Can’t Touch Your Toes? Do This

Photo: Leslie Lewis

I’m a yoga teacher, so I hear, “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible and I can’t touch my toes!” at least once a day. The thing is, that’s why you should be doing it in the first place. Regardless of how far your fingers are from the floor right now, there are yoga poses that can help you increase your flexibility and stretch those muscles. With enough practice, you’ll be able to scoop up that golf ball or tie your shoes without crouching down or sitting.

It’s all that sitting, by the way, that’s shortening your hamstrings in the first place. Your muscles get tight from inactivity or improper stretching before your workout. The good news? All you need is a few minutes a week to stretch them out. A study by the Department of Human Performance and Exercise Science, which focused specifically on hamstring flexibility, found that just 30 seconds of stretching, done three times a week, successfully helped lengthen the hamstrings after just four weeks. You also need to think about your deep hip muscles and the muscles that run down your back. Here are three poses that will open up your hip, back, and hamstring muscles. Stay in each pose for 10 long breaths, inhaling until your upper chest expands, and exhaling until your belly contracts toward your spine.

Bound Angle
From a seated position, bring the soles of your feet together, letting your knees release toward the floor. Lift through the crown of your head, keeping the spine long, and gently fold forward, extending the sternum toward the front of the mat. Instead of letting the spine round, keep lengthening out in front of you as you open up the hips and lower back.

Reclining Big Toe Pose
Lie on your back with a yoga strap or a towel looped around the sole of your foot.  Straighten the leg and reach the heel toward the ceiling as you press the front of your thigh away from you, and bring the toes toward you in the opposite direction. Don’t allow the ankle to come too far forward of the hip, as you want to keep the hip grounded on the floor as you stretch the hips, thighs, hamstrings, and calves.

Standing Forward Fold
Stand with your back against a wall, take one step away and bring your feet together or hip distance apart. Put a slight bend at your knees and hinge at your hips. Place your palms on your shins and fold forward as you begin to bring the crown of your head toward the center of the room. If you don’t feel a stretch here, continue to fold deeper bringing the crown of your head toward the floor, bending the elbows if necessary. Eventually, you will be able to reach your fingers toward the floor or on yoga blocks to stretching out your hips, calves, hamstrings, and thighs in this pose.

Four weeks from now, you’ll officially be one of the flexible ones.