If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they can’t do yoga because they can’t touch their toes, I’d have a full piggy bank!
Flexibility is something you work at everyday, even if it’s just a couple of minutes (or a full 1 hour, if you have time). While most of us spend long hours sitting at a desk, it’s essential to get some movement into our bodies, for the physical and mental benefits.
Now when we say flexibility, the fist thing that comes to mind are hamstrings and hips. These areas typically feel the most tightness since sitting or standing (or running, for the cardio bunnies) require the hips flexors and legs muscles to engage, and most of us fail to properly stretch or use the foam roller at the end of a workout. So without further ado, here are seven moves you can do every day to improve mobility and stretch out the areas that need it the most.
If you can’t get these all on the first try, that’s okay! Flexibility is a perpetual work in progress and you must always listen to your body and do what is best for you at the time.
1. Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Stretches: inner thighs, groin, knees, outer hips.
This pose is a simple yet very effective for stretching the inner thighs and groin area. From a seated position bring your feet together and your knees wide. Depending on how close your feet are to your groin, you should feel the stretch in either your outer hip area or your inner thighs as you lengthen your body forward, bringing your heart towards your feet. If your back is rounding and your knees are too high, you can prop yourself onto a bloc or pillow for added support.
2. Forward fold (Uttanasana)
Stretches: hamstrings and calves.
Best way to improve your flexibility and touch your toes? Touch your toes! Practicing a simple forward fold not only stretches your hammies and releases pressure in the lower back, it also calms the nervous system and allows you to relax. From a standing position hinge forward at the hips and start to lower down to the ground, being mindful to bend the knees if you have any lower back issues. If you can’t touch your toes right away, don’t panic. Use a block to support yourself at first, and then gradually work towards sending your sitting bones up while trying to lengthen the back of the legs.
3. Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Stretches: side body, chest, shoulders, hamstrings, calves, hips and groin.
From a wide legged stance with your feet parallel to one another, turn your front foot towards the top of the mat, so your toes are facing forward, and keep your back foot flat on the mat, inner seam of the foot pressing down firmly. Reach your arms out as if in warrior II, and slide your hips back towards your back leg. Reach forward with your front hand and start to lengthen your side body as you exhale, slowly reaching down to your ankles, a block or the ground. Start to open your heart and top arm up toward the ceiling, twisting from your torso. You should be feeling the stretch in the hamstring of your front leg and side body as your top hand is reaching up towards the ceiling and your feet are pressing firmly down into the mat. Hold for 5 breaths and witch sides.
4. Cow Face (Gomukhasana)
Stretches: hips, thighs and ankles.
This intense hip opener may feel quite advanced at first, so be mindful of any knee injuries or excessive tightness in the hips. From a seated position, cross your legs and stack your knees on top of one another, with your feet alongside your hips. If your sitting bones aren’t evenly on the floor and you have trouble stacking your knees, then use a blanket or pillow to lift your sitting bones and support them. If you’re comfortable enough you can start to fold forward, or stay for a couple of breaths then switch your legs over.
For a less intense version you can try seated half pigeon, or reclined pigeon.
5. Twisted Runner’s Lunge
Stretches: thighs, front hips.
From a plank position, bring your right foot to the outside of your right hand and come onto the knife edge of your foot. Drop your back knee to the floor and from there start to lean into your hips. If this feels like enough of a stretch, then stay for 5-10 breathes. To intensify and add in a quad stretch, twist to your right, grab ahold of your left foot with your right hand. Start to gently pull your foot towards your glutes, being mindful of any pain or discomfort (always listen to your body and come out of a pose if it feels wrong!) Switch over to the other side.
6. Downward Dog
Stretches: hamstrings, calves, ankles, shoulders
An oldie but a goodie, downward dog is one of those quintessential poses to start and end your practice. After a long day, this subtle inversion hits the reset button. Stretching the hamstrings, shoulders and easing pressure off the lower back, the more you bend your legs, the better it feels.
7. Reclining Hero Pose (Supta Virasana)
Stretches: front hips, quads and abdomen
This is as much a restorative pose as it is a quad stretch, since you can use a myriad of pillows and blankets to support yourself. Kneeling on the floor with your knees touching, spread your shins so that your sitting bones are evenly on the floor. Start to lean back onto your hands, then onto your elbows, and eventually all the way to the ground if you are comfortable, or use as many pillows and blankets as support. It’s important to note if you have any knee and back injuries, to consult your physician before trying this. For a modified version, try one leg at a time.