8 Ways Yoga Can Improve Your Flexibility
Flexibility and strength are essential for dancers. Achieving the right balance of both is something we work on tirelessly – you could say they are the yin-yang of dance! If you’re looking to add some diversity to your fitness routine, give yoga for flexibility a try. Not only are there many exercises that can pinpoint your tightest spots such as the hips or back, but yoga will also improve your strength, circulation and promote relaxation!
Practicing yoga can also strengthen hyper-flexible joints and aid in preventing injury. Remember that you should practice these poses after your muscles are already warmed up to get the maximum benefit and to avoid injury.
One of the greatest side benefits from yoga is the focus on breath while you’re holding the different poses. Deep breathing encourages relaxation and optimal oxygenation of your blood – you’ll feel so much more energized when you’re breathing fully. As you come to understand the benefits of yoga breathing during exercise, you’ll naturally transition into the same deep breathing as you dance!
Here are eight yoga poses we recommend dancers practice.
1. Kapotasana or Pigeon Pose (Hips)
Ahhh – pigeon pose. There is nothing quite like sinking into pigeon pose when your hips are feeling tight. Start by going into a low lunge, then lower your front leg outward until it’s resting on the floor. You can then lean into the stretch by laying over your front leg if that is comfortable.
Once you’ve reached the position where you feel the most comfortable with the stretch, take three deep breaths in and out and visualize your muscles lengthening.
2. Supta Padangusthasana, or Reclining Hand-to-Big Toe Pose (Hamstring, Glutes)
This is an uncomplicated stretch you’ve probably already done in dance class without knowing about its yoga equivalent. In this post you’ll lay flat on your back, grab your big toe with the fingers of your hand on the same side, and extend your leg to the sky as much as you can.
3. Salabhasana, or Locust Pose (back)
Do this pose to strengthen your back muscles – it’s important to balance strength between the abdominals and your back – otherwise you’re more susceptible to injury!
Lay on your belly on your mat with your arms stretched back and your forehead down. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, reach your fingertips towards your toes and your toes away from your shoulders, then gently lift your torso and legs. Hold for one inhale, then exhale down to the start position. Take care when doing this for the first time and engage your abdominals as you extend to help support your back.
4. Navasana, or Boat Pose (abdominals, quadriceps)
This is a great pose to do if you are a dancer who has extreme flexibility in your hips and also in your spine.
Start by making a small boat by keeping your knees bent. You can gradually start extending your legs with pointed toes until you can achieve full extension. For a final challenge, extend your arms straight up along with your legs.
5. Ustrasana, Camel Pose (Back, Chest Hip Flexors)
To look at this pose you’d think the main benefit would be in the hips and back, but you’ll be amazed how good of a chest stretch this is, too. Kneel with your arms straight down at your sides. You can have your feet flat or your toes curled under. Turn your knees in slightly and place your hands on the small of your back. Using your hands to push your hips forward, slowly start to lean back. When you can’t lean any further, drop your ams so you are holding your feet, then push the hips forward. You’ll feel an amazing stretch along the full front of your body!
6. Pyramid Pose (hamstrings, shoulders)
This pose starts as a simple forward bend, but with one foot about a step in front of the other. The staggered legs intensify the hamstring stretch. Then, to further challenge your balance and core strength, you’ll lift your hands off the floor and rest them behind your back. If your shoulders are flexible enough, put your hands in a prayer position with the fingers pointing down your tailbone.
This pose is particularly helpful in simultaneously stretching the hamstrings and shoulders. It builds balance and full body coordination, calms the mind, and improves postural habits.
7. Balasana or Child’s Pose (back)
Child’s pose is one you will return to again and again. It’s a “comfort” position to come to whenever you need a break from stretching work, even though it is also a stretch itself. Kneel down with your legs slightly apart then lean forward until your forehead touches the floor. You can put your hands under your forehead if your back is not feeling flexible. Your arms can remain beside your legs or to deepen the stretch, extend your arms to the front or clasp your hands behind your back while keeping your forehead down.
8. Malasana, or yogi squat (quads, hamstrings)
With your feet hip width apart, toes pointed outward and your hands in prayer pose (palms together at your breastbone) slowly bend your knees, keeping your back as straight as possible. This pose stretches the thighs, groin, hips, ankles, and torso.
9. Bonus: Full yoga workout video for dancers
One of the most popular Yogis on YouTube, Yoga with Adriene, has made a full yoga flow for dancers. I hope you’ll give it a try! It includes plenty of poses not covered in this post.
When practicing yoga for flexibility, remember that each stretch is a process and don’t expect to fully achieve the desired pose immediately – you’ll still benefit! A yoga workout is an excellent opportunity to practice your breath control as well.
Is yoga part of your well-rounded dancer schedule? If not, will you give it a try now? Let us know in the comments and share your favourite pose!