your chest with your hands wider than shoulder width. 
  2. On an inhale, lift the strap overhead, and on an exhale, reach your arms behind you without releasing the belt (you might have to widen your grip as you do so).
  3. On your next inhale, lift the strap overhead and exhale to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 8 to 10 times.

After this exercise, come into a static cow face pose stretch. 

  1. Holding the strap, reach your right arm up and bend the elbow, bringing your fingers to the center of your upper back.
  2. Reach your left arm behind you, bending the left elbow and grabbing the strap with your hand.
  3. Straighten your spine, open the chest, and ensure the right elbow points to the sky. Stay for five deep breaths. 

How to relieve full-body tension with yoga

How to do yoga sun salutation A and B infographic

What if everything is tight? 

To release tension and improve flexibility in the entire body, I recommend doing a few rounds of classical Hatha sun salutations, as this sequence targets all the body's major muscle groups.

To combine dynamic and static stretches, do 3 to 4 rounds following the breath-to-movement pattern, then repeat the sequence once more, holding each pose for five to 10 deep breaths.

Here is the traditional Hatha Surya Namaskar A sequence for reference:

Mountain pose – Upward hands pose – Standing forward fold – Low lunge – Plank pose – Ashtanga Namaskara (Knees, chest, chin) – Cobra pose – Downward facing dog – Low lunge – Standing forward fold – Upward hands pose – Mountain pose.

5 best yoga poses for flexibility for intermediate to advanced

What if you don't struggle with tight muscles or range of motion but want to maximize your flexibility to progress further in your yoga practice?

Here are some more advanced yoga for flexibility poses you can try. 

1. Bow pose (Dhanurasana)

Bow pose helps to improve mobility in the shoulders, spine, and hips, stretching and strengthening many different muscles in the body. Thus, it is one of the best intermediate asanas for full-body flexibility.

Here's how to do bow pose:

  1. Warm up the spine with a few rounds of locust or cobra pose.
  2. From a prone position, bend your knees as you reach your arms behind to grab the ankles or the feet. 
  3. Kick your feet into your hands as you lift your chest and gently push it forward. The kicking action helps the chest lift and allows you to go deeper into the backbend.
  4. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.

2. Wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)

If you've mastered bridge pose, level up your practice with the wheel posture. This advanced backbend works spinal and shoulder mobility while strengthening the core, thighs, and arms.

Here's how to do wheel pose:

  1. Warm up the spine by practicing bridge dynamically for five repetitions and then holding for five breaths.
  2. Once you return to your starting position (laying on your back with knees bent), place your hands by your ears (fingers pointing to the shoulders). 
  3. Press your hands and feet firmly into the ground as you lift your body and head. Extend your hips and torso forward and up, creating a deep spinal curve.
  4. Keep your head relaxed as you hold the pose for up to 5 breaths.

3. Splits pose (Hanumanasana)

There is no better pose to challenge your hip flexibility than the splits! This deep hip opener works many muscles in the lower body, including the hip flexors, adductors, hamstrings, glutes, and groin muscles.

Here's how to do splits pose:

  1. From a kneeling lunge pose with the left foot forward, walk the toes away from you as you straighten through the left leg.
  2. Tuck the back toes to extend the right leg behind you as you lower your hips. 
  3. When you reach your maximum, place a block (if needed) under your sit bones for stability.
  4. Sit upright with a straight spine and arms alongside the hips or fold forward over the left leg. 
  5. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, release, and switch legs to repeat the pose on the other side.

4. King pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Do you love the juicy stretch you get in pigeon pose, but lately, you've noticed it is becoming a bit easy for you? If so, take the pigeon pose to the next level by combining it with a backbend in king pigeon. 

Here's how to do king pigeon:

  1. Draw the left knee forward from a downward-facing dog, placing it behind the left hand. 
  2. Sink your hips toward the ground as you sit upright. If needed, place a block under your left hip to keep your weight balanced evenly between both sit bones.
  3. Bend your right knee and place a strap around the foot. Reach your arms overhead, grabbing the belt with both arms.
  4. Press the chest forward, creating a curve in the spine, and drop your head back to look up.
  5. Walk your hands down the strap as much as possible. Some yogis may be able to do this pose without a prop.

5. Full lotus pose (Padmasana)

For many people, full lotus is one of the most challenging asanas. This is because it is not just about muscle flexibility but also the mobility of the hip and knee joints. Therefore, not everyone has the bone structure to achieve the proper alignment of this pose.

Still, yogis with good mobility can often execute this classic asana. Just be sure to practice it towards the end of your yoga class when your muscles are warm.

Here's how to do full lotus pose:

  1. From a seated position with the legs extended, bend the left knee, bringing the left foot towards the right groin. 
  2. Next, bend your right leg, placing the right foot close to the left groin. The soles of both feet should be facing up and the knees close to the ground.
  3. Feel free to sit on a cushion or block for this pose, and focus on maintaining a straight spine while you breathe deeply into any tension you feel in the hips.

Yoga vs. stretching

Dynamic yoga styles like Hatha, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga include a mix of static and dynamic stretching, whereas stretching is static.

Both yoga and stretching can help you improve your flexibility. However, in stretching sessions, you only utilize static stretches (holding each one for 20 to 40 seconds).

In the warm-up of our yoga practice, we do dynamic stretching, repeating movements multiple times. Then, later on, we transition to static stretches.

What's the difference between static and dynamic stretching?

Static stretches target individual muscles, whereas dynamic stretches work on multiple muscle groups.

Research has found that combining both styles of stretching can increase your overall performance and decrease the risk of injury. Considering this, yoga practice is better for flexibility than stretching.

Best type of yoga for flexibility

To access a deeper range of motion, I recommend practicing both a yang style of yoga, like Hatha, and Yin yoga. 

Both Hatha and Vinaysa are great for increasing flexibility because they combine static and dynamic stretches.

However, there is something else you should consider when choosing which type of yoga to practice…

“Yang” yoga styles predominantly stretch the muscles, but other connective tissues also play a role in our range of motion. For example, poor mobility in the hips is not always due to tight muscles – it could be because of tight fascia or something else.

Yin yoga is one passive style of yoga that stretches deep connective tissue like fascia, tendons, and ligaments.  

But be sure to find yin yoga classes taught by a certified yoga teacher in this style. I have seen some Hatha or Vinyasa yoga teachers offer Yin classes despite doing the specific and necessary training for it. 

In these cases, these teachers do not fully understand how Yin poses work differently than yang yoga poses, which affects the results their students achieve.

How long does it take to become flexible?

Several studies have looked into how long it takes to get flexible. One study published in the Journal of Exercise Sports & Orthopedics tracked the progress of a group of older adults (between 67 and 80) following a flexibility training program five times per week. The researchers recorded increased mobility in ALL participants after three weeks.

If you're wondering how long it takes to become more flexible with yoga, the good news is you don't have to wait years to see results.

My experience as a certified yoga instructor backs up the findings of the study referenced above. Most of my beginner students can observe improvements in their range of motion within two to four weeks of practicing yoga consistently.

However, it's important to note that our genetics and body structure determine our “flexibility limit.” So you may find you cannot become as flexible as you would like, no matter how much you practice.

Takeaway on yoga for flexibility

Whether you're a beginner or a pro, yoga is a fun and effective way to improve muscle flexibility and joint mobility. And did you know that certain poses can even help improve digestion?! As many of us now work online, yoga for flexibility helps counteract the muscular tension and tightness this lifestyle causes while also enhancing our overall health!

Some online yoga studios, online yoga teacher training programs, and brands that we write about may offer us a small percentage should you decide to purchase after reading our content. Thank you for enabling us to exist! 

Gemma
Gemma

Gemma is a Certified Yoga Teacher of over 5 years. Aside from being a CYT 200, Gemma is also certified in Yin and Yoga Nidra. Gemma is passionate about sharing her expertise of yoga and wellness through words, guiding others along the path of personal and spiritual development. She is in LOVE with everything related to personal-growth and psychology. Aside from helping others find more peace and stillness, Gemma runs a kitten rescue project in Thailand, where she is currently residing. Gemma can be reached at gemmac@theyogatique.com, or you can connect with Gemma on LinkedIn.

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