To understand how flexibility works, think of how your body feels after a long day of staying seated in the same position. Your back may ache, your hips feel stiff, and even your spine contracts a little throughout the day. 

If you were to stay like that for an extended period – days, months, years – you would be training your body to do so. Reflect on your first day versus day one hundred. Likely you experienced more discomfort your first day, and after one hundred, your body has adjusted.

So, what happens when your body adjusts to such a position – or any position? The muscles, the bones, and the joints train the brain to accept what is happening to the body. Little by little, what at first felt strange became the new normal. How can this be applied to gaining flexibility?

If the body can adapt to sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, then it can adapt to learn to be more flexible, too. Flexibility can appear intimidating. How did you react when you first saw someone wrap a leg around the back of their head? 

You probably thought, “I could never do that!”. You may have the same thoughts when you see advanced yogis come to a full Plow Pose (Halasana) or touch their feet to their heads in a rounded Bow Pose (Dhanurasana).

While those may take quite a lot of long-term work, you’re ultimately here because you want to improve your flexibility, and you deserve to know that, through your yoga routine, it IS possible. If the body can be trained to remain seated for hours each day, then it can be trained to move past your current limits and gain the kind of flexibility that will surprise you. 

Warm the Body

Warming the body before attempting a stretch helps prevent injuring the muscles. You can warm the body through repeated Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar). Alternate each round of your sequence at a different speed. 

Try going from slow-medium-fast-medium-slow until you are ready to hold your poses longer. Including poses in its quicker version, such as Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) which stretches the hips and thighs, will brace the body for when you enter the pose for a longer period. Of course, "fast" doesn't mean "sloppy". 

That's why you should start slow – familiarize yourself with the poses and the ideal posture before making your way up in velocity. You shouldn't go so fast that you find yourself falling, but instead, aim to move your body with your regular breathing pattern which will become quite fast in terms of yoga.

Range of Motion

Acclimate the body with an extended range of motion. Repeat the same yoga poses, or their variants, and then their counter-poses, through movement. An example of this is when Cat ( Marjaiasana) and Cow (Bidilasana) are completed together, using the breath to move the body from one to the other. 

Think of a pose and its opposite and consider stringing these poses together to improve your body's movement and how far it can extend without pain. Another excellent example of this is moving from Low Lunge to a calf stretch where the hips pull back to straighten the front leg and bend the back leg. 

You are essentially rolling on the ball of your foot, backward and forward, to stretch the hip in Low Lunge and the calf and hamstring when the sit bone moves back. 

Build your Tolerance

Just like you begin to tolerate the natural posture of sitting at a laptop for hours, or when your posture adapts to standing for an extended period, you can also build your "stretch tolerance". 

Stretch tolerance is when, over time, the body can move past its original limits by moving where you experience pain in the body. For a simple image, think of an Extended Head-to-Knee Forward Bend; your thigh is level one, your knee is level two, and your foot level three. At first, you will experience discomfort at level one, and can't move past the thigh without discomfort. But over time, with continued practice, you will reach level two – touching the knee – and then soon, level three, reaching for the foot. 

Your brain recognizes that it can safely move through the levels without damage or injury and adapts to the stretch, therefore increasing flexibility.

Vinyasa for Movement

Vinyasa is an adaptable yoga flow that connects the body with the breath through movement. Most studios will have various levels and types of Vinyasa because it's such a creative type of yoga that allows you to explore your body's abilities. 

Vinyasa yoga lets you create your own sequence by choosing the poses you think will help you increase flexibility. Because Vinyasa relies on continuous momentum, this is a great opportunity for you to better your range of motion. You are also warming the muscles in preparation for longer-held asanas if you so choose.

Yin for a Deep Stretch

Yin is as beneficial to flexibility as Vinyasa but in a different way. In Yin style yoga, poses are held for much longer, which targets the deeper ligaments and tissue around the muscles. Yin yoga will give you a deeper stretch as the body relaxes into the pose, actively moving past your level of discomfort. 

Reverse Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana), for example, sees you lying on your yoga mat with your legs in a diamond shape and the knees falling open to the sides. When first trying this posture, it can feel incredibly awkward to allow the hips and pelvis to open so deeply with nothing but gravity to encourage it. You'll likely need a pair of blocks under each knee. But the longer you hold the pose, the more your legs will allow themselves to fall closer to the ground, opening the hips even more, in that very moment.

Last Thoughts

If increasing flexibility is important to you, consider adding both a Yin and Vinyasa style yoga sequence to your weekly routine. You could even combine the two where your practice begins in Vinyasa and ends in Yin for a well-rounded one-hour yoga cycle. 

Not exactly traditional but likely beneficial, combining these two styles in one practice will allow you to achieve the movement necessary to warm the muscles and improve your range of motion while practicing asanas that encourage the deepest stretch possible. Ideally, you should experiment with your routine and find what works best for your unique and beautiful body. 

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