Flexibility is one of the key elements of good physical health. However, people often mistake it for an inherited trait. While genetics do play a minor part, flexibility is something you can actually earn and improve if you put in enough hard work.
In technical terms, “Physical Flexibility” is the ability to move muscles and joints through their complete range of motion. It is an ability we are born with, but over time lose due to a sedentary lifestyle, aging, stress, or improper posture, and movement habits.
So, if you wish to boost your flexibility, the one thing you can do is regularly practice yoga, whether at a class or home. But, before we get down to the best yoga poses for boosting your flexibility, let’s take a look at Why being flexible is important and the science behind increasing muscular flexibility.
Now, Why is Flexibility Important?
Before we start talking about the benefits, it is essential to keep in mind that there is no such thing as having an “optimal” level of flexibility one should strive for. What’s important is that as long as you have enough range of motion to do the tasks and activities you need to do safely and are leading a pain-free life, you are on the right path.
Now, that being said, increasing your flexibility is good for you in many ways. Here are some reasons to definitely work on your flexibility.
Increased Mobility for Everyday Activities
It is true that everyone has varying degrees of flexibility. However, the more flexible your muscles are, the greater your mobility will be.Simply put, if your muscles aren’t flexible, you can’t be mobile. Flexible muscles make moving more comfortable—it allows your joints to move in proper sequence, meaning you can use the right muscles and joints to perform exercises.
Mobility is vital for everyday activities, both at home and at work. An improved range of motion makes the physical activities of daily life more enjoyable by easing aches and pains and reducing the frequency of injuries.
Soothes Lower Back Pain
Many studies associate lower body flexibility with reduced pain in the back, particularly in the lower back. Stretching one's hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, and latissimus dorsi muscles in the back—in conjunction with other regular exercises—help reduce stiffness and lower back pain.In case of chronic pain, ensure you consult a professional before embarking on a fitness routine.
For example, talk to a physiotherapist who can help you pinpoint the causes of your pain and suggest the proper stretches and exercises for treating it.
Increased Strength and Sports Performance
You might find this benefit impossible to believe, but it is true, here's how - regularly contracting your muscles through functional body-weight exercises or weightlifting results in increased strength, this is something we all know. Now a muscle that is flexible allows for greater range of motion in the joints which in turn induces significantly more muscular contraction, thereby facilitating improved muscle strength and the ability to lift heavier weights without injury.
Flexibility makes it easier for your muscles to move under tension, allowing you to train with more power. Similarly, when paired with proper muscle control and stability, increased flexibility will allow an athlete to achieve proper postural positions needed for a specific sport and task.
For instance, greater flexibility enables a golfer to achieve a larger back-swing, and therefore a more powerful swing and makes him good at his sport.
How Long Do You Need to Hold Stretches to Increase Flexibility?
When you perform asanas or stretches for shorter periods, you get an excellent sense of release. Still, they aren’t necessarily going to result in structural changes that add up to a permanent increase in flexibility.Prolonged stretches produce healthful, permanent changes in the quality of the fascia that binds your muscles. To witness a permanent change in muscle length and thereby flexibility, you should hold a posture or stretch long enough to affect your connective tissues' plastic quality.
Meaning, you should hold the stretches or asanas for at least 90 to 120 seconds.You can also use props or adopt different variations of stretches that suit your body and help you relax into asana or stretches. This will help you remain in the stretches and poses for long without experiencing pain.
The Best Flexibility Sequence – 75 Mins
If you are interested in trying yoga to improve your flexibility at the comforts of your home, the following workout sequence can help stretch many of your major muscles.With each pose, go at your own pace. Ensure you focus on how you feel instead of how it looks. You can repeat each pose as many times as you like, as long as it doesn’t feel too difficult or painful. And most important remember to breathe and relax into each pose and do not spring in and out of them.
1. Warm-Up – 5 Mins
- Perform joint mobilization movements for the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles.
- Then move on to the cat and cow pose and shoulder dislocation rotational movements using a strap.
- Finally, do Ashwa Sanchalana pose and Seated Lateral Stretches and Twists dynamically.
2. Surya Namaskar
Do 6-9 rounds depending on how stiff your body is feeling.
3. Asana Sequence
Hold every posture listed below for at least ten deep breaths, focusing on alignment and deep breaths. Release into the pose with every exhalation.
B. Supta Padangusthasana
C. Utthita Trikonasana (Repeat twice)
D. Parivrtta Trikonasana
E. Virabhadrasana 2
F. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Repeat two times)
G. Parivrtta Parshvakonasana
H. Prasarita Padottanasana (Repeat two times)
J. Sarpasana (Repeat two times)
L. Shalabasana (Repeat two times)
M. Ushtrasana (Repeat twice)
Once with palms on a block and the second time the complete posture.
Use a strap if you cannot interlock your fingers at the back.
P. Parivrtta Janu Sirshasana
Q. Upavistha Konasana
R. Ardha Matyendrasn
W. Savasana (For at least 8 mins)
The Bottom Line
Being flexible is a vital aspect of your physical health. However, stress, age, improper posture, and lack of exercise result in your muscles becoming tense and tight, limiting your flexibility.The good news is that doing yoga regularly can ease the tension in your muscles, thereby improving flexibility.
Remember, the key is to start slow and gradually increase the amount of time you can hold a pose correctly. Alignment and good technique over Range - Always.