You know those Insta-famous yogis who can “throw” their legs behind their heads in a pose that is equal parts graceful and admirably bendy? Or that woman sporting Alo Yoga in your HIIT class who practically collapses in half for the seated forward fold, making you, too, wish you could touch your toes? I am neither of those girls. In fact, I am so definitively *not* flexible that I can’t even touch my toes. (TBH I can barely touch my shins without a muscle-warming sauna sesh).
The disparity between these (capital Y) Yogi’s flexibility and my own often makes me wonder if it’s even worth the effort to move through a yoga flow if I’m unable to fully participate the poses. In a recent asking-for-a-friend convo I had with yoga instructor Francesca Valarezo, who happens to be leading our next Well+Good Retreat in Miami this December, she said told that, despite not being able to touch my toes, I could still do yoga. “There’s a misconception that you have to be flexible to do yoga, but that’s not the case,” she tells me. Flexibility isn’t a pre-requisite.
“In fact, the less flexible you are, the more you’ll actually get out of incorporating yoga into your routine,” Valarezo says. Her reasoning? If you’re already flexible, you probably like yoga because you’re good at it, but if you’re not a Bendy Wendy, she tells me that, “yoga can help lengthen your muscles, open up and create space in your body, which eventually helps become more flexible,” says Valarezo. And I can’t argue with her, because heaps of research proves it.
Thanks to sit-sit-sit lifestyles, hamstrings in particular lose their flexibility and tighten the heck up. In fact, Valarezo tells me that the reason I can’t touch my toes is because my hamstrings are so tight. “While you don’t need to be flexible to do yoga, doing yoga can help you regain some of that lost flexibility—like in your hamstrings,” says Valarezo. She says if touching my toes is my goal (and it is) there are two yoga poses I should incorporate: standing forward fold and downward dog. So she gave me the download on how exactly to do each.
1. Downward dog
“Downward dog is super scaleable. If you’re not flexible, all you have to do is add a slight bend to your knees,” says Valarezo. “And if adding a knee bend isn’t enough, grab two blocks and place one under each hand, which will help bring the floor towards you.”
Start on your hands and knees, so that your hands are stacked under shoulders and knees under your hips. Spread your hands wide and press your fingers into your mat. When you’re ready to begin, lift your tailbone and press your glutes up, flaring your sitz bones toward the sky. Focus here on lengthening through your hamstrings.
If the tension in your hamstrings is too much, bend your knees to reduce the depth. Make sure your ears are between your biceps, and your heels are pressed toward—though not necessarily touching— the floor. Hold for five to ten breaths.
2. Standing forward fold
“Standing forward fold is the OG hamstring-stretching pose,” says Valarezo. Like with downward dog, to release the tension in your hamstrings all you need to do is add a slight bend in your knee.
Start standing with your feet about hips-width apart, hands on your hips or down my your side. To begin, keeping a straight back, tilt forward from your hips. When you can no longer bend forward over your thighs, slowly fall forward through your spine. Continue to reach down until you’re in a gentle stretch.
If straight leg is not comfortable, bend your knees slightly you release tension on your hamstrings and make your feet more accessible to reach. Place your hands or fingertips next to, in front of your feet, or onto of a black. Hold for eight to twelve breaths. “Yoga is a continuous practice that uses repetition to help improve your flexibility, so you have to keep at these poses to feel and see results,” says Valarezo. But she says even once a week is enough to see improved hamstring flexibility over a lifetime. Palms to floor, here I come.
Want even more intel straight from Francesca Valarezo? She’s leading our next wellness retreat, and to get more yoga and meditation intel from her in person, email email@example.com to book your spot in Miami.
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