Yoga Stretches

Yoga Stretches

Many yoga movements and poses gently stretch various muscle groups. One special benefit of yoga is that, across a session, all areas of the body will become involved. Many other forms of exercise only focus on one part of the body. This has the inherent risk of overworking that part, leading to injuries and strains. Yoga stretches vary in difficulty, some are suited to beginners whilst others require the concentration and stamina that will come from more practice in yoga. Here are a few basic stretching exercises within yoga.

Preparatory Movements

Most preparatory movements within yoga are stretches designed to warm up the muscle groups. Because muscles are elastic, it is important to begin with more gentle stretches – if a muscle is stretched too far too quickly, this can result in injury, but gently increasing the level of stretch results in improved flexibility. Some preparatory stretches can be carried out as follows:

– Place both arms together, straight out in front of you. Gently bend down, whilst keeping the arms straight and touch the floor. Extend up again, reaching the hands above the head, keeping arms straight at all times. This movement helps to loosen the back and encourage flexibility.
– Reach both arms straight out at your sides. Swivelling at the hip, reach down one hand at a time to touch the ground, whilst keeping the arms straight. This exercise encourages flexibility in the muscles and joints of the shoulders.
– In the same manner as the previous movement, extend the arms and keep them straight. Keep the arms straight and the hips facing forwards, but twist the upper part of the body until looking behind. Do this to the right and the left and repeat a few times in each direction. This movement also helps to encourage flexibility in the back.
– Standing with hands on the hips, twist the upper part of the body to the left and to the right, whilst keeping the head and hips facing forwards. This movement helps to loosen the joints in the hips and also encourages flexibility in the back.

Stretching Poses

Many yoga poses are stretches, which are ideally suited to sports men and women, or to anybody keen to improve their flexibility. Here are some examples of these kinds of poses:

The Squat
With feet and legs together, hold the body in a squatting position. This can help to encourage flexibility in the hamstring muscles and to rebalance the body. When this exercise is completed for weight-loss a hold time of over 1 minute is recommended.

Back Bend
Lie flat on the ground, facing upwards with legs together and straight. Place pillows behind the upper back and shoulders, so the torso is positioned at a slight upwards angle (about 45 degrees). This position helps to stretch the muscles around the spine and gently encourage flexibility in the abdominal muscles.
Side bend
Again, place pillows on the ground. Lie across them on the side, with legs straight and arms straight above the head. Repeat on the other side of the body. This position gently stretches the muscles in the shoulder and neck, as well as the muscle groups around the rib cage.

Yoga Movements

Yoga Movements

Maintaining and holding positions in yoga is great for flexibility as well as focus and concentration, but by also practicing yoga movements within a session, it is possible to gain the maximum health benefits of yoga. Here follows some great yoga movements for flexibility, muscle tone and joint flexibility.

Preparatory Movements

It is very important to perform preparatory movements before beginning a full session of yoga. These movements help to warm up the muscles, reducing the likelihood of a strain. Preparatory movements also help to calm the mind and centre the body, creating the right mental state for yoga. Some simple preparatory movements are:
– Place both arms together, straight out in front of you. Gently bend down, keeping the arms straight. Extend up, reaching the hands above the head and keeping arms straight at all times.
– Reach both arms straight out to the side. Swivelling at the hip, reach down one hand at a time to touch the ground, keeping the arms straight at all times.
These movements encourage flexibility in the back and shoulders, which if not warmed up properly, can be at risk of injury.
Forward Bend

Starting in the Mountain Pose (legs straight and together, arms stretching above the head), slowly and carefully bend forward from the waist, keeping the arms and legs straight. It is not essential to reach the floor with the hands, but to increase flexibility, attempt to reach a little further each time.
Lunge

Place right leg forward at a right angle (keep the knee directly above the line of the ankle) and stretch left leg out behind. In this position, lower to the ground, so the body is lightly supported on the finger-tips. Take a few deep breaths whilst rocking backwards and forwards. This movement increases flexibility in the legs and can help to tone abdominal muscles.

Downward Facing Dog

Starting in the Supine Position (lying on stomach, with arms and legs straight) lift the bottom and slowly move the feet forwards until the body resembles an upside down V in relation to the floor. Hold this position for a few moments and lower in the same manner, slowly and carefully. This movement improves flexibility in the spine as well as helping to tone the upper arms and thighs.

Plank

Again from the Supine Position, use the arms and toes to slowly lift the body around 6 inches from the ground. It is important to keep the body level (unlike the diagonal angle of a press-up). Hold this position for a few moments and lower the body down slowly. This exercise is ideal for strengthening the arms and back and for encouraging tone in the abdominal muscles.

Upward Facing Dog

It is easy to move from the Plank into the Upward Facing Dog. Simply stretch the arms straight and arch the back until the face is pointing upwards. Either go straight into this movement from the Plank, or return to a resting position and move into Upward Facing Dog next. This movement stretches the back and stomach, whilst building strength and stamina in the upper arms.