Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are full of photographs of actresses and non-celebrities performing complicated yoga poses. While the photos are certainly impressive, they don't do much to inspire confidence among people who want to try yoga but are concerned about flexibility issues. After all, if your body protests when you try to do a lunge or touch your toes, will you ever be flexible enough to master difficult yoga poses?
Flexibility Improves with Practice
No matter how limited your flexibility when you walk through the door of the yoga studio for the first time, you're bound to notice improvement after a few weeks of classes and practice at home. Just how much will your flexibility improve? Women who participated in an experiment conducted at The University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, experienced a 13 to 35 percent improvement in flexibility after eight weeks of Hatha yoga classes offered three times per week. None of the women had participated in any type of regular exercise program in the six months preceding the study.
During introductory yoga classes, you'll focus on gradually improving your flexibility by performing poses that gently stretch your muscles. The slow and steady approach is the key to looser, more flexible muscles. Pushing your body too hard can result in injuries that will decrease your range of motion and even lead to chronic pain. Your instructor will also recommend modifications that can make poses easier if flexibility is a problem.
More Flexible Muscles Aren't the Only Benefit
It's not surprising that the women who took part in the University of Wisconsin study also noted an improvement in their endurance and muscular strength. Although stretching is certainly a key component of your yoga practice, yoga poses engage every part of your body. The tree pose, performed by bending one leg and placing your foot on the opposite thigh while you stand, doesn't just stretch your groin and thighs, but also strengthens your ankles and calves. Holding poses for seconds or minutes at a time tones your muscles, enhances your physique, and improves your core strength, balance and posture.
Yoga also offers a drug-free way to boost your physical and mental health. Performing yoga on a regular basis lowers blood pressure and heart rate and may reduce your risk of heart disease. Inflammation decreases, while blood flow increases, when you perform yoga. Regular yoga sessions may also help decrease pain caused by chronic conditions, such as osteoarthritis and low back pain.
Are you troubled by stress, anxiety or depression? Yoga not only strengthens your body and improves flexibility, but also calms your mind. Deep breathing and meditation, key components of your yoga practice, help improve self-awareness, enhance concentration and memory, and moderate the fight-or-flight response that triggers stress and anxiety.
Yoga Aids Can Help if Flexibility Is an Issue
Yoga blocks, bolsters and straps can help you perform poses that are difficult due to flexibility issues. Blocks make stretching exercises easier and improve your alignment. If you can't quite reach the floor when you attempt to perform downward dog, placing your hands on a block will allow you to reap the benefits of this classic yoga pose despite your flexibility issues.
Yoga straps make it easy to perform poses that stretch the hamstrings or shoulders, while bolsters offer a little help for seated poses. The child's pose normally requires you to touch your head to the floor, a movement that can be difficult if the muscles in your back or shoulders are tight. Placing a bolster under your upper body allows you to experience the gentle stretch that this pose provides even if you can't quite drop your forehead to the floor.
Would you like to improve your flexibility with yoga? We offer a range of classes geared to beginning yoga students. Call us today to find out which class is best for you.
Very Well Fit: Yoga Myths: You Have to Be Flexible to Do Yoga, 3/17/17
Yoga Journal: Patanjali Never Said Anything About Limitless Flexibility, 5/5/15
Boston Magazine: How to Use Four Common Yoga Props, 2/21/14
American Council on Exercise: Does Yoga Really Do the Body Good, 9/10/05