yoga for flexiblity, seated forward bend hamstring stretch. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Yoga for Flexibility (and Strength)

Body Part Stretches For Increasing Flexibility
by: Neil Keleher
Published: 2014 06 28
Updated: 2019 08 23
Categories/Tags: Flexibility

When doing yoga for flexibility, know the general direction you are trying to move one part of the body with respect to another so that you can then focus on the muscles that are inhibiting this movement or the muscles that can aid it.

To deepen a stretch you can work at relaxing the muscles you are stretching. Or you can focus on keeping them active as if resisting the stretch.

Another way to move deeper into a stretch is to use muscles that oppose the muscles being stretched. So to stretching the hamstrings activate the hip flexors, the muscles that work on the front of the hip.

The following yoga stretches (for improving flexibility) are grouped according by body part.

Yoga for Flexibility, TOC


When using opposing muscle activation to stretch a muscle it helps to understand reciprocal inhibition. It's more than just tensing an opposing muscle.

To improve flexibility a little more easily it can help to understand 10 Muscle Control Principles.

For a sequence of basic yoga stretches read:

Stretching Techniques explains the principles behind different stretching techniques.

For more tips on stretching to improve flexibility, read flexibility tips.

Wall Assisted Stretches
Making Stretching for Flexibility Easier

yoga for flexiblity, bound angle laying on the back with feet on a wall and using the hands to press the knees towards the wall. this yoga for flexibilitystretch can be used to increase inner thigh flexiblity. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses
yoga for flexiblity, side splits while reclining with feet against the wall. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses

If your flexibility is limited you may find it useful to use a wall to make increasing flexibility easier.

Using a wall for these yoga stretches, you may find it easier to use muscle power or gravity (or both) to take you deeper into each stretch.

Arm and Shoulder

Shoulder flexibilitystretch for stretching the front of the shoulder. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

If you've got tight shoulders these shoulder stretches and arm stretches can help.

The muscle assisted shoulder stretches are if you want to work while stretching. The gravity assisted arm stretches are for a more relaxed stretching experience. Both types can be used to help improve shoulder flexibility

Yoga shoulder stretches includes traditional yoga shoulder stretching positions like reverse prayer, eagle pose and the shoulder stretch used in prasarita padottanasana C. Hip and Shoulder Stretches are poses which stretch the hips and shoulders at the same time.

Back Stretches
For Stretching (and exercising) Sore Backs

yoga for flexibility, low back stretches, bent back cross legged slouch while holding shins for support. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses
yoga for flexibility, low back stretches, seated forward bend with one leg straight and head supported by yoga blocks so that back muscles can relax. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses

Lower back stretches include a variety of standing and seated yoga exercises for increasing the flexibility and control of the lower back muscles and hip muscles. If you have low back pain, you may actually be suffering from weak or imbalanced or ill functioning hip muscles. So if you low back pain is chronic look at exercises to strengthen and stabilize your hips. Standing yoga poses are useful in this regard and balancing on one foot more so.

To focus on your upper back you can try these upper back exercises. You may find some of the shoulder stretches (below) also helpful for tight upper backs.

When you stretch your back you are actually stretching a part of your spine. Here's a comprehensive list of spine stretches.

Psoas and Hip Flexor

Yoga for flexibility, hip flexor and psoas stretch, high lunge with hands on yoga blocks, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.
yoga for flexiblity, hip flexor stretch, balancing in cat pose with same side arm grabbing ankle behind the back. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Hip flexor stretches work on the front of the hip. These may be useful as warm ups or compliments for quadriceps stretches.

Front to back splits is both a hip flexor stretch and a hamstring stretch though with the torso upright the focus is more on stretching the hip flexors (and psoas) of the rear most leg.

The psoas is a hip flexor (and a lumbar stabilizer). One way to stretch the psoas is with a Reclining Psoas Stretch. Part of what makes this stretch interesting is that it is based on the understanding that the psoas connects to the 12th set of ribs. You can also stretch the psoas with a Standing Psoas Stretch as well as these Standing psoas stretch variations. Other stretches include some Active Psoas Stretches.

One method for stretching the psoas includes learning to add "inner tension" to the lumbar spine. This is covered in psoas stretches. Another technique is to keep the abs engaged, in particular the obliques. This is covered in psoas stretches-1.


Yoga for flexiblity, quad stretches, using a wall for an assisted quadriceps stretch. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.
Yoga for flexiblty reclining quad stretch for improving quadricep flexiblity. Reclining with one leg in hero while the other leg is used to lift the pelvis off of the floor. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga poses.

Yoga for flexibility exercises that stretch the quadriceps all involve "closing" the back of the knee joint.

Easier quad stretches are those where the hip joint is bent forwards (flexed hip stretches) while more challenging quadriceps stretches are those where the hip is bent backwards (extended hip stretches) such as in reclining hero pose.

If you have tight ankles, then prior to any kneeling poses, you may find these yoga ankle stretches helpful. These can also be helpful for if you have difficulty kneeling with toes tucked under.

Hip Stretches for
the Back of the Hip
A Good Preparation for Hamstring Stretching

Yoga hip stretch for flexibility, marichyasana e position (non-marichyasana leg in hero position), sinking chest to the floor with hands in push up position (as a possible preparation for binding). Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
Yoga for flexiblity, hip extensor stretching with happy baby pose. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.

If you have difficulty stretching your hamstrings you may find it helpful to stretch the back of the hips by doing bent knee hip extensor stretches first.

Glute stretches like low lunge, modified marichyasana e and Happy Baby Hip Stretch) can be used to increase flexibility at the back of the hip when the knee is bent. This can mean muscles like the adductor magnus long head are affected (since it can extend the hip), as well as some fibers of the gluteus maximus.


yoga for flexiblity, standing hamstring stretch, triangle forward fold while grabbing front shin and using arm strength to stretch front leg hamstring. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.
Yoga for flexiblity, wide leg seated front fold with torso close to the floor, hands off of the floor and arms reaching forwards. Knees are pointing straight up. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

If you have tight hamstrings you may find it easier to start with these stretches for tight hamstrings. As hamstring flexibilityimproves you may find seated hamstring stretches easier, particularly when you learn how to add weight to your stretch.

For more on how the hamstrings and glutes work together in different yoga poses you may find the hamstring anatomy article useful.


Standing calf stretch, fronts of feet elevated, sensational yoga poses.
Standing calf stretch while bending forwards, fronts of feet elevated with yoga block. Hips back to reduce stretch.
Standing calf stretch while bending forwards, fronts of feet elevated with yoga block. Hips forwards to reduce stretch.

You may be surprised to find that the calves affect the hamstrings and vice versa.

What is really interesting is how these two sets of muscles affect each other in straight leg positions. Often times the stretch you feel in a forward bend (or the discomfort) isn't so much the hamstrings but the calves.

The calf stretches article includes both passive calf stretches (like the ones shown above, and active calf stretches. Be prepared for some discomfort!

Hip Stretches for
the Glutes and Piriformis

Yoga for flexibility, pigeon hip stretch variation with front leg hip on the ground and torso stretching towards the back leg side. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses
Yoga for flexibility, low lunge glute stretch variation with front foot turned out and front knee pointing slightly outwards and pressing backwards and downards towards the floor. In this stretch the focus is on lowering the chest to the floor while pressing the front leg sideways and backwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses

Yoga for flexibility stretches for glutes and piriformis include pigeon pose variations as well as low lunge variations.

In general these glute and piriformis stretches include an external rotation of the thigh relative to the pelvis with a forward bend.

One of my favorite glute stretches is pigeon pose glute stretch.

I often use this version of pigeon as a prep for foot behind the head because the leg positions are quite similiar. Another hip stretch, which is also a shoulder stretch, is armpit pose.

Iliotibial Band Stretch

While it may not be possible to stretch the actual Iliotibial band (also called the fascae latae), you can stretch some of the muscles that work on it (fibers of the gluteus maximus, tensor fascae latae and vastus lateralis) with shoelace pose.

Adductor (Inner Thigh)

Yoga for Flexiblity. Inner thigh/adductor stretches, prone with one leg out to the side, both knees straight (big toe pose while prone). Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
Yoga for Flexiblity, half split inner thigh/adductor stretch simularing side splits with one knee bent and the other knee straight. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

These yoga for flexibility poses mainly stretch the inner thighs but also include poses where one or both legs are internally rotated.

Inner thigh stretches work on the adductors, the muscles that pull the legs inwards. This includes the adductors brevis, longus and magnus, pectineus, gracilis and perhaps also the psoas and iliacus.

Inner thigh hip stretches include Half side split and full side split.

In full side splits you can focus on keeping one leg still and then move the other leg away from this stationary reference point.