Through poses, yoga builds flexibility, strength and promotes relaxation. Although nearly all yoga poses increase flexibility, some postures elongate the muscles more than others. Some poses increase flexibility in many major muscle groups at once, while others target specific areas like the chest, lower limbs, back, spine or upper body.
Back and Spine Flexibility
Practicing yoga twice weekly for two months can significantly improve flexibility, which can decrease back pain. Yoga poses that particularly target the spine and back include Bharadvaja's Twist, a seated pose that twists the torso, and Cat pose, which gently massages the spine. Other effective poses for increasing flexibility of the back and spine include Extended Puppy pose, which lengthens the spine in both directions, and Garland pose, done in a squatting position. Beginners can gain back flexibility through the Sphinx pose, the least strenuous of the backbends. More advanced practitioners can achieve greater flexibility through King Pigeon pose, one of the most difficult backbend positions.
Ankle flexibility can be improved through many yoga poses, including Extended Hang-to-Big-Toe pose, Garland pose, Half Moon pose and Chair pose. The feet are targeted by Tree pose, Warrior II pose, Reclining Big Toe pose and Downward-Facing Dog pose. Eagle pose, done in a one-legged standing position with one foot wrapped around the opposite leg, builds flexibility in the calves. Other poses that target the calves include Downward-Facing Dog, Chair pose, Gate pose and Heron pose. The hamstrings, or thigh muscles, are targeted by Big Toe pose, Hero pose, Half Frog pose, Upward Plank and Reclining Hero.
Shoulder muscle flexibility may be increased through Downward-Facing Dog, Camel pose and Dolphin pose, which is a variation on Downward-Facing Dog that particularly opens the shoulders. Poses that target the arms and increase flexibility include King Pigeon pose, Side Crane pose, Upward Bow pose, Upward Plank and the Wild Thing. Yoga even increases the flexibility of the wrists, hands and fingers through postures like Cobra, Upward Plank, Four-Limbed Staff pose, Crane, Firefly pose, Peacock pose and Upward-Facing Dog.
Certain yoga poses increase flexibility in the neck, including Camel pose, Bow pose, King Pigeon pose and Upward-Facing Two-Foot Staff pose. Listen to your body when practicing yoga, particularly when focusing on your neck. The poses should be intense and hard, but never painful. If you find yourself in pain, scale back the difficulty and only stretch as far as is comfortable.