Improving flexibility is the most popular reason for starting yoga, according to the latest yoga statistics.
In this article we’ve gathered research and expert opinions on the best poses for a more flexible you, from simple stretches to more advanced postures.
Whatever level you’re at, you’re sure to find asanas that can help make you more supple.
1. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Standing forward fold is top of the list.
Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga, Cristie Newhart describes how alignment is key to the pose and how:
The support of the abdominal muscles below the navel allow for greater flexibility in the lumbar spine.
Practicing the fold is a little bit like a test, helping you realize how supple you currently are!
The more times you do it the more flexible you’ll become eventually being able to straighten your legs fully.
However it is essential that you learn how to practice the uttansana correctly, to avoid putting too much pressure on your lower back.
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2. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
It’s time to embrace your inner warrior.
The action of this posture builds both muscle and a better range of motion, perfect if you want to practice yoga for strength.
A project conducted in Detroit in 2016, compared yoga with stretching-strengthening exercises as a way to build flexibility.
A series of asanas were practiced over an eight week period, including virabhadrasana I.
Results showed the practice was just as effective in improving overall functional fitness and flexibility.
Warrior I is also ideal for developing movement in your hips. It’s thought that the active mobility of the position is what improves your range of motion over time.
See the video below for how to perform the pose correctly:
3. Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
Cat-Cow is another important stretch.
Lifelong yoga teacher Guru Rattana, Ph.D describes how:
Yogis say that a person’s age is determined by the flexibility of his/her spine.
She advises that you should initially practice for between one and three minutes, gradually increasing your speed, allowing your back to become looser and more flexible.
4. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
When it comes to simple postures for mobility, cobra is great as it has so many advantages for your overall wellbeing.
You get a deep stretch in your back which really helps to strengthen and loosen up your spinal column.
If you’re a sloucher, it can also be a way to enjoy the benefits of good posture.
Some yogis even claim it can give you a ‘perky bottom’!
5. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
This is a wonderful asana to add to your sequence if you want to work on your back.
Gwen Lawrence who runs the Power Yoga for Sports training program, demonstrates how it’s perfect for athletes as part of their stretching routine
She states how:
Bow pose increases the flexibility of the back as a whole…helps to open the lungs, vertebrae and hip flexors, which are often very tight in athletes. This gives athletes greater spinal flexibility and rotation with less strain.
Spine flexibility was the focus of research published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.
Hatha yoga was adopted by women over 50, including bow pose. Regular sessions were found to improve the suppleness of their back.
6. King Dancer Pose (Natarajasana)
King Dancer can be a tricky one to master.
However once you’ve mastered the pose you’re going to be more nimble!
Natarajasana is a stretch for your whole body, and helps to build suppleness not only in your spine but also in your shoulders and hamstrings.
Posture improvements can be seen from practicing the pose regularly, so it’s perfect if you find yourself stuck behind a desk all day.
Watch below to see yogi Lauren Eckstrom guide you through the exercise:
7. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Many fitness experts recommend adding the bridge to your yoga routine, especially if you’re trying to find poses to help with back pain.
International yoga teacher Adriene Mishler reiterates how the form is ideal if you’re trying to develop greater movement within your back.
She highlights the posture as a rejuvenating backbend for non-flexible people, but also good for experienced yogis who can enjoy going deeper into the stretch.
However if you do find it too challenging, there are a number of supported versions you can try.
8. Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Butterfly loosens up your groin and hip region, helping your body enjoy a satisfying stretch.
In his book The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga, passionate yogi Bernie Clark highlights the power of the this asana.
Clark describes how it can be effective in treating urinary problems and even claims that it makes childbirth easier.
A word of caution to those with back pain:
Butterfly could make your discomfort worse as you’re putting a lot of stress on your joints.
Rolling up towels or blankets and putting them under each thigh can offer a little more support.
9. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
It’s suggested that you practice paschimottanasana after every workout, particularly if you’re suffering from tight hamstrings.
It creates a release within the hamstrings, while also working on the back and neck.
Renowned yoga teacher Beryl Bender Birch, in her book Power Yoga: The Total Strength and Flexibility Workout, describes how the seated forward bend is extremely helpful in stretching the buttocks and lower back to build greater strength and movement.
Paschimottanasana is also thought to be a great mood booster, ideal if you’re looking for asanas for depression and anxiety.
10. Reclining Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Practicing this movement has wonderful restorative advantages and is an ideal asana for realigning balance within the body.
Influential guru Travis Eliot, in his book A Journey into Yin Yoga, recommends holding it for between two and four minutes to feel the full benefits.
Eliot explains that the action of the reclining spinal twist provides a release across the lower back that leads to easier movement.
Time for bed!
All the best yogis know that to perform at your best, you need a great night’s rest.
Fall asleep faster and wake up fresher by practicing asanas for sleep before bed.
- Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health (2023). The Benefits of Forward Bends [Online]. Available from: https://kripalu.org/resources/benefits-forward-bends [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- Gothe, N.P. and McAuley, E. (2015). Yoga Is as Good as Stretching–Strengthening Exercises in Improving Functional Fitness Outcomes: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial [Online]. The Journals of Gerontology Series. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5864160/ [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- Man Flow Yoga (2014). Warrior 1 [Online]. Available from: https://manflowyoga.com/exercise-guide/warrior-1/ [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- Himalayan Yoga Academy (2020). Benefits of Cat Cow Pose (Bitilasana Marjaryasana) [Online]. Available from: https://himalayanyoganepal.com/benefits-of-cat-cow-pose-bitilasana-marjaryasana/ [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- Yoga Technology (2023). Lesson 9 - Flexibility of the Spine [Online]. Available from: https://www.kundaliniyoga.org/lesson_9# [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- Scriven, A. (2016). The Holistic Benefits of Cobra Pose [Online]. DoYou. Available from: https://www.doyou.com/the-holistic-benefits-of-cobra-pose/ [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- Lawrence, G. (2013). Pose of the Month: Bow Pose [Online]. ACTIVE. Available from: https://www.active.com/health/articles/pose-of-the-month-bow-pose [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- Grabara, M. and Szopa, J. (2015). Effects of hatha yoga exercises on spine flexibility in women over 50 years old [Online]. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339138/ [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- Tummee.com (2023). Natarajasana Benefits [Online]. Available from: https://www.tummee.com/yoga-poses/natarajasana/benefits [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- Yoga with Adriene (2023). Bridge Pose [Online]. Available from: https://yogawithadriene.com/bridge-pose/ [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- yinyoga.com (2023). The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga [Online]. Available from: https://yinyoga.com/cgyy/ [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩
- McKinley, Z. (2021). When Not to Do Butterfly Pose [Online]. 360-Yoga. Available from: https://www.360-yoga.com/blog/2021/4/13/when-not-to-do-butterfly-pose [Accessed 17 July 2023]. ↩