When I was a kid, I was basically a human pretzel. I could twist, turn, and somehow work myself into the craziest of positions. It wasn't uncommon for my friends in high school to remark at the little ball I'd work myself into while sitting at my desk in class — yes, I'm also shocked at how casual my attitude was back then, but hey, it was a different time.
Even in my early 20s, flexibility was nothing I ever worried about losing, simply because it had always been there. It wasn't until a few months ago when I went to do a simple toe touch as a cooldown stretch for a class when I felt a pull that hadn't ever been there before. I was halfway to my toes when I realized, although I had been keeping up with a healthy lifestyle, I was no longer the human pretzel I once was. Was it possible I was someone who now struggled to touch their toes? It didn't take but a few poses into a recent yoga class to learn that yep, flexibility was now out of my reach — pun intended.
To help me work out those kinks and still reap the benefits of stretching, I turned to Tessa Jenkins, RYT 500, Yoga Studio Manager, Training Director for Bulldog Online and Bulldog Yoga Studio. She shared four yoga poses that even those who can't touch their toes can master and still feel that deep stretch they crave.
Ragdoll Pose: Works the hamstrings and lengthens the posterior chain muscles
Stand tall on the mat and separate your feet hip-width apart. Take a slight (or deep) bend in the knees and fold forward, letting your chest move toward your thighs. Grab your opposite elbows with opposite hands, creating a box around your head. In this pose, sway from side to side. Shift your weight toward the front of your foot, and stay in this forward fold for five inhales and exhales.
Yoga Squat/Malasana: Works the low back and pelvic muscles
Stand with your feet wide on the mat with your heels turned in and your toes turned out. Start to lower your hips down to the mat, and bring your hands together in a prayer position, pressing your elbows toward the inside of your thighs. If this move feels too intense, Jenkins suggests sliding a pillow underneath your hips to give support. Hold the squat for fives breaths to encourage the low back and release tension.
Half Splits Moving to a Low Lunge: Works the hip joints and helps lengthen the hamstrings
Stand with both feet hip-width apart at the top of the mat. Step the left foot to the back of the mat, making sure your feet are still hip-width apart. Bend into a high lunge, so your front knee is stacked over your ankle. Lower your left knee to the mat, bringing your hands or fingertips to the mat on either side of your hips. If you're not as flexible and have trouble contacting the mat, place a yoga block or book under your hand. Next, straighten your right leg and slide your hip back to stretch the back of your right leg. Hold this pose for three breaths. Then, bring your hips forward, and sink into a low lunge and hold for five breaths. Continue this set of poses for five rounds, and then switch to the other leg.
Child's Pose: Works the posterior chain muscles and back muscles, eases hip tightness
Simply start on your mat face down with your knees tucked into your chest. Widen your knees on the mat. Lower your chest to the mat, and sweep your arms toward the front of the mat to feel the stretch.
Although these stretches are straight from a yoga practice, you don't have to be an aspiring yogi to feel the benefits of a flow. Jenkins recommends choosing two to three of these moves to try each day to stretch out various muscle groups and improve your flexibility. Personally, I've been sporting a cozy yet supportive bra like the UA Vanish Seamless Essentials Sports Bra ($30) under my work-ready sweater, so I can ease right into my flow once my workday is done. I may not be the same human pretzel I once was, but after a couple of days going through these movements, I can already feel myself inching closer to a more flexible me.