Yoga Stretches for Beginners to Yogis of All Levels
It’s common knowledge that practicing yoga will help with flexibility. But what we sometimes forget is that even the most advanced yogis need a little extra help with opening up the body.
More specifically, our hips, hamstrings, glutes (buttocks), core (front and back) and shoulders need to be stretched to promote mobility, good posture and to strengthen our entire bodies safely.
Regardless of what level you’re at in your practice, it’s important to take some time to stretch and create space in your body both before and after your yoga practice. So, let’s take a look at a few stretches that will target those exact areas mentioned above.
Video for Yoga Stretches is here:
1. Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) – Stretching the Hip Flexors
We’ll start with the hips. We carry a lot of tension in our hips so it’s important to open up these large joints to release some of that tension. This first stretch will target our hip flexors, the front of the hips.
To begin, come to stand at the top of your mat. Bring your feet hip-width apart and start to bend your knees and place both hands onto the mat.
Step your left foot to the back of the mat. Make sure your right knee and ankle are in one line. This is very important for the safety and health of your knees.
Keep the knee straight (not tilting to either side), directly in line with your second toe. Press your toes into the mat and lift the arch of your foot to keep the foot activated.
For your back leg, press the heel towards the earth and the back of your knee towards the sky, keeping the leg strong.
Lengthen your spine and neck. You don’t need to strain anything here; simply look straight ahead.
Plant your hands down on the mat. Stay here and breathe deeply for about fifteen seconds. Then step your left foot forward and the right foot back. Repeat on the other side.
When you’re finished with the right side, drop your knees to the mat and shift your hips to your heels coming to sit on your shins.
2. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) with strap – Stretching the Hamstrings
Bring your legs out in front of you and lie down on your back.
Grab your strap (if you don’t have a strap, you can use a belt or scarf) and lift your right leg into your chest. You can keep your left leg long unless this hurts your back, in which case your left knee will bend and the left foot will rest on the mat.
Wrap the strap around the ball of your foot. This is the soft padded area just beneath your toes and above your arch. If you find that this placement only stretches your calf muscle, move the strap across the arch of the foot.
Hold onto each side of the strap with either hand. Bring your knee into your chest and slowly start to press your foot to the sky.
Move very slowly here and only go to your edge—the place where you feel a stretch but it’s not painful. It’s okay if there is a slight bend in the knee, as long as you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.
Once you find a comfortable position for your leg, flex your foot. Then, if your other knee was bent, stretch it out long onto the mat and flex the foot.
If you don’t feel anything in the strapped leg and it’s all the way straight, gently start to bring it closer to your chest until you find your sweet spot.
Keep your grounded leg straight and active, your knee facing straight up to the sky.
Stay here for at least 45–60 seconds, breathing deeply. Then, release the strap and hug your knee into your chest. Switch sides and repeat this stretch on the other leg.
3. Sucirandhrasana (Eye of the Needle Pose) – Stretching the Glutes
Next we’ll come to the glutes. This will also open up the back and side of the hips. These areas are used a lot in yoga so it’s important to help them recover by opening them up and lengthening the muscles.
Stay lying on your back. Bend both of your knees and place your feet on the mat just in front of your buttocks. Lift your right knee into your chest and open the knee outward, so your right ankle will rest on the front of your left thigh.
Flex your right foot and start to inch the left knee towards your face.
Interlace your fingers around your left shin—the left hand will reach around the outside of the left leg and the right hand on the inside of the left leg, beneath the right calf—this is the eye of the needle.
Keeping your right foot flexed, gently push your thigh towards your upper body. You can use your right elbow to press and open up the right knee. You should feel a deep opening in the right side of your buttocks and outer hip.
Stay here and breathe for 45–60 seconds. Then release the right foot to the mat and repeat on the left side.
When you’ve completed the stretch on the left side, bring both feet to the mat, knees bent and sway your knees from side to side, releasing the lower back.
4. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) – Stretching the Core
From the hips, we’ll move up to our core. Opening up our core is so important because we tend to slouch and sit a lot more than our bodies were meant to.
Stretching our core helps us stand up straighter and creates space for all our major organs—helping them flush and cleanse any fluids and toxins that have set up camp there.
We’ll come into Bridge Pose for this core stretch, so stay on your back with your knees bent and feet on the mat, and bring your heels toward your buttocks, so you can touch them with your fingertips.
If you have a block, this is a great time to place it in between your thighs for a little more stability and strengthening.
Play with the width of the block—if you have more narrow hips, you’ll probably enjoy the smaller setting, wider hips will probably use the wider setting. Find which one works in your body.
Then, lift your hips to the sky. Activate your thighs here; externally rotate your shoulders, opening up your heart.
You can either grab the edges of your mat with your hands, or you can roll your shoulder blades underneath your chest and interlace your fingers beneath your lower back.
Take a deep breath in and keep pressing your thighs, hips and heart up toward the sky. Breathe here for 30–60 seconds, or as long as you feel comfortable.
Lower your hips back down to the mat, bring your knees into your chest and roll from side to side, massaging the spine.
5. Balasana (Child’s Pose) – Stretching the Back
Next we’ll open up our upper back. This is another good stretch for anyone who sits a lot during the day or needs to work on his or her posture.
From lying on your back, slowly roll yourself up to a seat. Then come into a traditional Child’s Pose—hips rest on your heels, forehead to the mat and arms reach out long.
If your hips need a little help touching your heels, place a bolster or pillow on your calves to rest your hips on.
Now open your hands a little wider, so your pinky fingers are resting on the edges of your mat. Tent your hands, so just your fingertips are on the mat, reaching your arms long and keeping them strong.
Lift your head to lengthen your spine. Look straight ahead, but keep the neck long rather than compressed. Keep your head lifted to maintain a long spine, without rounding and press your fingertips into the mat.
Stay here for 40–60 seconds, and then slowly come up to sit on your knees.
6. Arm Circles with Strap – Stretching the Shoulders
Lastly, we’ll open up the shoulders. Another area of the body that we use a lot in yoga, our shoulders have a bunch of tiny little stabilizer muscles that, if not warm, can easily be injured from overuse.
To create a little heat in our shoulders, we’ll do some arm circles.
So, sitting with shins on the mat and your hips on your feet, grab a strap, belt or scarf, one end in each hand. Lift your hips up so you’re standing on your knees. Then hold either end of the belt in front of your chest, so your hands are a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
Take a deep breath in, and lift your arms up, over and behind your head and back. Take a deep breath out, and bring them back in front of your chest.
Inhale back, exhale forward.
Keep your chin parallel to the mat and try not to move it forward and back as your circle your arms—only your arms move here.
Do 20–30 repetitions, however many feel good for your body, moving with your breath.
These six stretches will help you get your body ready for a yoga practice or just recover from one. Incorporate them into your daily practice and begin to see the difference in your overall flexibility, strength and posture.
What are some of your favorite yoga stretches? Let us know in the comments!
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, Yoganonymous, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur).