Improve Your Flexibility With These Yoga Poses

If you ask people why they exercise, most will say to stay healthy, keep fit, or because it makes them feel good. Not a lot will mention flexibility as a goal, but it's a key part of maintaining your health and avoiding injury, especially as you age.

The stretching you do in yoga is a great way to improve your flexibility. It's a commonly held misconception that you have to already be flexible to do yoga. In fact, the opposite is true: doing yoga regularly is a sure way to become more flexible.

Key Muscle Groups to Target

The poses below target the three major muscles groups where most people are lacking flexibility: hamstrings, hips, and shoulders. These three areas tend to get even more tight from sitting for long periods or even from other types of exercise, like running.

Don't be in a rush to get through these poses. Many times you can feel several different phases of opening as you stay in a pose for longer. Don't expect overnight changes, however. For best results, do your stretches daily. The following poses are intended to give you some options to fit your current level of flexibility.

The Hamstrings

The muscles running along the backs of your thighs are the hamstrings. Most people are pretty tight in this area, but it's an important place to stretch because tight hamstrings can cause back pain among other types of discomfort. Forward bends are a great way to loosen this area.

The Hips

Hip flexibility is complicated because there are so many muscles packed into this small area. Poses that stretch the hip flexors, including the psoas, iliacus, and parts of the quadriceps and glutes, are a good way to accomplish greater freedom of movement in the hips.

The Shoulders

Like the hamstrings and hips, shoulders are another area that gets tight from too much riding in cars and sitting at desks. If possible, take stretch breaks at work to avoid serious repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Poses to Increase Flexibility

Don't be in a rush to get through these poses. Many times you can feel several different phases of opening as you stay in a pose for longer. Don't expect overnight changes, however. For best results, do your stretches daily. The following poses are intended to give you some options to fit your current level of flexibility.

Reclined Big Toe Pose

Reclined big toe pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Reclined Big Toe Pose is also called Supta Padangustasana. Using a yoga strap around your raised foot makes this pose accessible to even those with the tightest hamstrings (you can also use a regular old belt if you don't have a strap handy). Let the head of your femur settle into the hip socket as you stretch the leg so that both hips stay grounded on the floor.

Standing Forward Bend

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

A Standing Forward Bend—or Uttanasana—is a simple way to stretch your hamstrings. Try to keep your hips over your ankles; most people have a tendency to let their hips creep too far back. Microbend your knees to avoid hyperextension. A nice variation is to take hold of opposite elbows and let your torso hang.

Triangle Pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Triangle Pose is also called Utthita Trikonasana. For this pose, straighten your front leg as much as possible, even if it means your hand can't reach the floor. Use a yoga block under your bottom hand if you have one. It's better to put pressure on​ the block than into your leg by leaning on it. Over time, use your developing core strength to take some of the weight out of your hand.​

Seated Wide-Legged Straddle

Seated straddle

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Seated Wide-Legged Straddle, or Upavistha Konasana is a wide-legged position that is a good way to stretch the insides of the thighs. If you are more open, you can take a forward bend here, but try to do it with a long spine instead of rounding your back. It's also just fine to stay sitting up if that's a better fit for you.

Eye of the Needle

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Eye of the Needle or Sucirandhrasana is a great pose for people with tight hips because it's very customizable. This stretch is also done in Pilates.

Start just by crossing one ankle onto the opposite thigh. This might be enough for some people. If you want to go further, lift the bottom leg off the ground incrementally. Stop when you find the place where you feel a good stretch but you're not in pain.

Cobbler's Pose

Cobbler's pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

In Cobbler's Pose, also known as Baddha Konasana, gravity does the hip opening work for you. This is a particularly good pose to stay in for a few minutes at a time. If you find this position extremely uncomfortable, there are a few things your can try.

Sitting up on a folded blanket can help because it raises the hips above the knees. Placing a block under each knee for support is also an option, but make sure you lower the blocks incrementally over time so that you see your progress.


Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Pigeon Pose—Eka Pada Rajakapotasana—is an amazing hip opener, but it can be a tough one for people with very tight hips. The best thing to do in this case is to use plenty of props. Eventually, your butt comes to the ground on the forward leg side. If that's not happening, use as much padding as is necessary to bring the floor up to meet your behind.

Once you feel supported, see if you can begin to forward bend. That added pressure on the front leg can open you up even more. But take it gradually if you are very tight to avoid injury.

Eagle Pose

Eagle pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Eagle Pose—Garudasana—works on both shoulder and hip flexibility. The legs target the hard-to-get-to outer hips and the arms give you a great stretch across the upper back.

If the twisted up legs are throwing you for a loop, just do the arm position while seated in any way that's comfortable (see here for eagle in a chair). Be sure to do the pose with each arm on top in turn.

Bridge Pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Bridge Pose—Setu Bandha Sarvangasana—helps open the hip and shoulder area. The way to get a good shoulder stretch in bridge pose is to make sure to tuck each shoulder under after you have lifted your hips up. If the back-bending aspect of the pose seems too intense, you can get a similar stretch in a supported bridge by doing the same shoulder-tucking action and interlacing your fingers around the block.

Cow Face Pose

Cow face

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Cow Face Pose is also called Gomukhasana. Don't worry if you can't clasp your hands behind your back in cow face pose. It's really not about that, so use anything handy (belt, strap, towel, t-shirt) to make up the distance between the hands. Try to send your breath into any areas of tightness you feel.

12 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Matthews J. 10 reasons why you should be stretching. American Council on Exercise. 2017.

  2. Bender D. Yoga for every body. American Fitness Magazine. 2017.

  3. Brautigam V. Why do muscles tighten up? American Council on Exercise. 2011.

  4. ACE Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Institute. Tight hamstrings and low back pain. 2018.

  5. Mateo A. Why you’re getting tight hip flexors and how to loosen them. Runners World. 2019.

  6. Newcomer L. 4 ways to relieve carpal tunnel pain. Silver Sneakers. 2017.

  7. Upper thigh stretches. American Council on Fitness.

  8. Eye of the needle. Yoga Basics.

  9. Bound angle pose. Yoga Journal. 2019.

  10. Carey L. Why use props? Yoga International. 2015.

  11. Eagle pose. Yoga Journal. 2019.

  12. Bridge pose. Yoga Journal. 2019.

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.