By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
The main issue, that prevents people from trying Yoga postures, is a lack of flexibility. Many Yoga poses (asanas) appear difficult; and quite frankly, they look painful. Many Yoga instructors have developed beginning classes that use less challenging asanas that are easy to learn and easy for new students who may lack flexibility. Yoga beginners will quickly increase their flexibility and confidence by starting with basic asanas.
Joint flexibility is attributable to genetics, age, gender, time of day, and one controllable factor – level of physical activity. So, while you may not have been “born flexible,” you can certainly increase your flexibility through physical training and exercises. As medical research has documented, the benefits of flexibility, in studies over the last 30 years, is certainly worth pursuing. Various studies have shown many positive outcomes related to range of motion training, including the fact that – flexibility training provided an improvement in posture and muscle symmetry (Corbin & Noble, 1980), delayed the onset of muscular fatigue (DeVries & Adams, 1972) and prevented or alleviated muscle soreness after exercise (DeVries, 1961).
Physical Yoga asana practice is known as one of the best stretching exercises available, but many people are deterred from trying it because they feel they are “not flexible enough to start.” Luckily, Yoga can be modified to be suitable for all levels of flexibility and fitness. Some Yoga asanas, in particular, are well-suited for those who may not have stretched regularly in the past.
Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog Posture
Downward Facing Dog, a central pose for many practices, is an excellent beginner stretching pose. Knees may be bent as much as needed, and heels that reach towards the floor, may be lowered in time. Encouragement to distribute weight equally, through all four limbs, can help inflexible people get a reasonable stretch.
Downward Facing Dog with Bent Knees Modification
Many Yoga instructors will sequence this position after Push-Up position. Downward Facing Dog with Bent Knees is much easier for those who are less flexible. When lying on your stomach, you lift your upper torso with your arms, while moving your legs into a slightly bent position. Hold the position for at least 10 seconds and release. As you gradually become more flexible, you can straighten your legs to full Downward Facing Dog. This position will provide a wonderful stretch in the legs.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana – Pigeon Posture
There are many challenging variations of this posture, but a compassionate Yoga teacher will be able to make this posture beginner-friendly for new students. Pigeon pose is a terrific hip opener, and the angle of the foot, knee, and leg can be adjusted to provide a deep or shallow stretch. Additionally, Pigeon pose strengthens the back while it opens the shoulders and chest, when done correctly. For Yoga students with tight hips, a blanket can be placed below the sit bone that touches the ground first. This small modification can level the hips and keep the spine straight, instead of leaning to one side.
Trikonasana – Triangle Posture
Initially, this position requires flexibility and balance. Most instructors start with the Warrior pose and move into Triangle Pose. To get into Warrior pose, simply stand in a slight lunge position. Stretch one arm in front and the stretch the other arm toward the back. If your right leg is the front leg, you will gently move your right arm to your right ankle and your left arm will stretch toward the ceiling. You will straighten your right leg, completing the Triangle pose. Hold for at least ten counts and release.
Most people, who struggle with the lack of flexibility, quickly discover that Yoga is one of the easiest methods to increase flexibility. Starting with the simplest poses will help to build confidence in beginners. In addition, they realize the positions are much easier than they look. For many people, Yoga poses are intimidating. To overcome the intimidation, use gentle poses with easy transitions.
Bhujangasana – Cobra Posture
Cobra pose promotes flexibility in the spine and stretches the chest, shoulders, and abdomen. Participants can lift as high as is comfortable. Over time, increased flexibility will allow practitioners to rise up more fully into the pose.
This position is a favorite among beginners. It is easy and gentle. Many instructors may also use the modified Cobra position for beginners, who may have lower back problems. While lying on your stomach, place the hands just under the shoulders. Gently raise your torso, by straightening the arms. Hold for at least a count of ten, and then release to the starting position. From Cobra, you can transition into a wide variety of Yoga poses.
While these Yoga postures are a good start, a welcoming attitude from the instructor is just as important as providing postures that are comfortable for people who may be new to Yoga. In the end, flexibility of mind is even more important than the inflexibility of joints.
Corbin, C. B., & Noble, L. (1980). Flexibility: A major component of physical fitness. The Journal of Physical Education and Recreation, 51, 23-24, 57-60.
DeVries, H. A., & Adams, G. M. (1972). EMG comparison of single doses of exercise and meprobamate as to effects of muscular relaxation. American Journal of Physical Medicine, 51, 130-141.
DeVries, H. A. (1961). Electromyographic observations of the effects of static stretching upon muscular distress. Research Quarterly, 32, 468-479.
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