Enhancing Every Movement: The Role of Flexibility and Mobility
February 12, 2024
Look at pictures of yoga practitioners online, and you could be forgiven for thinking that flexibility is a prerequisite for yoga. Believe us when we tell you – it’s not. In reality, countless seasoned practitioners started their yoga practice to improve flexibility and mobility. Both flexibility and mobility are crucial for healthy movement, whether you’re training for a marathon, keeping up with young kids, or recovering from an injury.
What is the Difference Between Flexibility and Mobility in Yoga?
Before we go into more detail, it’s worth understanding the difference between flexibility and mobility. They’re closely related but not identical. The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) defines flexibility as the ability of your soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments to lengthen passively.
Mobility refers to your joints, where bone meets bone. Full mobility allows you to actively you’re your joints through their entire range of motion. Ideally, you can initiate, sustain, and end that movement. Once mobility becomes limited, you will still be able to move the joint in question, but the range (or options) of movement become restricted.
For your body to move healthily, you’re looking to balance both. And whilst we’re not usually fans of generalizations and big, sweeping statements, it’s quite safe to assume that most of us have some room for improvement in these areas.
How Can Yoga Improve Flexibility and Mobility?
Yoga is often associated with flexibility rather than mobility. That makes sense because flexibility influences mobility. Here is an example to illustrate that point. Think of your knees: healthy knees allow you the squat down, stand up, and stretch your legs. You can walk easily or climb a set of stairs or a hill.
If your knees are healthy, the bones in the joint are mobile enough to support those movements. At the same time, your knees don’t simply move sideways. Tendons, muscles, and other soft tissues hold the bones in place and provide a frame for their movements.
When those soft tissues grow tight and stiff, they will hold on to the surrounding bones more than necessary and limit mobility. If you find it hard to bend forward and touch your toes, chances are your hamstrings are holding you back rather than the bones in your knee joint.
Using yoga poses to lengthen and strengthen these soft tissues will go a long way to benefit overall mobility.
How Can Flexibility and Mobility Benefit Other Activities?
Optimal flexibility and mobility make every movement easier. This is as true for everyday activities around the house as for performance-based athletic pursuits. Being flexible enough to enjoy your joints’ full range of motion makes light work of retrieving your house keys from under the couch. It also makes it easier for your knees and ankles to support you when running on uneven ground or stretching to return that tennis ball. Improving your overall flexibility allows your joints to work optimally and use their entire range rather than making up for a lack of flexibility through other means.
How You Can Start Improving Your Flexibility and Mobility Today
First things first, improving your flexibility to help improve your mobility requires a little patience. Try pushing too hard, and you may injure yourself, so be gentle, acknowledge where you are, and train yourself to notice even small improvements. They add up!
If you already have an established yoga practice, holding poses that lengthen soft tissues for a few breaths more will improve flexibility gradually. As your soft tissues are increasing their range, your joints will follow suit.
If you’re feeling rather stiff overall and are unsure where to start, we recommend joining a Flow and Meditation class at Uptown Yoga or working privately with one of our experienced instructors. Whether you’re in a private setting or a class, our instructors will start you off with gentle stretches to encourage soft tissues to release gradually while also making sure you avoid overdoing it. Repeat those asanas in between classes, and you’ll soon see your body transform.
Three Yoga Poses to Increase Flexibility and Mobility Today
Try these yoga poses to relieve stiffness and increase your flexibility and mobility. They work equally well first thing in the morning or after a long day spent on your feet or in front of a computer.
1. Supine Spinal Twist
This is one of the most gentle spinal twists, but it has the power to loosen a stiff lower back and help you move more freely. Start by lying on your back on your mat with your knees bent. Pull your knees toward your chest to stretch your lower back. You can even roll gently from side to side to massage your back.
Now drop your knees to one side, stacking them on top of each other. Spread your arms in a T shape and turn your neck to look away from your knees. You can rest one hand gently on your upper knee to encourage a deeper release. Hold for a few breaths and repeat on the other side.
2. Standing Forward Bend
‘Bend forward and touch your toes’ sounds like a very simple instruction, but the movement is tough for most of us. Limited mobility in our spine or tight hamstrings can make it feel impossible.
We’ve included it here because this is a great pose to help you see improvements within a relatively short space of time. You’ll still need to be gentle and a little patient. Stand on your mat with your feet firmly grounded. Slowly bend forward as far as is comfortable. If you start feeling tightness in your hamstrings, bend your knees a little.
It doesn’t matter if you reach your toes or not, just observe where you are today. Hold the pose for a few breaths and then slowly return to standing, vertebra by vertebra. Practice this pose e few times every day, and you’ll soon find that your fingertips are getting closer to your toes.
3. Seated Forward Bend
Seated forward bends have similar benefits to standing forward bends while offering you a bit more stability. Start by sitting on your mat with your legs stretched out in front of you and your feet flexed toward your knees. If that feels tight already, bend your knees a little.
Reach your arms up toward the sky and then lean forward. Notice the position of your back and only go as far as you can with your back remaining straight. Imagine your rib cage and chest touching your legs rather than your head. Hold this position for a few breaths.
To encourage more of a stretch, loop a belt around your feet and hold it with both hands. This allows you to stretch a bit more with a straight back.
Ready to Embrace Greater Flexibility and Mobility?
As with all types of yoga practice, consistency is the key to seeing progress. Joining a class at Uptown Yoga is a great way to get started or connect with other practitioners while working with a private yoga instructor allows you to tailor your practice to your goals. Get in touch to find out more about how you can embrace a healthier, more mobile future today!