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How to Use Yoga for Flexibility and Improved Range of Motion
Reading Time: 6 minute 10 seconds
When you are flexible, you can move about freely. You have a fuller range of motion and your movements don’t cause you pain. Many times, inflexibility is caused by tight muscles, and research has found that the deep stretch offered by practicing yoga can help.
Tight Muscles Lead to Reduced Flexibility
Have you ever taken a long car or airplane ride, only to feel stiff and sore at the end? Did you find yourself automatically stretching to help ease the pain, quickly noticing that you weren’t able to move as well as you normally do?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you’ve already experienced how tight muscles can lead to reduced flexibility.
Muscle tightness can come about from a lack of movement, as in the example provided above. It can also be a result of engaging in long bouts of exercise without adequate stretching. Activities such as marathon running or long-distance biking can lead to tight muscles.
Tight muscle is harder and, therefore, less pliable than muscle that is relaxed. It inhibits your body’s ability to move with ease. If the muscle is too tense, it can even cause pain.
Taking the time to stretch before and after a grueling workout helps. When that stretching involves yoga, there are some scientifically-proven benefits.
What Research Says About Yoga for Flexibility
Several studies have found that developing a regular yoga practice helps increase flexibility. One involved 26 male college athletes. Fourteen of the athletes practiced yoga twice a week for 10 weeks. The remaining participants served as a control. At the end of the study, the athletes practicing yoga had “significant gains” in flexibility and balance.
Another study looked at how yoga impacted flexibility for moderately active females. This one had 16 participants, each of whom practiced Iyengar yoga—a style that focuses on breath control and using proper yoga posture—once a week for six weeks. Researchers noted that the females experienced a “significant increase in flexibility.” The areas impacted most were the hamstring and erector spinae (deep back) muscles.
Using yoga for flexibility helps athletes by decreasing tightness in the muscle. It can also improve performance in sports that require balance and flexibility.
For instance, one piece of research reported that young athletes engaged in shooting sports benefit from practicing yoga. Shooting often involves getting into awkward positions. Increased tension in the muscle slows reaction time. Developing a regular yoga routine helps with both of these issues.
Learn more about yoga and how to incorporate it in your client’s programming with the ISSA’s Certified Yoga Instructor course. This course blends science, practical application, and yoga theory. You’ll learn the nuances of each pose and how it looks different to each student, plus you’ll get templates to build customized classes guaranteed to keep clients returning.
Best Yoga Styles for Increased Range of Motion
There are many different styles of yoga, each offering its own benefits. Which styles are best at improving flexibility and increasing range of motion?
Yin yoga is one to consider. This style of yoga works to release tension in the body’s connective tissues by holding poses for certain periods of time. Sometimes this tissue is restricted due to injury. Other times, it is tight as a result of poor posture while sitting or standing. Practicing yin yoga helps break down adhesions in these tissues, allowing them to move freely once again.
Vinyasa yoga also increases range of motion. With vinyasa, practitioners move seamlessly from one pose or asana to the next. This creates a sort of flow that relaxes the body and mind. Vinyasa yoga is different than some of the other styles because it doesn’t follow a strict pose sequence. Yoga teachers are able to insert a yoga asana wherever they wish in the routine to create desired results.
Hot yoga, also known as Bikram yoga, improves flexibility by incorporating heat into the stretching environment. The room is generally around 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of 40 percent. This contributes to flexibility training by relaxing tense muscles. It also warms them up faster, enabling for a more fluid motion.
Improve Flexibility with These Yoga Poses
Just as certain styles of yoga offer greater increases in flexibility, certain poses provide the same effect. Adding these to your yoga class will help your students improve their range of motion.
- Child’s pose. The child’s pose targets tight hip flexor muscles, as well as muscles in the back and lower leg. Begin this yoga stretch on your hands and knees (table top position). Place your feet together, but keep your knees apart. Move your butt back and down so it is just above your heels. Rest your chest on your thighs. Let your abdominal muscles relax as you inhale and exhale.
- Bow pose. This yoga pose is a good stretch for muscles in the chest, back, upper body (neck and shoulder muscles), and the core. It’s good for improving flexibility in people who spend their days sitting in front of a computer or standing at a checkout counter. To do it, lie face down on a yoga mat with your hands at your side, palms facing upward. While exhaling, bend your knees and bring your heels toward your butt. Grab your ankles with each hand and lift your heels toward the ceiling, away from your butt. At the same time, lift everything but your core off the mat. Look at the wall in front of you and hold the pose to allow for a deeper stretch.
- Forward bend. If you’d like to improve flexibility in your hamstrings or release tension in your back, the forward bend delivers. This stretch is also good for easing a tight hip. To do a standing forward bend, stand with your feet together and bend forward at the hips. If possible, touch the floor in front of you. Inhale and exhale while releasing the muscles in your hips and back. If this move is too difficult, it can be performed while sitting in a chair.
- Chair pose. Performing the chair pose increases range of motion in both the ankle and shoulder joints. To do it, stand with your back against the wall. Rest your hands on your hips. Keeping your back on the wall, step forward so both your right foot and left foot are a couple of feet in front of you. Bend your knees and lower your body toward the floor until you’re in a sitting position. When holding the chair pose, imagine that you’re digging your heels into the floor and press your hips against the wall. Once you’re able to hold this pose for long periods of time, try to do it without use of a wall. Another alternative is to move your hands so instead of resting on your hips, they are either in a palms-together position in front of you or extended above your head.
- Downward dog pose. If you have low levels of flexibility, the downward dog may feel like a struggle at first. Once you master this pose, you will notice greater range of motion in your legs, hips, back, and upper body. To begin, get on your hands and knees. While exhaling, push your hips into the air. Make sure your shoulders aren’t directly next to your ears. Straighten your legs as much as you can. If your hamstrings are tight, alternate pressing your right heel and left heel into the ground. This will help loosen that muscle group.
Tips for Creating a Regular Yoga Practice
Developing a regular stretching routine that incorporates these yoga styles and poses can help improve flexibility and range of motion.
If you are a yoga teacher, adding flexibility exercises at least once a week can help your class move with greater ease. Yoga students may also find that doing these movements two or three times per week provides better results.
Many of the poses rely on balance to execute the movement. If you have knee or hip issues, or if you struggle with coordination, use props to assist. Perform the poses against the wall or use a chair to stay upright. This enables you to improve your flexibility without risking an injury due to falling over.
Also, if a particular pose involves moving only one side of your body, be sure to perform the same movement on the other side too. This will keep balance in the muscle group being worked. For instance, if a movement begins with lifting your left foot, the next time you do it, start with your right foot instead. The same is true with movements involving your upper body.
Some of the yoga studies mentioned found improvements in flexibility in as little as six weeks. The longer you practice the poses, the more you may notice increases in your range of motion.
To learn how to help your clients increase flexibility through a regular yoga practice, the ISSA offers Yoga Instructor certification. This course goes into the many benefits of yoga. It also covers proper form during yoga poses while increasing breathing awareness. Earning your yoga certification offers even more opportunities for growing your fitness business.
Certified Yoga Instructor
Yoga means to "join together". And as a certified yoga instructor, you'll be able to join your passion for health and wellness with a thriving career in the fitness industry.