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Yoga for Flexibility

Learning to control your muscles through a wider range of motion
Published: 2014 06 28
Updated: 2021 03 10

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Flexibility

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

The main focus of this page and the articles that it links to is on improving flexibility through muscle control. That means learning to activate muscle as well as relax it. It also means being able to feel the difference.

Perhaps one of the most basic aspects of muscle control with respect to improving flexibility is to give the muscles you are controlling a stable foundation. That way they can resist effectively and to whatever degree required.

Stretches by body part TOC

What does it mean to be flexible?

Flexibility is the ability to resist being stretched. The greater the range through which you can resist being stretched, the more flexible you are.

That may sound kind of strange but if you stretch an elastic band, does it not resist being stretched?

Floppiness isn't flexibility. Floppiness is the equivalent to being like a piece of string. You can bend it any which way, and it doesn't resist.

Defining flexibility

A broader definition of flexibility is that it is the ability to turn muscles on and off at will through a wide range of positions. The better this ability, and the greater the range through which you can apply it, the more flexible you are.

What this can mean is that if you have the ability to switch between being floppy and resisting, then that fits into this broader definition of flexibility.

Hip Flexor
Stretches

The hip flexors are muscles that work on the front of the hip joint to either "close" the hip joint (bending it forwards) or resist it being "opened" (bending backwards).

the psoas muscle, front and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
iliacus and pectineus front and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Gluteus minimus side and front view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Sartorius, front and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Tensor fascia latae and IT band, front and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Rectus femoris front and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Gracilis, front and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Obturator externus, front and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Adductor brevis and adductor longus, front and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Gemellus superior, obturator internus and gemellus inferior, front and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Straight knee Hip flexor stretches tend to work more on the single joint hip flexors. That being said, they can have an effect on the multi joint hip flexors. And they can be affected by the multi-joint hip flexors. Either way, you may find it easier to start with straight knee hip flexor variations and then do their bent-knee counterparts.

Hip flexor stretches: Cat pose active hip flexor stretch. On all fours, with elbows straight and knees bent and positioned under the hips, spine is actively bent backwards. Shoulders are also actively lifting the chest away from the floor. One leg reaches rearwards and upwards with the knee pointing downwards. The gluteus maximus of this leg is being used to stretch the hip flexors of that leg. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Cat pose active hip flexor stretch.

Hip flexor stretches: Single side bow pose hip flexor stretch on all fours. Starting on all fours, one arm reaches back to grab the foot of the same side leg. Knee is bent and hip is extended backwards to stretch the hip flexors. So that the hip flexors are active while being stretched, the arm and leg work against each other. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Single side bow pose on all fours.

Hip flexor stretches: Upright lunge hip flexor stretch with knee straight. In a lunge position with torso upright, hands rest on the front knee. Back knee is straight. To stretch the hip flexors of the straight leg, pelvis sinks downwards. Hip flexors being stretched are active, working against the weight of the body making this an active or resisted hip flexor stretch. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Upright lunge with knee straight.

Hip flexor stretches: Upright pigeon pose hip flexor stretch with back knee straight. In pigeon pose with both hips lifted and level from leg to right, torso is upright with hands on the floor helping to support the weight of the upper body. Back knee is straight with toes tucked under. To stretch the hip flexors of the straight back leg, pelvis sinks downwards. Hip flexors being stretched are active, working against the weight of the body making this an active or resisted hip flexor stretch. Additionally, front knee can press down so that front leg is active and helping to support the weight of the body. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Upright pigeon pose hip flexor stretch.

HIp flexor stretches: upright pigeon hip flexor stretch variation with back knee bent and same side hand grabbing the back ankle. This hip flexor stretch targets rectus femoris which crosses both hip and knee joint.

Pigeon single side bow pose

Hip flexor stretches: upward facing dog hip flexor stretch with tops of feet flat on the floor. Spine is actively bent backwards.

Upward facing dog

Hip flexor stretches. Bow yoga pose hip flexor stretch with both ankles grabbed and eyes looking straight ahead. Legs work against the arms so that this is an active and resisted hip flexor stretch.Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Bow poses

Hip flexor stretches: Half table top half camel hip flexor stretch. One shin is on the floor, other foot is on the floor with shin vertical. Pelvis is lifted using both legs to do the lifting. This may target rectus femoris of the kneeling leg.

Half table top half camel hip flexor stretch

Hip flexor stretches: Camel pose hip stretch with both hands on the floor. Hips are actively pushed forwards so that gluteus maximus is active. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Camel pose hip flexor stretch

Hip flexor stretches: Quad and hip flexor stretch with shin against a wall, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Quad and hip flexor stretch against a wall.

Hip flexor stretches: Splits with back knee bent and shin against a wall. Torso is upright with hands on yoga blocks. Hips sink down to stretch hip flexors and quads of back leg. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Splits with back shin against a wall.

Hip flexor stretches: upright splits with hands on blocks. Both knees are bent. Hips sink down to stretch the hip flexors of the back leg. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga poses

Upright Splits

Hip flexors stretches done with the knee bent at ninety degrees or more tend to work on the long hip flexors, and in particular the rectus femoris. These Bent knee hip flexor stretches can also be thought of as quadriceps stretches since the rectus femoris is part of the quadriceps group.

Squatting with heels lifted, an option for stretching your quadriceps. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Squatting with heels lifted

Standing bent knee hip flexor stretch. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Standing bent knee hip flexor stretch

Standing bent knee hip flexor stretch, bending forwards.  Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Forward Bending hip flexor stretch

Lunging bent knee hip flexor stretching yoga pose, pushing the foot forwards with the hand (as opposed to pulling it). Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Lunging bent knee hip flexor stretch

Hip flexor and bent knee hip flexor stretch, twisting lunge. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Twisting lunge

Pigeon pose bent knee hip flexor stretching variation. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Pigeon pose bent knee hip flexor stretch

Front to back splits, bent knee hip flexor stretching variation. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Front to back splits, bent knee hip flexor stretch

Frog pose bent knee hip flexor stretching variation. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Frog pose bent knee hip flexor stretch

Frog pose bent knee hip flexor stretching variation. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Frog pose dual leg bent knee hip flexor stretch

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.

For strengthening and stretching the hip flexors (and understanding why they might be tight in the first place and just as importantly, what you can do about it), read Hip flexor stretching and strengthening.

With the multi-joint hip flexors, particularly those that work on the knee and hip, it can be very helpful to understand knee rotation since two of these muscles help to control knee rotation relative to the hip.

For more on this read knee rotation and knee stability: controlling knee rotation

Speaking of hip flexors that work on the hip and knee, the sartorius is also a hip flexor, but it also bends the knee. Here's how you can stretch the sartorius using warrior 1: Sartorius stretch, warrior 1.

In terms of meridian stretching, the stomach and spleen meridians both run along the front of the hip and thigh. And so hip flexor stretches can also be used to stretch the stomach and spleen meridians. For more on that read Meridian Stretches 3.

Quadriceps Stretching

As their name implies, the quadriceps is a set of four muscles. Three of the muscles, the vastus muscles, form the bulk of muscle at the front of the thigh. These work only on the knee joint. Meanwhile, the rectus femoris works on both the knee and the hip and is one of the aforementioned long hip flexor muscles.

Improving quadriceps flexibility (or simply, stretching the quads) generally involves closing the back of the knee joint.

One of the simplest ways to stretch the quadriceps is to kneel. (From there you can deepen the quadriceps stretch by leaning back.) If you have difficulty kneeling you may find it helpful to work on these ankle stretches. These can also be helpful for if you have difficulty kneeling with toes tucked under.

For more on kneeling to stretch the quads, check out this set of kneeling quadriceps stretches kneeling quadriceps stretch.

A slight variation on kneeling is the virasana or hero foot position. For more on that (and using it to stretch the quads) read: virasana.

Also check out these various kneeling yoga poses.

Kneeling w/ toes tucked

the yoga kneeling posture called hero pose, virasana (kneeling with bum between the feet while upright.)

Hero pose

bent back hero pose: torso leaning backwards with buttocks on floor between the heels and spine bent forwards. Sensaitonal yoga poses, neil keleher.

Bent back hero pose

supta virasana or relcining hero pose.

Reclining hero pose

bharadvajasana

Bharad-vajasana

easy bharadvajasana (no lotus).

Mod. bharad-vajasana

easy bharadvajasana side bend (towards kneeling leg) with hand resting on the floor.

Options

semi-kneeling forward bend (triang muka eka pada pashimottanasana.)

Half hero forward bend

semi-kneeling back bend/quad stretch (triang muka eka pada paschimottanasana option). Could also be called reclining half hero semi kneeling posture.

Reclining half hero

semi kneeling side bend with one knee straight.

Half hero side bend

kneeling marichyasana variation with spinal twist.

Marichyasana E

kneeling yoga poses, camel pose, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Camel pose

Dog pose (lifted knee cat pose)

Child's pose

child pose variation with elbow on the floor and hands supporting the chin (for low back pain)

Child's pose variant

Shin balance

Knee balance

Another potential way to stretch the quads, at least the vastus portion, the portion that works solely on the knee, is with deep squats. Read more about deep squats.

When working to stretch your quads it can help to anchor the quadriceps from above or below. For more on how to both anchor the quads and stretch them, read sensational quad stretches.

Quads activated to lift the hips (or to keep them lifted) Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Quads activated to lift the hips

bent back hero quad stretch. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Bent back hero

supta virasana Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

supta virasana or reclining hero

half hero pose with spine long Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

half hero pose with spine long

half hero quad stretch variation with both knees bent Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

half hero quad stretch variation

lowering into a squat with heels lifted to stretch the quads while active Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

lowering into a squat with heels lifted

standing quad stretch with knee back Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

standing quad stretch

standing quad stretch variation with emphasis on the hip flexor portion of the quadriceps Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

standing quad stretch and hip flexor stretch

lunging quadricep stretch Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

lunging quadricep stretch

quad stretching variation with front leg in pigeon. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

pigeon quad stretch variation

quad stretching variation with front leg straight as if doing the splits Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Front splits quad stretch variation

frog pose quad stretch variation, stretching one leg at a time. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

frog pose single leg quad stretch

quad stretch variation, lunging with back foot grabbed by opposite hand. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Quad and hip flexor stretch

quad stretch using a wall with hips and torso pressing towards wall. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Quad stretch using a wall

quad stretch using a wall with hips forwards and torso upright. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Quad stretch using a wall

quad stretch using a wall, splits variation. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Front splits quad stretch using wall

standing forward bend as quad stretching counterpose. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

quad stretch counter pose

Because the quads work on the knee, it can help to understand that the knee has some ability to rotate, and the quads, particularly vastus medialis and vastus lateralis, can help to control this rotation. For more on knee rotation, so that you can have a better idea of how to stabilize your knee when stretching the quads, you may find these articles helpful:

Toe and Ankle Stretches

When you stretch the toes you are generally stretching muscles that cross the ankle and that attach from the toes to the lower leg bones (the tibia and fibula). If you actively stretch these muscles (i.e. activate and strengthen them in a lengthened or shortened position) you practice stabilizing the feet and ankles. You may find that activating your toes while you stretch them can help improve ankle flexibility and control. It may also, have a positive affect on your knees.

Find out about stretching them in toe and ankle stretches.

Calf Stretches

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.

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.

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 Back of the Hip
A Good Preparation for Hamstring Stretching

If you have difficulty with hamstring stretching yoga poses, you may find it helpful to stretch the back of the hips by doing bent knee hip extensor stretches first.

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.

Marichyasana E

Yoga for flexiblity, hip extensor stretching with happy baby pose. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Happy baby

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.

Hamstring
Stretches

The hamstrings are the muscles that run down the back of the thigh. In general they work on both the hip joint and the knee joint. One muscle that runs down the back of the thigh but only works on the knee jiont is the adductor magnus long head. One that works only on the back of the knee is the biceps femoris short head.

Biceps femoris short head?  Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Adductor magnus long head.  Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Semimembranosus rear and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
Semitendinosus rear and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
biceps femoris long head rear and side view. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

If you want to stretch your hamstrings in order to work towards splits, then these hamstring stretches can help. (You'll have to work on your hip flexors also!)

In standing forward bend you can create a downwards pull on your sitting bones to activate your hamstrings. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Standing forward bend

Standing forward bend grabbing the sides of the yoga mat so that hamstrings can activate against the arms. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Standing f-bend using arms

Standing forward bend focusing on one leg. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Standing f-bend on one leg

Pyramid pose with hands on front shin. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Pyramid pose hamstring stretch

Standing hamstring stretch with one leg supported and stretched. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Leg supported

Standing forward bend grabbing big toes with spine long and transverse abdominis engaged. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Spine long TA engaged

Single leg standing forward bend with other leg pulled forwards using hip flexors. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Pulling lifted leg fwd

Standing forward bend with one leg supported and bending towards weight bearing leg. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Bending down to standing leg

Kneeling on one knee with hips over knee and bending towards straight leg to stretch the hamstrings. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Semi-kneeling w/ hips lifted

Front to back splits with torso upright and back foot toes tucked and back knee lifted. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

hamstring and hip flexor splits

For a set of yoga poses that can be used to stretch the hamstrings, also check out hamstring stretching yoga poses.

seated hamstring stretching yoga pose with leg lifted and using a belt. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

seated stretch with leg lifted using a belt.

Using half moon yoga pose to stretch the hamstrings. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Half moon as a hamstring stretch.

Using triangle yoga pose to stretch the hamstrings Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

triangle yoga pose

standing hamstring stretches, triangle forward bending yoga pose. In this pose the feet are separated from front to back about a leg's length. Both feet are flat on the floor with the front foot pointing straight ahead and back foot turned out slightly. Both knees are straight and the pelvis is facing the same direction as the front foot. The torso is horizontal (leaning forwards) with spine straight, eyes looking straight down and arms reaching back. The head is reaching away from the pelvis. Model Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses

Pyramid pose

hamstring stretching yoga poses: Standing wide leg forward bend with hands on floor. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Standing wide leg front bend hands on floor.

wide leg standing hamstring stretch with hands on waist (prasaritta padotanasana B). Bending forwards, keep your chest open and shoulder blades retracted. Try lifting your sitting bones or pulling down on your ASICs to stretch your hamstrings. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Standing wide leg front bend hands on hips.

Wide leg standing hamstring stretch with hands clasped behind back (prasaritta padotanasana c). Bending forwards, keep your chest contracted towards your hip bones. Try lifting your sitting bones or pulling down on your ASICs to stretch your hamstrings. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Standing wide leg front bend hands clasped

Prasaritta padotanasana A, wide leg standing forward bend with hands on floor and elbows bent. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Standing wide leg front bend hands on floor.

Prasaritta padotanasana A, wide leg standing forward bend with hands on floor and elbows straight. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Wide leg front bend grabbing big toes

hamstring stretches, standing forward bend. In this standing forward bend feet are hip width and parallel, knees are straight and upper body is tilted forwards far enough that finger tips can just touch the floor. Spine is straight and long and eyes are looking straight down so that the head has a slight backwards tilt relative to the ribcage. Model Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Standing front bend, hands on floor

Standing hamstring stretch with one leg supported and stretched. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

hamstring stretch with leg supported

wide leg forward bend, knees straight, reaching forwards with hands off of floor, yoga pose

Seated wide leg front bend

janu sirsasana a, yoga pose, seated hamstring stretch, sitting upright relaxed

Janu sirsasana A foot position

janu sirsasana B prep position, using arms to keep pelvis lifted.

Janu sirsasana B foot position

Janu Sirsasana C, torso upright to show foot position

Janu sirsasana C foot position

Hurdlers stretch with torso upright. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Hurdlers stretch with torso upright.

relaxed seated forward bend yoga position, yoga pose, seated hamstring stretch spine long, arms reaching forwards

Seated forward bend

Grabbing a foot while standing to stretch the hamst. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Lifted leg hamstring stretch

And for a simple seated hamstring stretch check out seated hamstring stretch.

For a set of simple (and relatively easy) postures for stretching your hamstrings, check out Simple postures for stretching your hamstrings.

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

Hip Stretches for
the Glutes and Piriformis

The glutes in this case can mean the lateral glutes, gluteus minimus and medius though gluteus maximus may also be stretched. In general you could think of these glute stretches as stretches for the outside of the hip.

yoga pigeon pose, hip stretch for gluteal muscles.

For more ways to stretch the glutes, try some of these pigeon pose variations.

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.

Note that these hip stretches can be fairly intense and afterwards you may find it helpful to either counter pose them or do poses that reactivate the hips, or both. For more on all of that read counter poses for hip openers.

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 (Iliotibial band stretch ).

Shoelace is a stretch for the muscles that work on the IT band. You can sit upright in to do this stretch as shown, with one leg crossed over the other with the knees as close together as possible and both feet on the floor on either side of the hips.  Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Adductor Stretches
(inner thigh stretches)

The adductors are a set of muscles that run down the inner thighs. Muscles with the word "adductor" in their title work only on the hip while another muscle, the gracilis, which is commonly grouped with the adductors works on both the knee and the hip.

For a look at the inner thigh muscles and "adductors" together, check out Adductors and inner thigh muscles.

In terms of improving inner thigh flexibility, all of these muscles are important.

medial view of inner thigh showing adductor magnus,  adductor longus, adductor brevis, semitendinosus, gracilis, sartorius. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

For a set of positions for stretching the inner thighs check out these Adductor stretches.

Adductor stretches: Supine bound angle adductor stretch with feet against the wall. Bound angle laying on the back with feet on a wall and using the hands to press the knees towards the wall. This stretch can be used to increase inner thigh flexiblity. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses

Supine bound angle using wall.

Adductor Streches: Supine wide leg adductor stretch with feet against a wall. Wide splits while reclining with feet against the wall. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses

Supine wide leg stretch using a wall.

Adductor stretches: Bound angle adductor stretch with hands against a wall. Bound angle using a wall for leverage. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Bound angle with hands against a wall.

Adductor stretches: Bound angle with spine slightly rounded and with hands grabbing feet. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Bound angle with feet grabbed.

Adductor stretches: Seated wide leg forward fold. Sitting with legs spread apart and both knees straight and pointing upwards, torso is tilted forwards at the hips. Head is in line with the torso. Gaze is directed downwards. Arms are reaching past the head in line with the spine with elbows and fingers straight to add weight to the stretch. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Seated wide leg forward fold.

Adductors stretches: hurdlers adductor stretch. Hurdlers stretch inner thigh stretch bending forwards between the legs with hands on the floor to help support the weight of the upper body. Spine is slightly rounded. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Hurdlers pose adductors stretch.

Adductor stretches: prone big toe pose adductor stretch. Lying prone with one leg reaching out to the side with knee pointing forwards. Same side hand is grabbing the blade of the foot. Chin is on the floor with gaze directed forwards and slightly downwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Prone big toe pose adductor stretch.

Adductor stretches. Half split adductor stretch. One knee is bent with shin on the floor. Other knee  is straight. Straight knee foot is moving away from bent knee. Forearms are on the floor and supporting the weight of the upper body. Head is inline with the torso with gaze directed downwards. Focus is on the adductors of the straight leg. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Half split adductor stretch

Adductor stretches: Frog pose adductor stretch. Both knees are bent with both shins and both forearms on the floor supporting the weight of the body. Shins move slowly outwards, away from each other, to stretch the adductors. Head is inline with the torso with gaze directed downwards. Neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Frog pose adductor stretch.

Adductors stretches: Working towards side-to-side split adductor stretch with elbows on the floor and both knees straight. Lumbar spine is straight. Head is in line with the torso. Gaze is directed downwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Side splits adductor stretch

If you are interested in working towards side splits, one way to work towards it is with Half side splits. One thing you might choose to consider when working on side splits is knee stability. You can read more about this in Knee Joint Integrity and Middle Splits and Stabilizing the Knee Joint in Middle Splits.

For more inner thigh stretches scroll sideways through the list below.

Hip crease driven hip stretching

A useful reference for stretching the adductors (and for feeling and controlling the hips in general) is the hip crease.

You may find the action of opening the hip crease handy in bound angle pose. But don't forget to counter pose (or counter stretch) by closing the hip crease wide leg forward fold.

Read about both in opening the hip creases, bound angle pose.

Another way you can use the hip crease opening action is in seated straddle splits.

Psoas Stretches

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.

Lower back stretches

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.

Low back stretches: standing side bend. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

Standing side bend

Low back stretches: half moon pose. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

Half moon pose

Low back stretches: triangle pose. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

Triangle pose

Low back stretches: Seated slouch, pelvis rolled back, lumbar spine flattened, ribcage and thoracic spine bent forwards, head forwards. Neil Keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Seated slouch (can be done standing)

Low back stretches: triangle forward bend aka pyramid pose. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

Triangle forward bend

Low back stretches: seated forward bending side bend. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

forward bending side bend seated

Low back stretches: pigeon pose variation. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

Pigeon pose variation

Low back stretches: cross legged easy twist using the arms. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

Cross legged twist using the arms

Low back stretches: bound angle pose with legs wide. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

Bound angle pose with legs wide

Low back stretches: bent back kneeling position. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

Bent back kneeling position

Low back stretches: bharadvajasana or seated twist with a behind the back attempted foot grab using the free hand as an intermediary. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

Bharadvajasana

Low back stretches: head supported strap augmented seated forward bend. Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga poses.

augmented seated forward bend

If have low back pain, you may actually be suffering from weak or imbalanced or ill functioning hip or leg muscles. So if you have chronic low back pain, look at hip strengthening exercises and/or standing hip exercises.

You may find some of the shoulder stretches (below) also helpful for tight upper backs.

Some of the spine stretching (and strengthening) exercises in the next section may also help.

Spine
Stretches

The spine is meant to be flexible. But it's also meant to be strong. You can stretch your spine by taking its parts through simple movement ranges as shown in these spine stretches.

One way to stretch the spine while strengthening it is to use sideways bending side stretches.

Side stretch, sensational yoga poses, Neil Keleher

Standing side bend

Side stretch, sensational yoga poses, Neil Keleher

Triangle pose side stretch

Side stretch, sensational yoga poses, Neil Keleher

Seated side stretch bent forward

Side stretch, sensational yoga poses, Neil Keleher

Pigeon pose with side stretch

Side stretch, sensational yoga poses, Neil Keleher

seated side stretch variation

Side stretch, sensational yoga poses, Neil Keleher

Upright seated side stretch

Side stretch, sensational yoga poses, Neil Keleher

Wide leg seated side stretch

Side stretch, sensational yoga poses, Neil Keleher

Seated side stretch variation

Side stretch, sensational yoga poses, Neil Keleher

Seated side stretch variation

Another way to stretch the spine is to twist it. You can read more about that is twisting poses.

Twisting poses, neil keleher, sensaitional yoga poses.

Seated twist, hands free

Twisting poses, neil keleher, sensaitional yoga poses.

Standing upright twist

Twisting poses, neil keleher, sensaitional yoga poses.

Twisting triangle pose

twisting yoga poses, prone twist

Prone twist

twisting yoga poses, lapasana shoulder stretch and ribcage twist

Shoulder stretch with a twist

twisting yoga poses, easy bharadvajasana twist

Easy seated twist

Twisting poses, neil keleher, sensaitional yoga poses.

Twisting side angle

Twisting poses, neil keleher, sensaitional yoga poses.

Pigeon pose twisting variation

Twisting poses, neil keleher, sensaitional yoga poses.

Seated closed twist

twisting yoga poses, modified marichyasana b with a twist

Seated open twist with a bind

marichyasana a

Binding pose with option for an open twist

twisting yoga poses, marichyasana c

Binding pose with closed twist

twisting yoga poses, modified marichyasana e with a twist

Seated position with open twist

twisting yoga poses, bharadvajasana

Bound lotus variation with twist

The advantage is that these can be self-balancing, i.e. they are their own counterposes (you side bend or twist to one side and then the other).

A simple tip for these spine stretches and all other stretches:
Move slowly and smoothly.

If you do that, you'll be focusing on what you are doing. You'll also be less likely to hurt yourself. And you'll be more likely to find optimal movement that then allows you to improve your flexibility.

For more on stretching the spine check, including the front and back of the spine in isolation as well as in combination with the hips and/or shoulders, check out the meridian stretches in the next section.

Arm and Shoulder
Stretches

One way to improve shoulder flexibility is to focus on your shoulder blades. For tips on how to use and control your shoulder blades read Shoulder flexibility stretches.

If you've got tight shoulders these active shoulder stretches may be useful.

Arm overhead shoulder stretch, reaching one arm up, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arm overhead reaching one arm up

Arm overhead shoulder stretch, hands clasped and palms pressing upwards, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arm overhead hands clasped, palms press up

Arm overhead shoulder stretch, pulling one arm to the side, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arm overhead pulling straight arm outwards

Arm overhead shoulder stretch, pulling one arm to the inside, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arm overhead pulling straight arm inwards

Arm overhead shoulder stretch, triceps stretch,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arm overhead, pulling bent elbow inwards

Arm overhead shoulder stretch, pulling hands apart to add tension, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arm overhead pulling hands apart

Arm to the side active shoulder stretch, pulling one arm back while holding on to upper arm with other hand, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Using straight arm, pull other hand back

Outer shoulder stretch, crossing arms in front of chest with elbows bent, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

For outer shoulders, hug self

Outer shoulder stretch, crossing arms in front of chest with elbows straihgt,neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Active arm cross in front of chest

Eagle arm position shoulder stretch, forearms tipped to one side.  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Eagle pose for arms side tilt

Arm overhead external rotation stretching exercise, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arm overhead bent elbows press inwards

Penguin shoulder stretching exercise for internal rotation,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

One arm penguin stretch

From down position pulling one arm to the side against resistance to stretch outer shoulder of resisting arm, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Pulling straight arm outwards behind back

From down position pulling one arm to the opposite side behind the back  against resistance to stretch outer shoulder of resisting arm,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Pulling straight arm inwards behind back

Arm overhead shoulder stretch, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Pull hand to opposite waist behind back

Reaching arms back from down position to stretch shoulders, hands not clasped,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arms back and up, unclasped

Hands clasped and arms stretching back from down position, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arms back and up, clasped

Reverse prayer shoulder stretching exercise,  neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Reverse prayer

High penguin shoulder stretch, wrist to chin external rotation shoulder stretching exercise, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

High penguin one arm stretch

The muscle assisted shoulder stretches above are if you want to work while stretching. The gravity assisted arm stretches can be more relaxing (though you can apply muscle control in these stretches also. Both types can be used to help improve shoulder flexibility

Arm Stretches: Dragonfly arm stretch, stretch for the back of the shoulder. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Half dragonfly arm stretch

Arm stretches: Clasped half dragonfly arm stretch. For this bent arm stretch, one arm is across the throat with the hand reaching over the shoulder. The other arm is reaching up the back so that both hands can clasp. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Clasped half dragonfly

Arm stretches: Lotus for the arm external rotation arm stretch. Lying prone, arm being stretched is bent at the elbow with elbow pointing to the opposite side. Chin rests on the hand so that the weight of the head can be used to stretch that arms external rotators. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

External rotation arm stretch

Arm stretches: Dragonfly arm stretch. With body positioned belly down, both arms are positioned across the chest, one in front of the other with elbows straight. The weight of the body is then used to stretch the shoulders of both arms. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Dragonfly arm stretch

Arm stretchs: Bent Elbow arm stretch for the front of the shoulder and chest. aka bennittasana. Starting prone, one arm is placed out to the side with elbow at shoulder height and bent 90 degrees. Opposite side of body rolls up to stretch the front of the shoulder of that arm. Top leg reaches back to add weight to the stretch.Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Bennitasana arm stretch

Arm stretches: Straight elbow arm stretch for the front of the shoulder aka lappasana. Starting in a prone position, one arm reaches to the side with elbow straight. Opposite side of the body is rolled off of the floor to stretch the front of the shoulder. Knees are bent with feet on the floor and weight of the opposide leg and hip can be used to drive the stretch. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Lapasana shoulder stretch

Arm stretches: Puppy dog arm stretch for front of shoulders and chest. Starting on all fours, hands reach forwards along the floor so that the chest can sink to the floor. Spine is actively bent backwards. Shoulders stay active also. Chin is on the floor with gaze directed forwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Puppy dog arm /chest stretch

Arm stretches: Spiderman arm stretch for the front of the shoulders and chest. Kneeling in front of a wall, hands reach up the wall as high as possible. Chest is leaned forwards towards the wall. Spine is actively bent backwards. Shoulders are also active. Gaze is forwards, towards the wall. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Spiderman wall stretch kneeling

Arm stretches: Prone spiderman arm stretch for front of shoulders and chest. Lying with head towards a wall, arms are reached up the wall while lifting the chest. Spine is actively bent backwards. Shoulders are stretched by sinking the chest down while resisting the hands being pulled down the wall. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Spiderman wall stretch prone

Arm stretches: rack arm stretch. Sitting with hands on the floor behind the hips, hands are reached back with fingers pointing backwards. Legs are straigth and abs are used to pull the chest forwards, out of the shoulders. Palms can face up or down to vary the stretch. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Rack arm stretch

Arm stretches: Seated penguin arm stretch for the shoulders. Hands are placed against the sides of the waist with elbows bent and pointing forwards. Elbows are positioned to the inside of the knees which are bent with the feet on the floor. Knees can then be used to push the elbows towards each otehr. At the same time, the arms resist by pushing outwards against the knees. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Penguin pose shoulder stretch

Arm stretches: Pull back arm stretch for the back of the shoulders and upper back. Sit with feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent. Arms are crossed in front of the body with hands grabbing the opposite foot. Ribcage pulls back, away from the feet to stretch the shoulders.  Torso can be adjusted by lifting or lowering the chest  vary the stretch. Stretch one arm at a time by letting go of one foot. as shown. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Pull back arm stretch

Yoga shoulder stretches includes traditional yoga shoulder stretching positions like reverse prayer, eagle pose and the shoulder stretch used in prasarita padottanasana C.

downward dog with knees straight and top of the head nearly touching the floor. In this pose the focus is on moving the shoulder blades towards the head and also on using the deltoids to bend the shoulder backwards with the arms over the head. Yoga shoulder stretches. Neil Keleher. Sensaitonal Yoga Poses.

Downward dog shoulder strech

reverse prayer, prayer behind the back, parsvottanasana, yoga poses, yoga asana, yoga pose arm positions, yoga shoulder stretches

Internal arm rotation while reaching back

reverse prayer, prayer behind the back, parsvottanasana, yoga poses, yoga asana, yoga pose arm positions, yoga shoulder stretches

Reverse prayer

Yoga shoulder stretches, dwikonasana or arms clasped behind back, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses.

Arms back and up, hands clasped

reverse prayer, prayer behind the back, parsvottanasana, yoga poses, yoga asana, yoga pose arm positions, yoga shoulder stretches

reverse prayer

standing shoulder stretches, yoga pose arm positions, triceps stretch, yoga shoulder stretches

Overhead tricep stretch

cow face yoga pose, seated yoga poses, front view, yoga shoulder stretches

Cow face pose arms

eagle pose arms,  eagle pose.

Eagle pose arms

Hip and Shoulder Stretches are poses which stretch the hips and shoulders at the same time.

Meridian Stretches

Meridian stretches are stretches which are designed to stretch the meridians. The meridians run up and down the sides of the body, arms and legs and correspond to organs.

Because these stretches can be a good way to relax or re-energize, they've been grouped under the yoga for stress category (de-stressing).

The meridians lie within connective tissue and to stretch them the main stretching technique to use is relaxed gravity assisted stretching.

For a particularly refreshing stretching session you can use the meridians to guide the sequence in which you do your stretches. To do that, follow the "flow of the meridians".

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