We often think that strength results from workouts and flexibility from stretching, but that’s not entirely true. Did you know you can achieve both strength and flexibility with only a few simple exercises? Well, get excited, because you can! With the practice of yoga, you can strengthen and lengthen your body because you use your body weight and hold postures for a certain amount of time.
Yoga can be a gentle introduction to fitness if you don’t have a fitness practice of your own already (so there are no excuses!). And if you are already active, it can support you in your fitness journey by providing the flexibility your body needs to release tightness and lower the risk of injuries.
5 Simple Exercises You Can Do For Strength and Flexibility
While yoga is available for people of all ages and bodies, it is important to honor the body and meet it where it is. As individuals, we have differences in our bodies at an anatomical level. These differences can either help us go deeper into a posture or make some movements not readily available for us. And that’s alright. The goal here is not to focus on how things look but on how they feel. As you integrate yoga into your routines, work on finding presence and what feels good to your body. In due time, you will begin to see the body open up more and more on its own.
If you’ve never practiced yoga before, it is best to try some classes to ensure that you learn the correct alignment to keep your body safe.
If you are looking to work on strength, you can start with Hatha or Vinyasa classes, and if you are looking to improve your flexibility, Yin Yoga is the best option.
Now, here are 5 simple exercises for strength and flexibility:
- Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward Facing Dog is one of the most common and foundational yoga postures. It combines both strength and flexibility. And it may not seem like it, but this posture works almost every muscle of your body, and it helps you relax at the same time.
This posture helps in building strength in your upper body and releasing tension from your hamstrings and calves.
- Start on a tabletop position or all fours with fingers spread wide and pressed down onto the mat.
- Begin to lift your hips towards the ceiling as you press your chest toward your thighbones.
- Bend your knees as generously as you need to help you lift your hips further towards the back. The key here is to find length in the spine and breathe freely.
- Gently begin to pedal one leg and then the other. Do this as many times as you like.
- Make sure your ears are in line with your biceps and send your breath to your low back as you hold this posture.
- If you already have a strong practice, these are some variations you can try:
- Slowly begin to plant your heels down to find a deeper stretch in your hamstrings.
- Relevé (rise on your toes) to find more length in your spine.
- Lift one leg to the sky, then bring your knee towards your chest to build some heat and work on your core strength. Same with the other side.
- Do spinal waves to further work on your strength and bring flexibility to the spine.
- Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
Locust Pose is a great posture to activate the core and back muscles, and you can practice it in different versions. As you explore this posture, start with what feels good for you. In time, you can move into the full version.
This posture helps to strengthen the major muscles of your back body, including the buttocks. It also strengths your pelvis and hips, works and lengthens your core muscles, and opens up your chest and throat.
As you hold this posture, make sure you can breathe. If you can’t breathe properly, you may have gone too far. In that case, reel it in a bit to a modified version so you can allow your breathing to flow.
- Lengthen your tailbone to the back, pressing your hip points to the mat.
- Place your arms alongside your body with your palms facing down.
- Press the top of your feet and your hands onto the mat to engage the core and back muscles. You can stay here in this version if you are a complete beginner.
- To go deeper, slowly peel your upper body off the floor, making sure that you lengthen the tailbone to protect your lower back. You have the option to lift your hands off the mat and hover.
- For the full version, lift both legs as you hover your hands off the mat or clasp your hands behind your back. If you want to build your strength more gradually, you can play with movement by lifting one leg and releasing to the floor, then lifting the other and releasing.
- Make sure you’re not holding a lot of tension on the shoulders.
- Breathe in, and find length from the crown of your head to your heels. And as you breathe out, draw your abs up and in for support.
- Low Lunge (Ardha Alana)
Low Lunge is such a versatile posture. You can find all sorts of stretches with different arms variations. This posture strengthens and lengthens your lower body, and it helps you find alignment between the muscles and joints.
Practicing Low Lunge with your back leg straight engages the core, tones leg muscles, and helps you find balance. With your back leg bent, it stretches the psoas, which is a strong group of muscles that play an important role in body stability and can often get really tight.
- From a standing neutral position, Mountain Pose (Tadasana), place your hands on your waist. Then, take one step back and softly place the knee on the floor.
- You can choose to keep your back leg bent or to straighten the leg for a much active hold.
- Squeeze your inner thighs together and activate the core.
- Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle and that your hips are squared and neutral.
- At first, you may find it best to hold the posture with your hands on your waist. As you grow stronger in your foundation, you can explore other arms variations such as:
- Arms overhead
- Cactus arms with open chest
- Hands in prayer at heart center
- Clasped hands behind your back
- Eagle arms
- Ankle-To-Knee (Reclined Pigeon)
If you find yourself feeling a lot of tightness around the hips, then Ankle-To-Knee is a posture that you are going to love! It is a gentle and delicious posture that is appropriate for all levels.
This posture improves the flexibility in your lower body. It loosens up the piriformis, a deep muscle that often gets tight, but when stretched, releases that tightness from the back of the thigh and your glute, allowing your hips to open up more.
It also works lightly on the abs and low back muscles, and engages the upper body as you engage it to anchor your shoulders to the ground.
- Lay down with the soles of your feet on the floor, close to your hips.
- Bring your right knee towards your chest and cross your right ankle over your left knee to create a figure four. Make sure your foot is flexed and that the ankle is overhanging the knee.
- You are welcome to stay here and focus on your breath as you energetically “press” your right knee forward.
- If you want to feel a deeper stretch, thread your hands behind your thighs and bring the form towards you, or interlace your fingers on top of your knee.
- Make sure your shoulders are not coming off the floor. If they are, take a deep breath, and as you exhale, plug the shoulders down and back.
- When you are ready, slowly release the form and repeat on the other side.
- Garland Pose (Malasana)
Another great hip opener! This posture is more active as it encourages us to use our core strength to hold the posture.
As you stretch the hips in this posture, make sure you find length in your spine so you can breathe properly.
- From Mountain Pose (Tadasana), standing at the top of the mat, step your feet to be as wide as the yoga mat. Toes pointing out touching the edges of the mat and heels in.
- Bring your hands to prayer close to your heart center.
- Steady and with control, as you exhale, bend your knees and begin to lower your hips trying to keep your feet anchored to the floor. If your heels lift, place a rolled-up or folded blanket underneath your heels to bring the floor to you.
- Once you are in a squat, press your legs away from each other with your elbows and engage your core. If holding this posture is too intense, use a block beneath your hips to bring you support as you build strength.
- Make sure your shoulders are not crowded by the ears. If they are, draw the shoulders down and back.
- Take a deep breath to lengthen the spine and back of the neck to help you breathe freely and hold the posture. And as you exhale, engage the lower body.
Strength and flexibility complement each other. It’s not only one or the other. Too much focus on strength may well help us build muscles, but we may become tight and increase the risk of injuries along the way. Too much focus on flexibility may cause us to lose the strength the muscles need to function properly. Both strength and flexibility are needed to help our bodies stay healthy. And with yoga, we can find that beautiful balance between strength and flexibility.
Take your time with each posture and savor the different sensations in your body. Send your breath to where you want to stretch or where you find tension, and observe your body. In the same manner, in areas where you apply more effort and strength, notice the muscles that are working and check your alignment. By working on your strength and flexibility through yoga, you will also be cultivating body awareness.
Be gentle and patient with your body in this process. Continue to practice and you will notice how your body naturally begins to open up and grow in strength!