Raise your hand if you felt personally victimized by the Presidential Fitness Test when you were in grade school. Sorry to bring back terrible memories for most of us, but please recall the shuttle (aka bean bag) run (side note: What? Why? So many unanswered questions.), the pull-ups, and the "sit-and-reach" flexibility test. I think the last one was the most scarring for me, as I was definitely not flexible, and I can still picture my classmates watching me as I struggled to touch my toes. Not that there's anything wrong with any of these activities, it just seems a little, well, mean to have to do that in front of your fellow schoolmates. This may be part of the reason why, even though I have improved my flexibility since then, I'm still a little hesitant to go to yoga.
"One of the biggest reactions I always get when I say I'm a yoga teacher is, 'Ugh I can't do yoga, I'm not flexible, I can't touch my toes,'" says yoga instructor Tess Koenig in the latest installment of our Good Moves series. "Yoga is so not about touching your toes." (Read: yoga is for everyone!) But if you want to improve your flexibility, these stretches can help. Koenig recommends investing in a few props: yoga straps, a blanket, and a block.
If you don't have those, she says you can sub in a book for the block, and use a towel in place of the straps. And these stretches aren't just for us people looking to improve our flexibility—they can be a great cool-down post run or other workout, Koenig says. Koenig shows us a series of stretches that will make you more bendy.
Try this yoga flow for flexibility
To get started in the flow, make sure that you have three props: a yoga strap, a yoga block, and a yoga blanket.
Reclined hand-to-toe: Place one leg out straight, and another extended towards the sky, catching it with the yoga strap and pulling it towards your head. Flex both feet, as if you were making a footprint in the sky and perpendicular to the mat. Then, send your foot out to the side until your hip wants to pop up, feeling the stretch on the inner-part of the leg. Finish by twisting your air-extended leg over the one that's flat to feel the stretch in the outer leg. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
Cat-cow: Move to hands and knees, and from here alternate between stretching and scooping the spine. Push against the ground to pull the booty and back upwards as you look to the ground, then hollow out as you look upwards, reversing the position.
Modified side plank: To loosen your legs, extend one to the ground, pressing your toes against the floor and rocking back-and-forth until you open up the calves. With one knee still on the ground, rotate to the side and extend an arm to the air, stretching your side body.
Single leg stretch: Grab your blanket and extend both legs out straight in a seated position, with a blanket under your booty. Take a deep breath pull one toward you into a runner's stretch and then catch the other leg with a yoga strap, pulling that leg toward your body.
Seated twist: Pull that leg up so that the ball of the foot is on the ground, then twist to the opposite side so that you're ringing out your body as you look to the opposite direction.
Pigeon pose: Pull one leg through and send the other back behind you, making sure that you're sturdily seated on the hip of the bent leg. Fold forward and feel the hip release. Repeat the previous three moves on the other side.
Reverse table top: With feet and arms on the ground, push the pelvis and hips toward the sky to stretch everything out once more.
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