For some reason, the excuse we hear most often for not trying yoga is, “I can’t touch my toes.” Guess what? We couldn’t touch our toes when we started yoga either!
Flexibility is more in your mind than in your body. If you let go of reaching for a picture-perfect pose, the barriers you have built, and tightness in your mind, you just may surprise yourself. Let go in your mind, and your body will let go too.
While you work on that, try these modifications to a few poses. Do each one three times a week, taking five to 10 deep breaths, and see how it goes. Don’t forget to take deep breaths. Use each inhale to create space and each exhale to let go of any tension you might be holding onto. Release!
Thread the Needle
Increases flexibility in shoulders and spine
Get on on all fours. Reach left arm underneath body, allowing left shoulder and temple to release to the ground. Keep right hand where it is, or crawl it a bit to the left, toward head. Breathe here, then switch sides.
Open Low Lunge Twist
Increases flexibility in hips, spine, and backs of legs
From a forward fold, heel-toe feet wide and bend knees enough so hands can reach the floor or blocks inside of feet. Step left foot back to a low lunge, so that you are on the ball of left foot. Keep left hand on the ground, turn right foot out to the right a bit, reach right arm to the ceiling, and breathe. With each inhale, lengthen spine, and with each exhale, twist a bit more. Switch sides.
Extended Side Angle
Increases flexibility in side waist, spine, and hips
Get in warrior II with left leg forward. Side bend in left waist and release left forearm to right thigh. Reach right arm to the ceiling and then toward the front of the mat overhead. Drop right shoulder away from ear and open chest up toward the ceiling. Breathe here, then switch sides.
Single-Leg Forward Bend with Blocks
Increases flexibility in backs of legs
Get in down dog with hands on blocks turned to medium height. Round right knee to nose and step right foot between hands for a low lunge. Lift hips up and start to lengthen both legs (they never have to come fully straight). From here, take the blocks to the highest setting if that gives you more space. Hands stay on the blocks on either side of right leg. Spin left heel down so left foot is at a 45-degree angle, and square off hips. Breathe here, and then repeat with left foot forward.
Increases flexibility in hips, regardless of Achilles’ tendon flexibility
Roll up a yoga mat as tight as you can, place heels on the mat so that feet are as wide as it, toes angled outward, and get in a standing forward fold. Bend knees, releasing hips toward the ground, hovering above at whatever height feels good for you. Keep knees in line with ankles. Take elbows inside of thighs, lightly pressing them out, and bring hands together in prayer at the center of chest. Keep spine long. Breathe here.
Hip-Opening Crow Variation
Great hip opener for the stronger set
Get in modified squat. Plant palms shoulder-width apart on the mat, lining wrist creases up with the front edge of the mat. Press into fingertips, look slightly forward, and take inner thighs to outer upper arms and lightly use thighs to squeeze arms toward one another. Bend elbows softly, keeping them in line with shoulders, not winging out, and, one at a time, lift feet off the ground, reaching heels toward butt. Keep gaze slightly forward and start to lengthen arms. Breathe here.
Seated Forward Bend with Blocks and Strap
Increases flexibility in legs and back
Sit up on a block or blanket with legs long and together in front of you. Take a strap and loop it around feet. Keeping knees slightly bent, use each inhale to lengthen through spine and each exhale to release a bit more forward, keeping length in belly and not rounding spine. When you feel like you are where you want to stay, release neck and breathe.