Can yoga really improve flexibility?
For some reason, this is one of the most frequently asked questions about yoga. Seasoned yogis find it shocking that people even ask this because the answer is an obvious and resounding yes. But apparently, there’s a common misconception that you have to be naturally flexible before practicing yoga. This is also the reason why others tend to avoid or even fear yoga.
Maybe you’ve been considering trying yoga for a while but have always been held back by the fear that you aren’t flexible enough. Trust us – flexibility is not a prerequisite to doing yoga. Practicing yoga is what helps improve your flexibility. And today, we’ll unpack the science to prove it.
We’ll discuss everything else you need to know about yoga and flexibility in this article. That includes the different studies that prove how yoga improves flexibility. But, towards the end, we’ll also go over the best yoga styles and poses for improving flexibility.
What The Research Says About Yoga & Flexibility
Since yoga has gained popularity over the past decades, many studies have been popping up. Some of these have assessed whether yoga is really beneficial to our bodies or merely another fad.
As it turns out, yoga is effective not just in increasing our flexibility. But, it is also beneficial in strengthening our bodies, improving our mood, easing chronic pain, and so much more. Yoga is in fact not a fad and there are tons of studies to back that up.
Take one study, for example, that was conducted in 2015 and involved 173 adults. After going through a 12-week Hatha yoga program, it was found that yoga had favorable effects on their endurance, strength, and flexibility 1. They particularly improved their flexibility in the hamstrings, lower back, ankles, and spine.
Is Yoga More Effective At Increasing Flexibility Than Other Exercises?
It’s clear that yoga does improve flexibility, but is it more effective in improving your flexibility as compared to other forms of exercise?
To answer that question here’s a comparative study between participants who did Iyengar yoga and two other groups that didn’t do yoga but participated in some other form of strength training or exercise 2. You probably already see where this is going. Can you guess the result?
That’s right—when they compared their flexibility those who participated in yoga practice had significantly better flexibility than those that didn’t.
If you still aren’t convinced, here’s another study conducted on elderly adults. The elderly were divided into 3 groups. One group was assigned to do yoga, the other calisthenics, and the last group performed no exercise. Just like the previous study the results were exactly what you’d expect. They showed that yoga had more significant effects on their flexibility as compared to those who did calisthenics 3.
So does yoga improve flexibility more effectively than other exercises? Yes, it does! But why is flexibility so important anyway?
The Importance of Flexibility
Flexibility is not just about being able to show off how bendy you are on social media. Being flexible has legitimate benefits to our overall well-being. Here are the benefits you can get from being more flexible:
- Full Range Of Motion: being flexible not only affects your muscles but your joints as well, this makes it easier for you to move your joints and gives you a greater range of motion.
- Improves Posture: flexible muscles also mean you have less tension in your body, having tense muscles often cause poor posture.
- Can Create A Positive State Of Mind: in relation to improving your posture, it is said that having a good posture can actually boost your confidence and self-esteem which can give you a more positive state of mind.
- Improves Strength: flexibility and strength go hand in hand, because you have a better range of motion you get to build more strength.
- Better Balance: because being flexible can improve your posture your weight is evenly distributed between your two feet which makes your balance better.
- Reduces Back Pain: back pain is usually caused by tense muscles around the spine area, being flexible and loosening up your muscles can help reduce back, neck, and shoulder pain.
- Lower Risk Of Injuries: having stronger and more flexible muscles will protect your joints and make you less prone to injuries.
- Less Stress: stress causes a lot of tension in our body, by being more flexible and loosening up your tense muscles you can be more relaxed.
The Best Yoga Practice for Flexibility
Not sure which yoga pose to start with? We’ve got you covered!
All yoga classes can help improve your flexibility to some degree. But, certain yoga practices really focus on flexibility in particular, while others focus on strength training or endurance – such as power yoga.
When it comes to improving flexibility you want to take a yoga class that focuses on holding yoga poses instead of dynamic yoga practices that make you move from one pose to another very quickly. Here are some of the yoga practices that we recommend for improving flexibility:
Hatha Yoga is the most common type of yoga nowadays. That is mainly because Hatha is considered an umbrella term for any kind of physical yoga that combines the breath and body.
Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga are considered forms of Hatha yoga, for example. But a Hatha yoga class usually holds poses for longer as compared to these two.
There is a lot of debate on whether hot yoga really helps make you more flexible than other yoga practices. As of now, we can’t be sure whether hot yoga is more effective than other types of yoga as there is no current scientific evidence of that. What we do know is that the heat does help you loosen up your muscles during practice which can help you be more flexible.
Iyengar Yoga is all about alignment and precision. You do a lot of different poses in Iyengar yoga. You also must hold them for long periods so you can really pay close attention to the alignment of your body. Alignment yoga mats and yoga blocks are used quite often during an Iyengar yoga class to really assist you with your postures.
Yin Yoga is a very gentle type of yoga and is well known for making you more flexible. Yin yoga poses are held for as long as 10 minutes and are often done in a seated position. Holding such yoga poses for long periods can help strengthen your tendons and ligaments which give you a better range of motion.
The Best Yoga Poses To Improve Flexibility
The key to flexibility is constant practice. That’s the only way you’re going to get better. But you won’t always be in yoga class. If you’d like to continue practicing and improving your flexibility at home, here are some yoga poses you can try on your own to help improve flexibility:
1. Standing Bound Forward Fold Pose (Padangusthasana)
- Stand at the top of your mat with your feet close together. Make sure that the sides of your feet and your big toes are touching.
- Slowly bend from your hips and try to place your palms flat on the floor. Feel free to keep a soft bend in your knees if you can’t reach the floor with your legs straight. Just go at your own pace.
- Once you’re in the forward fold position you can try straightening your legs, then bending your knees again, and do this alternately until you feel like you’ve got a good enough stretch in your hamstrings.
2. Tirangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
- Stand in the middle of your yoga mat, facing the side, with your legs more than hip-width apart. Your front foot should be facing the top of your mat, while your back foot is facing the side of your mat.
- Put your arms to a T position and bend sideways, towards the direction your front foot is pointing. Make sure to bend from your hip.
- One hand should be placed on your front knee, while the other is pointing to the sky. Look towards the sky as well. Your arms should form a straight line.
- Once you’re done stretching on one side, repeat the steps on your other side.
3. Reclined Hand To Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
- Start by laying on your mat, back flat on the ground.
- One leg should be down on the mat, the knee can be bent or straightened with your foot pointing to the edge of the mat. Hug your other leg to your chest.
- You have a few options here, you can either grab your big toe, the outside of your foot or grab a yoga strap and hook it around your instep.
- Once you’ve chosen where to hold on to, try to straighten the leg you’re holding onto and hold the position for about five breaths. Repeat with the other leg.
4. Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
- Start by sitting on your mat with one leg extended to the side and the other folded into the inside of your thigh.
- Inhale and raise your arms overhead.
- Exhale to bend towards your extended leg and try to grab your foot or touch your head to your knee. Don’t worry if you can’t just yet. You can also rest your hands on the floor or your shin.
- Hold the position for 5 breaths and then switch to the other leg.
5. Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana)
- Start by sitting on your mat with the soles of your feet touching. Your legs should be forming a butterfly or triangle shape. Make sure that your back is straight
- Try to open up your hips as much as you can by pressing your thighs to the ground with the help of your elbows—the soles of your feet should still touch—and bend forward.
- Hold this pose for 5 to 10 breaths.
6. Garland Pose (Malasana)
- Stand on your mat with your feet hip-width apart.
- Turn your toes outward and squat as deep as you can.
- Put your hands in a prayer position and bring your elbows to the inside of your knees and use them to push your knees apart.
- Hold this pose for 5 to 10 breaths.
7. Wide-angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana)
- Sit on your mat with both your legs extended to either side.
- Make sure that both legs are straight, thighs are touching the ground, and both feet are actively flexed.
- Inhale to raise both your arms.
- Exhale to lean forward.
- Your goal here is to try to get your head to touch the floor while your legs are straight and your feet are flexed. If you can’t touch the floor with your head just yet, bend forward as far as you can without your thighs lifting from the ground. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
How Long Will It Take For Me To Get Flexible Through Yoga?
Everyone’s journey is different. It really depends on how often you practice and whether you’re naturally flexible or not. But don’t worry if you aren’t, because flexibility is always something you can develop. Just take your time and practice at your own pace and you’ll become flexible eventually.
Remember if you’re practicing yoga, do not force yourself to do a yoga pose you find challenging. Doing a yoga pose improperly might lead to injuries. Always practice with a yoga teacher before trying a certain yoga pose yourself.
Improve Your Flexibility With Pureful Yoga Essentials
Want to improve your flexibility through yoga? Whatever your goal is, you can’t practice yoga without these essentials from Pureful Yoga.
All of our yoga essentials are made from 100% recyclable material. From organic yoga mats to our yoga mat bags—they’re all made from sustainable and renewable cork! Want to know why we chose cork for our mats?
Besides being a sustainable material, it has natural antimicrobial and anti-slip properties that make our yoga mats the best there is in the market. Every yogi needs a yoga mat that stays clean and has a great grip.
Without these crucial characteristics, you’re stuck with a smelly and slippery yoga mat – and nobody wants that. If you want to know more about the difference between cork and other yoga mats and whether they’re worth buying, you can read all about them in our blog.