“Flexibility is imperative to the overall functioning of our bodies and our lives,” says Bethany Lyons, founder and CEO of Lyons Den Power Yoga. “If you want to be able to stand up straight and maintain good spinal function and posture, your quadriceps, hip flexors, and hamstrings must be able to move enough to be able to accommodate this. And if you want to be able to pick up your kids, your groceries, or anything that drops on the floor, you need to have the functional flexibility to be able to do so.”
Most people associate flexibility with yogis, dancers, or gymnasts—and power to them all—but flexibility is about more than being bendy. By stretching just a little bit a day, even if you have super tight muscles and think you’re not good at stretching, you’ll improve your posture and range of motion, and will decrease your chances of injury.
8 moves to loosen up your hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors.
1. Downward dog with across stretch
Start in downward-facing dog, with the hands shoulder-width distance apart, the toes tucked, and the hips back and lifted. Hold for five full breaths, then take the right hand across the body, reaching for the left outer calf or shin. Hold onto the calf or shin while pressing the heels evenly into the floor, and twisting the upper body. Hold for five full breaths, then switch sides.
2. Lizard with parallel foot
Start in downward dog with the hips up and back and the heels down. Bring the thumb tips to touch, and draw the right foot to the outside of the right pinky finger. Scoot the back foot back and the front foot forward, keeping the joints stacked and the front knee over the ankle. Lower the back knee down, keeping the back toes tucked and the outer shin pulled into the midline. If possible, lower to the forearms for a deeper stretch. Hold and breathe for five breaths.
3. Lizard with turned-out foot
From lizard pose, turn out the front foot, keeping the toes and knee in the same line. This allows for a totally different stretch. Hold for five breaths.
4. Lizard with foot rolled onto outer edge
From lizard pose, with the front foot flexed, roll onto the outside edge of the front foot, letting the thigh drop out to the side. Hold for five breaths, then gently return to center and repeat the lizard series on the opposite side.
5. Lizard with quad stretch
Begin in lizard pose, then lower the back knee down. Bend the back leg toward the upper body, reach back with the opposite arm, and catch the foot. The front foot can be facing forward, turned out, or rolled onto the outer edge depending on your level of flexibility. For a deeper stretch, lower to the forearm and draw the foot in toward the hip. Hold for five breaths, release, return to downward dog, and then repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
6. Single seated leg extension
From a seated position, extend the right leg out and draw the left foot in. Flex both feet. Turn the upper body slightly and face the right leg, then gently fold the upper body over the front thigh. Send the right thigh bone toward floor, keeping the right foot flexed. Hold for five breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
7. Seated forward fold
Sit upright on your sit bones. pressing the thigh bones toward the floor, and extending through the heels while pulling the toes back toward the face. Lean into the stretch, keeping the hands anywhere that feels good. Keep the legs engaged and hinge from the hip crease instead of rounding in the lower back. You should feel this stretch all the way up and down the backs of the legs. Keep the neck easy and soft. Hold for 10 full breaths.
8. Low lunge twist
Start from downward dog. Step the right foot through the hands and come onto fingertips, creating enough space between the feet so the knee stacks over ankle and the back heel is lifted onto the ball mound of the back foot. Lengthen the neck and hold for five breaths. From there, drop the back knee down, stretching further into hip flexor. Keep the front knee stacked over the front foot. Hold for five breaths. Then, tuck the back toes, lift the back leg, and keep the inside hand down as you stretch the other arm up toward the ceiling, twisting the upper body and keeping the hips even. Hold for five breaths, then step into downward dog and repeat on the opposite side.
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