I cannot even recollect the number of times that I have heard someone tell me that they could not practice yoga because they were not flexible. Now this is the silliest statement I have ever heard. It is the equivalent of saying “I cannot shower because I am dirty.” Yoga is a practice that encourages your body to increase its range of motion and flexibility. Therefore, it is certainly not a prerequisite of the practice to already be flexible. For all the non-flexible people out there, I highly encourage you to take up a yoga practice, it will powerfully transform your body and your mind. The following ten poses are an excellent start to prepare you for yoga. These postures are the perfect examples to prove that you do not need to be flexible to practice, all that you need is an open mind.
10 Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
This simple but highly effective posture is the foundation of any yoga practice. Begin standing with your feet either touching or hip-distance apart (whichever feels more comfortable for you). Press down equally into all corners of your feet and spread your toes wide in order to create a large surface area for you to rest on top of. Lift up on your kneecaps to feel a solid engagement through your thighs. Align your ears over your shoulders and your hips over your ankles to create a tall, straight line throughout your body. Gently hug your bellybutton in toward the back body and reach up through the crown of your head. Allow your arms to relax down beside you. Tune in with your breath and feel the steadiness and strength of this powerful foundational posture.
9 Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
From your mountain pose, press down firmly against your feet and draw in strongly on your abdominals. Bend deeply into your knees and let your fingertips graze the floor. From here, try to keep your knees bent as deeply as they are and sweep and extend your arms up toward the sky so that your elbows hug toward your ears. Try to relax your shoulders down your back. Imagine that you are sitting into a chair (thus creating this shape with your body). Take a moment to look down at your feet and make sure that you can still see all ten toes past your knees. If you can’t see your toes, sit your hips back slightly further. Try to energetically hug your knees in toward each other without actually moving any bones. Hold for a few long deep breaths.
8 Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Return back to your tall mountain pose. Look forward in front of you and try to focus your eyes onto one, non-moving point. This will help immensely with balance so try to keep your eyes still and focused. Bring your palms to meet in front of your heart. Shift your weight into your left leg, and when you feel steady, gently begin to lift your right foot up off the floor. Externally rotate at your hip joint so that your right knee points to the right side of your mat. Place your right foot either onto your left calf or upper left thigh (you can place it anywhere except at the knee joint). Energetically press your foot against the leg and use the same amount of energy to press your leg against the foot. If it feels appropriate, you can reach your arms up over your head taking any arm position that you like. Try to your abs firmly engaged and keep your breath full and relaxed. When you’re ready, switch to the opposite leg.
7 Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
Return back to your tall mountain pose. Once again, focus your eyes onto one still point. Shift your weight into your left leg and lift your right foot off the floor. Cross your right leg over your left (as if you’re sitting cross-legged) and bend deeply into your knees to lower toward the floor in a squat. You can leave the right leg as it is, or if it’s available to you, you can wrap your right foot back around the left calf for a double bind. Try to lengthen your torso up toward the ceiling, straightening your back as much as possible. Expand your arms out wide like wings and give yourself a big hug with your right arm crossing over your left. You can stay here or, keeping the cross of the arms, bring the backs of your hands or the front of your hands to meet in a bind. Try to squeeze your legs toward each other and sit low in your squat. Try to squeeze your arms toward each other as well, really constricting blood flow throughout your body in this super contracted posture. Continue to maintain your breath and when you feel ready, switch sides.
6 Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose)
Return back to a tall mountain pose. Shift your weight into your left leg and take a huge step back with your right leg so that you take a wide stance using up at least 80% of your mat. Let the toes of your left foot stay pointing forward toward the top of your mat and turn the toes of your right foot out about 90 degrees so that they point to the right side of your mat while also relaxing your heel to the floor. Try to create a straight line from your front heel to the arch of your back foot. Let your torso and your hips turn toward the right side of your mat. Bend deeply into your front knee trying to draw your thighbone parallel to the floor (or as close as possible). Be careful to keep your front knee either directly on top of your ankle or slightly behind it, but never in front of it. Try to align your ears directly over your shoulders and align your shoulders directly over your hips. Engage your core firmly by hugging your belly in and up. Reach your arms open, each hand reaching toward an opposite foot. Try to relax your shoulders and expand out through your fingertips. Lengthen your spine toward the ceiling and relax your hips toward the floor. Breathe deeply before switching sides.
5 Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Fold)
Return back to your tall mountain pose. Lengthen through your spine and draw your hands to your hips. Press down firmly against your feet and slightly bend into your knees. Leading with your chest, try to keep a “flat back” position as you dive your torso forward over your legs. You have a few options here: you can rest your hands onto yoga blocks or a stack of books, you can rest your hands on your shins or thighs or you can take a hold of opposite elbows and allow your arms to dangle toward the floor. Whichever option you choose, make sure that you can breathe fully and deeply from wherever you are. Try to relax and release into this stretch. Feel free to bend your knees as deeply as you would like to make this position feel more comfortable to you.
4 Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
Start lying down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat against the floor about hip-distance apart. Walk your feet toward your butt until you can reach your heels with your fingertips. Relax your tailbone toward your heels and press your lower back down against the floor. Try to find a neutral position with your neck and try to keep your head still for the duration of this posture. Bend into your elbows and allow your fingertips to point up straight toward the ceiling. Hug your bellybutton in toward your spine and try to draw your shoulder blades toward each other, creating a little puffing up of your chest. From here, press down equally into your feet and your shoulders and utilize your core to lift your hips high up off the floor. Keep pressing down to lift up even higher. Imagine that you are squeezing a block between your legs (or better yet, actually do!) to keep the energy of your thighs hugging into the midline of your body. Keep your belly active and engaged as you expand your hips up and try to draw your shoulder blades even closer toward each other to really open up your chest. You can keep your hands as they are, or if you would like, you can wiggle one shoulder underneath, followed by the other and interlace your fingers behind your back. Make sure to keep your breath full and release out slowly and carefully when you feel ready.
3 Sucirandhrasana (Thread-The-Needle Pose)
Again, start lying down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat against the floor, hip-distance apart. Lift your right foot up off the mat and flex your ankle hard. Bend deeply into your knee and cross your foot over your left knee to create a figure-4 shape. Relax your tailbone toward your feet and feel your lower back connect to the floor. Lift your left foot up off the mat and also flex hard into this ankle. Interlace your fingers behind your left thigh (or use a towel or a yoga strap or belt wrapped around the thigh) to very gently draw your legs toward your chest. Keep reaching your tailbone in the opposite direction to maintain contact between your lower back and the floor. Try to relax your shoulders and your neck. Keep both of your ankles flexed hard and breathe into the opening that you’re creating. When you feel ready, switch sides.
2 Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall Pose)
Lie down in front of a wall with your feet touching the wall. Slowly begin to scoot your seat closer and closer to the wall as you bend your knees and walk your feet up the wall. Try your best to bring your sitbones directly against the wall (or as close as possible). If this feels uncomfortable to you, place a cushion or pillow underneath your seat. As best as you can, try to straighten your legs up the wall and then completely relax your whole body. Allow the weight of gravity to release any tension that you may be holding in your legs while you gently stretch your hamstrings. Soften your shoulders and your breath and surrender here for as long as you would like.
1 Savasana (Corpse Pose)
This very simple but very challenging “final resting pose” is the apex pose of every yoga class. Completing a yoga practice, this posture is a final meditative position for the body and mind. Start lying down on your back and walk your feet out to be wider than hip-distance apart. Let your heels turn in and your toes turn out, creating a slight opening of your hip joints. Relax your arms by your side with your palms facing up toward the ceiling as a symbolic gesture of surrender, while also creating space and opening at your shoulders and chest by externally rotating your upper arm bones. Close your eyes. Relax your breath and try to soften your mind. Try to hold for at least five minutes here (without falling asleep!) completely surrendering into this meditative state. Try not to go through your to-do list or plan what to eat for dinner. Allow your body to melt toward the floor and allow your mind to surrender into the present moment. If you think being flexible is the essence of yoga, you’ve got it all wrong. This is the essence of yoga.