Yogi Yogananda, the spiritual founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), was a teacher of yoga. He believed that all life is a process of yoga, and that every moment of our lives is an opportunity to practice yoga. He explains that yoga is not a system of physical exercises that temporarily relieve stress. Rather, it is a way of life that can help us be more mindful, sensitive, and in touch with the world.
Yoga has been a part of my life for more than 10 years, and there’s no other exercise that makes me feel so relaxed. I don’t know where I’d be without it. Even if you’re not a yogi yourself, chances are you’ve heard of the benefits of yoga. In particular, it’s been shown to help improve flexibility and also reduce back pain. But are you getting enough hours in to develop the necessary flexibility?
Yoga is a popular choice for beginners, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how often one should practice yoga to become flexible. It’s a personal decision, and your goals may be different from those of a friend or family member who has chosen yoga as an exercise method. Too hard for a yoga class? My teacher said that was like saying you’re too dirty to shower. Just as a shower cleanses you, yoga increases your flexibility. So how often should you exercise to improve your flexibility?
An honest answer? It’s different for every person and every body, but the more you do yoga, the more you open up.
I know you’re probably irritated by this answer. You probably want something concrete, something tangible, especially if you started yoga to get limber. But it’s true! In some people the flexibility increases after only four weeks of regular yoga practice. Others need four years of regular training to reach their toes or connect their forehead to their knee in intense side extension.
If you really want to kick-start your home practice (and it’s a great way to work on your flexibility), I suggest joining a free 30-day yoga challenge. Doing this exercise continuously relaxes your body and makes it more flexible.
Here are some encouraging words, tips and poses to help even the most inveterate yogis improve their flexibility.
Flexibility is a journey, not a destination.
If you want to lose a pound every week for 10 weeks, focus on the small victories instead of the end goal. If you are struggling to reach the ground in a forward bend, try to reach your ankles first.
Then, when your body is ready, try to reach the top of the foot. Then reach for your toes. And finally reach the ground. Split the task to stay motivated, and celebrate small victories to avoid frustration.
Every day is different.
Genetics, weather, hydration, gender, fitness are just a few of the many factors that influence and determine your flexibility.
Maybe one day you’ll be better hydrated and nourished, and your muscles will open deeper than before. The next day, you might expect the same candor, but you haven’t slept well and you’ve had a busy day at work. And there you go, your thighs aren’t moving.
Every day is different. Every day you’re different. Take each day as it comes and remember: Wherever you are, you belong.
Flexibility is patience; flexibility is kindness.
That’s fine in 1. Corinthians 13:4 describes: Love is patient, love is good. He’s not jealous, he’s not boastful, he’s not proud. We can also apply this principle to our flexibility path.
Adopt a sense of self-love. Be patient with yourself. Be nice to yourself. Don’t be envious of others. Let go of everything that doesn’t serve you and focus on the small victories on the road to flexibility.
Now that we’ve prepared the mental and emotional body for success, let’s tackle the physical.
Yoga postures that help increase flexibility
This is an excellent pose to practice daily to increase flexibility, but also to measure it. You can also modify this position slightly by simply changing the knee bend or by practicing with a block first. When you are comfortable, you can begin to send the top of your hips back as you bring your heels down.
When you reach your maximum for the day, hold your breath five times. Start stretching your squat, reaching your palms toward the earth as your flexibility increases.
Deep clef / Anjaneyasana
The deep lunge is the basic posture of many vinyasa series, and for good reason. This is a great way to open up the psoas or hip flexor, which can be incredibly stressed by walking, running, cycling and the sedentary work we do 18 hours a day.
Opening this muscle also allows you to release tension in the lower back. In our glorious body, everything is connected! When you have reached the expression of the day pose, stay in place for five breaths and then switch sides.
Intensive lateral stretching
Another wonderful pose that will increase your flexibility if you practice it often is an intense side stretch. This will increase the flexibility of your shoulders, chest, hips and hamstrings.
This pose can also be adjusted for different levels of flexibility by changing the distance at which you lower the chest/upper body. Many beginners may benefit from bending the hips and pulling the chest forward, parallel to the mat and over the outstretched leg, rather than down. Hold this position for five breaths and switch sides.
While every body is different and every path to limberness is unique, it’s safe to say that the more we train – dynamically and passively – the more limber we become. Keep these mental, emotional and physical tips in mind as you gently and safely explore your body’s unique capabilities.
We’d love to see your progress, so take selfies before and after your yoga class in these splits, or finally put your nose to the grindstone in the squats and leave them below in the comments.
Yogis have been bending, stretching, and practicing yoga daily for thousands of years. One often hears that yogis are flexible, but how often should one practice? The most common answer is that you should practice daily, but there is no right or wrong answer.