- The 10 Best Yoga Poses for Inflexible People
- Chest, Shoulders, and Upper Back
- Hamstrings and Calves
- 6. Half Dog
- 7. Chair-Assisted Half Dog
- 8. Seated Forward Bend Variation
- 9. Reclining One Legged Stretch
- 10. Easy Balance Sequence
- by guest author Alys Titchener
- Whenever I confessed I’d never done a yoga class; I’d always append the confession with – I’m not flexible enough.
- My body was tight, and I reasoned, yoga just wasn’t meant for me.
- I ask myself; do we fit in to the yoga scene?
- Turning up to a yoga class, scared stiff
- I needed a motivation that was more aligned with my lifestyle and values.
- Finding my motivation to practice yoga
- For the sake of alleviating the physical discomfort while meditating I would commit to practicing yoga.
- I wanted to commit to a yoga practice that would give me ease.
- In essence, I became curious.
- Learning to soften.
- Learning the essence of yoga.
- These conscious moments are what keep me coming back to yoga.
- I would be interested to know…
- 6 Useful Yoga Poses for Inflexible People
- Child’s Pose
- Downward Facing Dog
- Yoga for Inflexible People
The 10 Best Yoga Poses for Inflexible People
Once Barbie and GI Joe started doing yoga, we could pretty much call it: Yoga is officially everywhere these days. But all that stretching and balancing is just for bendy people who can flop over their legs effortlessly—the rest of us non-bendy people who already exercise plenty don’t really need it, right?
Not so fast: While being fit and being flexible don’t always go hand-in-hand, being injured and being inflexible often does. But there are ways to get the full benefit from yoga—even if you can’t touch your toes—and without the special studios and the special pants. These 10 starter poses are for people at all flexibility levels, plus you don’t even need a mat!
What you do need: a kitchen counter or a chair; a towel; a milk crate, stool, or a small trashcan; an open doorway; and a blank expanse of wall.
With the following poses, keep these five general principles in mind.
1. You should always be able to breathe evenly, so find your edge but don’t go past it! Allow your body to open up and adjust over the space of about five or six breaths in each pose.
2. Keep your core muscles active but not to the point of holding your breath.
3. Keep a neutral spine; no “swayback donkeys” or sunken chests.
4. Twisting happens at the waist, not at the shoulders.
5. When bending forward, hinge from the hips, not the middle of your back.
Chest, Shoulders, and Upper Back
1. Upper Chest and Back Opener
Do this move anywhere, standing or sitting. And definitely bust it out at the end of a long flight to release that “cabin pressure” in your upper body.
With bent elbows, raise arms to shoulder height. Make hands into loose fists facing each other. Open chest by drawing elbows back like they’re going to meet behind your back.
As you return to the starting position, continue the motion, wrapping hands around opposite shoulders and stacking elbows on top of one another. To get a nice stretch along upper back and the back of your neck, tuck your face into the triangular space created by your elbows. Repeat the motion a second time, switching which elbow is on top. Do at least 2 to 3 sets.
2. Chest and Shoulder Opener
Here’s a move to get those chest and shoulders to open up. It’s the antidote to long stints hunched over a desk. Do this standing or sitting.
Hold a towel in front of you with one end in each hand. Raise arms up in a wide V overhead to locate the edge of the stretch. (You should feel an expansion in upper chest and the front of shoulders. If you aren’t finding that sweet spot, try moving hands farther apart or closer together on the towel.) Also try this snazzy variation: Hold the towel in both hands behind you. Spread feet out a bit wider than hip distance, toes pointing forward. Bend forward from the hips, dropping torso over legs. Raise arms with the towel overhead from behind.
3. Seated Spinal Twist
Keep this spinal twist handy as you work toward that corner office. It’s great for de-stressing and undoing the damage of a full afternoon of slouchy sitting. Remember: The twist happens at the waistline; resist using the chair’s back to wrench your body around further into the twist.
Seated on a chair, swing legs to the left side. Twist to the left so torso is facing the chair back and grasp it with hands. If neck will permit it, complete the full spinal twist by looking over left shoulder. (Don’t force it. Just look ahead if neck twinges in protest.) Swing round to the right and repeat.
4. Standing Twist
Let’s invite more of your body to this yoga party. As with the seated version, the twisting should come at the waist and your hands should help hold you in the pose, rather than cranking your spine past the limit.
With hips squared to the front of the chair, place right foot on the seat (thigh should be parallel with the floor). Put right hand on hip and left hand on right knee, and twist to the right. For a nice counter twist, come back to center and continue twisting to the left, placing left hand on hip and right hand on right knee. Repeat the twist and counter twist with left foot on the chair.
5. Standing Wall Twist
C’mon baby, let’s do more twists! To get deeper in this pose, bring the wall into action.
Place a chair next to a wall. Bend the leg closest to the wall and place it on the chair. This time when you twist, place hands on the wall to hold yourself in a deeper position—but walk them back toward center if your back starts to protest! Repeat on the opposite side.
Hamstrings and Calves
6. Half Dog
Let’s put a few more smudges on that wall! If you’ve ever tried a downward dog pose but couldn’t straighten your legs, a “half dog” against the wall is a great gateway pose that’ll help to open up the entire backside of your body.
Stand a few feet in front of a wall and place hands flat against it a bit above waist height. As you bend forward from the hips, walk feet back and continue to straighten out arms. Try not to let an arch creep into lower back; keep tailbone neutral. Also, keep eyes gazing down, dawg! If that 90-degree angle is too much, start a little closer to the wall and place hands higher up. (Ain’t no shame in keeping things more vertical.)
7. Chair-Assisted Half Dog
Cluttered wall? Here’s your workaround: the chair version of that forward bend.
Stand a few feet from a chair, wrapping hands around the back of it. Bend forward from the hips, keeping back in a neutral position. Tip: You can also do this stretch while holding on to a kitchen counter. Consider it the ultimate in microwave multitasking and do it while waiting for food to heat up.
If you’re getting in a forward-bend groove and feel yourself opening up, try flipping the chair round and using the seat for balance. It’ll deepen the stretch and get you closer to toe-touching distance. Likewise, you can sub in an old milk crate or flip over your bathroom garbage can to limbo a little lower. (But as always, don’t push it to the point of pain!)
8. Seated Forward Bend Variation
This pose is the tried-and-true way to gain flexibility in your lower body. That said, it can be discouraging to watch others rest their heads on their knees while you go red in the face trying to graze your toes with a fingertip. Towels to the rescue! Lasso your foot with one, and you’ll increase your reach and do the pose in good form.
Loop a towel around left foot and sit up straight. Bend right knee and rest right foot as far up left leg as right knee will allow. Bend forward from the hips. If your hamstring is tight, hold the pose sitting upright.
Not enough of a stretch? Try bending elbows a bit to go a bit deeper into the bend. Repeat on the right leg.
9. Reclining One Legged Stretch
If stretching is an ongoing strugglefest, this pose will be a welcome way to make peace with your hamstrings. A doorframe provides solid support here. The corner of a wall works, too.
Lie faceup on the floor, positioning body in a doorframe so right leg is on the ground through the doorway and left heel is positioned on the wall. Relax, breathe normally, and let the wall do all the work! The closer your butt is to the wall, the more intense the stretch—so if you’re stiff, move your butt farther away from the wall and position left heel lower on the wall. Scoot over to the opposite side of the doorframe to repeat on the right leg.
10. Easy Balance Sequence
Yoga isn’t just a stretch-a-palooza. It also involves strength and balance. These simple standing poses are great for people who want to improve their balancing skills. Try them first with one or both hands on the chair back for support, and if you’re feeling like a boss, ditch the chair and hold your arms loosely out to either side for balance. If you start to topple, tap your raised foot down to the ground and try again: Your joints and muscles still have the challenge of keeping you upright and balanced, but you can bail out of the pose any time.
Standing with a chair on left side, do a posture check: Eyes on the horizon? Ears positioned over relaxed shoulders? Shoulders over hips? Core engaged? Weight evenly distributed on both feet? Good. Now, with one or both hands resting on the chair back, raise right foot in front of you a few inches off the ground and hold it for three to five breaths (not shown). Bring foot back in to center, then send it out to the side for three to five breaths. Bring foot back in to center, then send it back behind you for three to five breaths. Repeat on the left leg.
Thanks to our friends at Lululemon for outfitting our model in the Power Up Tank II and the Pace Tight pants !
Image by Christian Northe from
It took me years to turn up to a yoga class.
Years and years of liking the idea of yoga before actually appearing on a yoga mat.
Never have been.
I got dropped from the gymnastics club at the age of eight because I couldn’t reach my toes. I could do handstands, I could vault, I could balance on the beam, but I couldn’t touch my toes.
Perhaps there was a trajectory right there; I threw myself into running and cycling and other ‘flexibility not required’ activities. I withdrew from stretching because of the awkward shape my body took when reaching for those ten toes, and I most certainly did not dance the limbo – how low can you go!
My body was tight, and I reasoned, yoga just wasn’t meant for me.
I appreciate ‘reasoned’ is probably an illogical choice of word, but it turns out this ‘reason’ is pretty pervasive in yoga-ain’t-for-me circles.
And a very common response to such an excuse goes something along the lines of this:
That’s like saying that you can’t go grocery shopping because you don’t have anything in your cupboards. Or your teeth are too dirty to brush.
Flexibility is a product of yoga, not a prerequisite.
The illogical nature of this excuse is worth exploring, because I’m sure others, like me, don’t intend on being illogical.
It’s more likely that we know, without a doubt, we’re not going to measure up to the body ideals that yoga throws in our path.
I appreciate this may be my bag here, but I have genuine admiration for a plump body that displays ease and softness. This still fits into my yoga-ideal.
But when I see a stiff body, gangly or otherwise, trying so hard to stretch into something that body isn’t capable of doing, I feel… sorry for them.
I ask myself; do we fit in to the yoga scene?
Alienating myself from a practice that I know will give me so many benefits started to make sense when I read a post by Marianne Elliot last year on her blog. She writes about body shame.
…for most of the women I know and most of the people who come to my classes, I’m aware that yoga can all too easily become simply another place in which to beat ourselves up about the inadequacies of our bodies
Of course, I didn’t know that when I was actively avoiding yoga, but, simply put, I was avoiding another way of shaming myself.
Turning up to a yoga class, scared stiff
Even though I was steering clear of yoga, my circle of friends got thicker and thicker with yogis and yoginis. Some part of me was drawn to the counter-culture yogic lifestyle, but, sadly, I lacked the flexible body-type I thought I needed to participate in it.
One day, a friend in a similar space to me, suggested we support each other in our first ever yoga class. Knowing that I’d have at least one ally, I agreed to the class.
We stood at the back and followed along as best we could.
Now I was a reasonably fit person at that point, but this class busted me. Even in the warm ups of bending forward to release our back and then hang there, my thighs screamed out. I could see other students flopping into this posture while I had to hold the position. There was no suppleness in my back, my thighs were tight and my calf muscles were crying.
I was working way harder than everyone else. I was running a marathon. These guys were … sunbathing!
My friend and I didn’t go back. We’d been fairly light-hearted throughout the class, getting giggles as we struggled through even more ridiculous postures. But enjoyable at a body level? Nop; that wasn’t our experience. Not only did I feel I lacked the flexibility for yoga, I now believed I lacked the strength and fitness as well.
I had periodic skirmishes with the yoga mat over the next few years but there was no juice to my commitment. More often than not, I talked myself out of attending a class. I simply didn’t enjoy how much my body hurt as I held a posture, nor ravished the idea of being next to an amazing example of flexibility.
And all the while I KNEW that if I kept turning up to yoga classes, I could become one of those flexible bodies.
I needed a motivation that was more aligned with my lifestyle and values.
Why can’t I commit to a practice that will give me the body I want?
I think if I’m honest with that question, creating the body I want has never been a good enough motivation for me.
Oh for many reasons; there’s too much striving in that little statement. I felt worn out just picking up the idea, let alone the practice. The goal post was too far away and I felt defeated before I began.
Even today, after several years of practicing yoga regularly, the motivation to ‘create the body I want’ causes such a heavy energy to descend on me that I literally end up crawling off my yoga mat defeated and depressed. Aspiring to a body ideal is the least motivating sentiment I’ve ever encountered, and one that, personally, I can’t work with.
Finding my motivation to practice yoga
My motivation to practice yoga arrived in due course. I’d just completed my first ever silent retreat with the meditation group Art of Living. I’d sat on the floor for the five days of meditation and satsang, and by the end, I was neck, shoulders, spine, hips, butt, knees and ankles, full body s-o-r-e!
In love with meditation, yet not in love with my body. I dedicated a new willingness to practice yoga.
At about that time, a gentle yoga class started up at my work that had a playful approach to postures, sometimes crawling around on the floor like a toddler, holding our feet like an infant, breathing slowly with matching limb articulations and so on.
It didn’t really feel like ‘real yoga’ to me – I wasn’t working hard and we didn’t often do any classical looking asanas either. I kept on coming back to the class though, something soft was coming through and it made me feel good.
These quirky classes of a half dozen or so colleagues (brilliant scientists as it happened) helped me to get over myself and the ideas I had about what yoga ought to look like, and more importantly, what I thought I ought to look like doing yoga.
That admission alone changed my attitude to yoga. I started enjoying it. I started enjoying me doing yoga.
I wanted to commit to a yoga practice that would give me ease.
With growing confidence, I let myself experience a real yoga studio. I chose a couple of classes with teachers highly recommended by friends; they use words like ‘allowing’ and ‘what’s available to you today’ I was told. And they play music. I booked myself in.
I went to yoga classes that encouraged me to pay attention particularly to alignment and to keeping integrity within the confines of my body.
I began taking pride in not pushing myself into ridiculous stretches despite the deep stretch of the person next to me. And I began to foster a dialog between me and my breath that would become my cue to self-adjust in my own personal practice.
In essence, I became curious.
Given my still limited range of movement when opening in to a posture, I was quite naturally drawn and attuning to the subtleties of the practice. I became curious; when did a posture feel like it was flowing? Finding adjustments to suit my body became my thing. Feeling light and buoyant became the ‘stretch’.
I entered into an exploration of my body and the practice. I questioned what was happening when I felt heavy and burdened; was I actually holding when I could in fact be relaxing into that space?
This question was important because as a self-identified stiff-bodied person, I’d forgotten that my body was capable of finding a bit more space for exploration. One day I spontaneously relaxed in down-ward facing dog, and my heels literally dropped a centimeter or two towards the floor. I almost yelped in surprise.
Learning to soften.
I couldn’t help but feel the joy of those tiny signs – my body was learning to soften.
I yearned for a soft body; in fact I had dreams where my feet were touching the ground in downward facing dog. It felt so visceral, like my body knew what that sensation was like. I felt compelled to stretch myself.
For about 6 months I went to the yin classes at Hot Yoga. The heat in my body meant that I could move further into postures, and for awhile there, I started orientating my practice towards those sorts of accomplishments; awesome! I can get my forehead to the floor in pigeon. I stopped going when a friend I’d brought along to the class hurt her neck doing an unsafe shoulder stand.
I realised, without correct instruction, I could be pulling off moves that my body wasn’t necessarily equipped to handle. I felt at some level, that I’d started to take short-cuts, in order to get results.
So I returned to my basics. Given that what was available to my body was often the first variation, I had more time than others to explore that one posture. And I had more time than others to tame the mind.
Learning the essence of yoga.
I remember, after a monumental heartbreak one day, I turned up to a yoga class determined not to torture my experience with my grief-laden mind. For that whole practice – given the wild chop of emotions off the mat – I gave every ounce of my attention to being on the mat. To being totally present to that practice.
And I did it. Every time my attention slipped off the mat, I could feel the crashing grief right at my doorstep. This became a useful gate-keeper to pulling my attention back on to the mat.
While I don’t advocate resisting emotions in that way, it sure was a useful first step in experiencing the domain of mind and suffering versus being present and finding peace.
These conscious moments are what keep me coming back to yoga.
Feeling my body soften is a slow process, and compounded by me turning of an age where my body has naturally started to stiffen again, the effects of the practice on my body flexibility are subtle to notice. Perhaps this is the nature of form /substance /material /earth.
The more malleable element of air, or mind, however is providing a swifter window into the flexibility I have gained in my life.
In the course of my practice, I often experience an aligned mind. A buoyant mind. A light mind. A soft mind. An easy mind. And yes, a flexible mind.
For myself, I needed to find the motivation that could steer me past my body issues in order to give yoga a fair chance. Focusing on perfecting the body amplified my lack of worthiness.
Focusing on enjoying my experience by quieting my mind provided a natural incentive for me to turn up to class again, and again, and keep going.
A wise teacher once said:
‘Its not about touching your toes, but about what you learn about yourself on the way down’.
I would be interested to know…
If you’re inflexible – like me – what helped you to give yoga a try? What kept you going back for more?
And if you’re a yoga teacher; how would you respond to someone who says “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga”?
Editor’s Note: That photo is Kara-Leah circa 2005.
6 Useful Yoga Poses for Inflexible People
Yoga is an incredible thing to get into, for anybody. The real beauty of it is how it’s equally beneficial for your mind and your body harmoniously. That’s something that isn’t always shared across exercise, and another reason that being inflexible shouldn’t be a barrier to yoga.
Exercise is seen as active, in principle, and it is. Yoga, however, is more about slowing the pace down and getting in a more concentrated isometric exercise and making the most of the meditative effects. Despite this, though, getting started isn’t always the easiest of things to do, mainly because it does require some flexibility. Fear not though there are a few easy-ish yoga poses that even the most inflexible of us can get stuck right into without ever coming across a downward dog or any asana before!
To get things started, the first yoga pose we have is the cobra. This exercise revolves mostly around using your lower back muscles more than anything else. That doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it a good starting point, and it’ll be great for improving your lower back health which is where a lot of problems can come from.
To do the cobra, simply lay flat on your stomach, place your arms by your sides, and lift yourself up using your hands as support.
Next up is the tree pose. This one doesn’t need much more flexibility than the last one. One issue that it does pose however is balance. It’s still one of the easier yoga poses, but for inflexible people, it isn’t the easiest. You do need to stand on one leg after all; practice makes perfect though!
To do this one, you need to place your hands together in front of you. From there, lift one leg and place the bottom of your foot on your adjacent knee. Hold, breath and switch.
The warrior pose is another yoga classic, and it’s one of the much more famous yoga poses out there, making it great for this list (and it looks cool). It’s a great way to stretch out your whole core section as well as your upper legs.
The warrior uses the same kind of mechanics as lunges, and it’s revolving around you placing your hands together up above your head. From there, lunge, breathe and hold.
The child’s pose is an awesome way to get into your own little world and make the most of the serenity of what you’re doing. It is an awesome way to stretch out your whole upper body, especially your back and shoulders if they’re tight.
To do the child’s pose, you need to get on your knees to begin. When you’re ready, take a deep relaxing breath, and bring your torso up and forwards. Stretch your arms as far out in front of you as you can, and really feel the stretching that the pose offers you.
Downward Facing Dog
The downward-facing dog (possibly the most famous yoga pose of all) is probably one of the harder exercises in terms of inflexible yoga poses on this list, but it’s still one to work up to before you try anything too drastic. It’s a natural pose and doesn’t require you to hold your weight too much either. You can use extra support too if you need it.
To get into the downward-facing dog, you essentially form an upside-down V with your hands and feet being the only point of contact to the floor; kind of like when a dog is stretching (who’d have guessed it?).
The bridge pose is one of the yoga poses in this list that you’ve probably seen before. It almost mimics the exercise that Is the glute bridge perfectly. It’s an awesome way to make the most of your glutes and upper back as you hold the isometric position.
Finally, to do this one, you simply lay on your back with your knees bent, push downwards to lift your bum off the floor, and hold, so there’s a bridge under your body.
All of these poses are a good place to start. They’re great poses for both inflexible people and for beginners in general (but here’s more info on that). They all require very little flexibility, but will still help you advance in your yoga and actually help you to build your flexibility up a little. It’s valuable in and out of exercise, and it’s something that’s always a good idea (it can even help with back pain).
For more flexibility help, check out this NHS guide too
Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. Exercise.co.uk assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.
If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.
Yoga for Inflexible People
This sequence was highly requested!
Here is it with some tips from me:
Flexibility Tip #1
If you label yourself inflexible, notice if the voice in your head telling you, “you’re not flexible” is a mean one.
One of the biggest aspects a comprehensive yoga practice (that’s often overlooked) is observing your own thought patterns and working to eliminate any negative self-talk.
Flexibility Tip #2
Remember that flexibility takes *time.* It’s only through a consistent, on-going practice (with a focus on the long term) that your body will adjust.
Do your practice consistently because you love it and it enriches your energy and mind (aka get addicted to yoga for all the right reasons) and suddenly you’ll find yourself in pose 6-months down the line that you never thought you were flexible to do.
You’ll just slip into it.
It’ll just happen.
Remember that flexibility is relative. I feel highly inflexible when comparing myself to the gymnast yogis on Instagram and ballerinas at my dance class. Even I have to remind myself that the goal isn’t to look a certain way, but to feel good in your body. Flexibility should be about your well-being, not vanity (although it’s definitely fun to have goals).
Yoga is about a balance of flexibility, strength, breath, centered-ness.
It’s likely that if you think you’re really stiff, you’re very strong in other areas (physically, mentally or both). Flexibility is just one aspect of the practice.
THINK POSITIVE & ALWAYS GET ON YOUR MAT.
The 2 shifts that helped me breakthrough my negativity & fall in love with my practice
Want personalized feedback from me on your practice? Join Uplifted => http://www.brettlarkin.com/uplifted/
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Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images
You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga, although it certainly helps for some poses. But there are plenty of moves you can do even if you have the world’s tightest hamstrings. We love this list from Health that spotlights great beginner poses that don’t require much flexibility to get started. Here are a few to try:
- Tree pose, where you stand on one leg and rest your other foot on that leg. If your balance is good (or if you hold on to the wall), you can put that foot on your shin or thigh. But it’s fine to keep the ball of your foot on the floor and just rest your heel on your other ankle. Try to get that foot a little higher each time.
- Chair pose is about strength rather than flexibility. You stand on both feet, legs together, and move your hips down and back like you’re about to sit in a chair. In an advanced yoga class you might hold this position for several breaths, going deeper and deeper. But if you’re just starting out, you can stand up and sink down with each breath rather than holding.
- Downward dog doesn’t have to be as hard as it looks. This is a pose where your hands and feet are on the floor, butt in the air. As a beginner, keep your feet spread apart, and bend your knees as much as necessary. If you’re following along with a video or class that expects you to hold this position for a while, feel free to take short breaks to go into child’s pose instead.
- Child’s pose is supposed to be relaxing, but if it doesn’t feel that way to you yet, you can modify it. Your instructor probably has her shins on the floor, arms forward, and head resting on the mat. If you can’t quite get there, try resting your head on a cushion or yoga block. You can also widen your legs or move them closer together, depending on your preference—different leg positions will stretch different parts of the body.
Check out the rest of the list for more ideas, including simple classics like mountain pose (standing tall on your feet, nothing more) and corpse pose (just what it sounds like—you lay down on the ground).