I am so inflexible that I am about 12 inches from being able to touch my toes. I want to do yoga to improve my flexibility and my general health, but it's so hard. What can I do when I can't even sit up straight with my legs out straight? What stretches should I be doing to improve that situtation?
Yoga doesn't require you to be flexible to participate. In fact people who are flexible are at far greater risk in terms of joint health than a stiffer person. In addition Yoga is not about achievement or performance. It is about experience, feeling, being, learning about yourself through the practice.
Looking through my eyes as a teacher of 10 years now, with 2,000 hours of training, certified by the State of Washington you will see two students. One student is very mobile and simply flops into every pose but has no juice in the pose whatsoever. The other student is not so mobile but they are focused, efforting, exploring, discovering. It is the second student who is the advanced student, not the first.
That having been said, a sound teacher modifies the practice to fit the student, though there are practices that do not and expect YOU to fit them (a type I'd avoid). Usually students have to learn how to move their pelvis. That action typically comes from opening up the muscles that connect to it, specifically the hamstrings. It is not ONLY this but it's often a very sound start.
Additionally, students that have yet to find pelvic mobility can and should sit on a folded blanket for several stacked foamy pads to tip the pelvis for them (sitting on the front edge and no more). And bending the knees slightly (for now) will also help. If you don't have a teacher please find an alignment-based teacher near you and commit to some foundational classes. The practice should be filled with joy, not littered with punishment.
Thanks for your advice. I'm actually just doing videos at home right now because taking yoga classes is too expensive at the moment. I try sitting on blankets and things, but seriously, if I wanted to have my legs and back straight at the same time I would need at least a foot high something to sit on! I know yoga is not supposed to hurt, but how do I stretch when just the act of sitting up straight is a stretch?
Well if that is the nature of your body at this point in time you may need the exercise of patience to go along with the exercise of muscles. Are you asserting that you are unable to sit with your back against a wall and your legs straight out in front of you?
If that is the case then it is likely your hamstrings and I suggest working them daily in the following way. Lie down on your back with your feet toward the wall, knees bent, feet on floor. Maintaining this basic position straighten one leg up toward the ceiling and rest the heel of the foot on the wall. Move toward or away from the wall as needed (closer as your hamstrings open up over time. farther when they are tight, stiff, or less mobile).
Try to search for some yoga tutorials on Youtube, download Youtube video http://downloadyoutubevideo.net/ and exercise for a bit at home near your pc or laptop just to see what you can do and what you can not. I've done this a couple of years ago, I used a tutorial to do yoga myself and I wasnt as flexible as I am now. I started yoga at home and continued at the gym.
Usually there are adapted positions for every asana so you dont have to go to the final version of the pose if you cant reach it yet. In my experience the best thing is to respect your body limitations and dont force yourself into extremely painful positions. As my teacher says "if today's practice will afect tomorrow's practice then there's something you need to change".
Luckly with yoga you will see the changes really fast and soon you will be a lot more flexible
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