7 Yin Yoga Poses To Maximise Your Flexibility

Feb 6, 2021
by Abi Carver  
Netflix Yoga

Turn on Netflix, grab some cushions, relax into these poses and witness flexibility gains you never thought possible!

There are a number of different styles of modern yoga, each one intended to achieve a different objective. Ashtanga is a demanding series of postures designed to build strength and flexibility, Bikram is a cardiovascular workout that you practice in a heated room, Iyengar yoga is therapeutic and relies heavily on props, the goal of Kundalini is spiritual perfection, and AcroYoga is the most fun and playful.

In this article, I’m going to demonstrate a style of yoga called Yin Yoga, that is designed to radically improve your flexibility and alleviate areas of persistent pain. In Yin Yoga, we hold poses for 10 breaths or more, using props, such as straps and blocks, for support. It’s deeply relaxing, the poses are highly targeted, and unlike more dynamic styles of yoga, you can do it while you’re watching Netflix or listening to an audiobook.

For a practice so effortless, it’s crazy how effective it is, purely because of the amount of time you spend relaxing into each pose.

What you need

For this sequence, you’ll need a yoga strap and two blocks. You can buy these inexpensively on Amazon or improvise with a belt, a pillow and a stack of books. The reason for using props is that Yin Yoga requires little or no muscular exertion. The idea is to support your body, relax, and allow your muscles to let go of tension naturally with the help of gravity.

When it comes to improving flexibility, consistency is key. So you can either practice this 30-minute, full-body sequence 2-3 times a week, or if you’re short on time, pick 3 or 4 postures to focus on. In Yin Yoga, time, not intensity, is the crucial factor.

How to do this sequence

For each pose, look at the anatomical objective, grab the props that you need and settle in at the appropriate depth for you. Not every pose will be comfortable but you shouldn’t experience sharp or searing pain. Hold each one for 10 breaths, trying to remain completely still. If you’d like, you can build up to 3 minutes or more. And if you do decide to go longer than 10 breaths, I recommend that you use a timer and increase the length of your holds incrementally over time.

Breathing in Yin Yoga

You don’t have to breathe in a particular way in this style of yoga but you should check in to see that your breathing is natural and unforced. The relaxation of your muscles happens on the exhalation, so you may like to experiment with extending your out-breath but this is likely to happen naturally if you’re doing your best to stay relaxed.

I had one mountain biker doing these poses regularly for six weeks and he’s never lost the flexibility that he achieved during that period. He now has no problem sitting cross-legged with his back straight and I rarely have to offer him modifications, even for the more advanced yoga postures.

So sit back, relax and say goodbye to that deeply-held tension you’ve been holding onto for years!

1. Reclining Hand-To-Big-Toe

Reclining Hand To Big Toe

Objectives: increases flexibility in the calves and hamstrings. (This is where you want to bring your awareness.)

Grab your strap and loop it around the ball of your right foot (the other one from the photo). Straighten your right leg, flex your right foot and lift your leg as high as you can. Walk your hands up the strap and draw your right thigh in towards your chest. Relax your neck and shoulders and keep your right leg as straight as you can, no matter how high it comes. Hold for 10 breaths on the right side only before moving onto the next pose.

2. Reclining Hand-To-Big-Toe B

Reclining Hand To Big Toe 2

Objectives: release tension in the calves, hamstrings, groin and adductors. (Bring your attention here.)

Open your right leg out to the side to bring the stretch into your groin and adductors. You can rest your right foot on a block at the most appropriate height for you. (Standard yoga blocks are 4″ x 6″ x 9″ giving you 3 choices of height.) Keep your right foot flexed and lift your right leg higher to maintain the stretch in your calves and hamstrings. Hold for 10 breaths.

3. Reclining Hand-To-Big-Toe C

Reclining Hand To Big Toe 3

Objectives: release tension in the calves, hamstrings, glutes and outer hips.

Bring your right leg across your body and support your right foot on a block on the left-hand side of your body. This will bring the stretch into the outside of your right hip. Relax your neck and shoulders and bring your right foot as high as you can to keep the stretch in your calves and hamstrings. Hold for 10 breaths before repeating these first 3 poses on the other side.

4. Supported Bridge

Supported Bridge

Objectives: release the hip flexors, improve thoracic spine mobility and open up the chest.

For this variation of Bridge pose, put a block underneath your sacrum, at the base of your spine. Choose the right height for you and relax into the pose for 10 breaths. Check that your feet are hip-width apart and parallel—your heels should come directly underneath your knees and turn your palms up to externally rotate your shoulders and gently stretch your chest.

5. Reclining Butterfly

Reclining Butterfly

Objectives: release the groin, improve t-spine mobility and open up the chest.

This pose is both a backbend and a hip opener. Rest the back of your head on a block stacked lengthways and your shoulder blades on a block placed horizontally, at medium height. Bring your arms out to the sides to stretch your chest and your legs into the shape of a diamond to release tension in your groin. Hold the pose for 10 breaths. You may want to support your knees on blocks or pillows for additional support.

6. Reclining Spinal Twist

Reclining Spinal Twist

Objectives: release tension at the lower back, lightly stretch the outer hips and open up the chest.

After a backbend, this twist should feel really good. You can grab a bolster or a pillow if your knee does not come all the way down to the mat. Hug your right knee into your chest and draw it across your body as you look to the right. Try to bring your right knee up to hip-height and look as far as you can to the right to feel the stretch down the left-hand side of your neck. Hold the pose for 10 breaths on each side.

7. Final Resting Pose

Final Resting Pose Abi Carver

Objectives: to release a deeper layer of physical and mental tension.

Lie down on your back with your feet hip-width apart, arms by your sides, palms face up. Let your feet fall open, relax your neck and shoulders and allow your body to soften. You may find this posture more comfortable if you put a pillow under your knees. Close your eyes and hold the pose still for a few minutes, following the natural rhythm of your breath as it comes in and out of your body.

I hope you enjoy these poses! Let me know how you find them.

I’m currently offering your first month of yoga free when you sign up to my site. Since I first published the Yoga For Mountain Bikers series on Vimeo, my video library has grown to 150+ videos that I have arranged into a number of different programs. If you're interested, you can check those out here: https://yoga15.com/courses.


88 Comments

  • 97 4
 @yoannbarelli, you look different.... I think it's the pants.
  • 2 1
 She's a changling - shape shifter Wink
  • 43 0
 I've been working hard on my hip mobility !! Glad you enjoyed watching me Smile
  • 5 0
 @yoannbarelli: you give me some very confusing feelings...
  • 3 0
 do you really want to see @yoannbarelli in tight pants?? i've got some good pics!!
  • 44 0
 I can't praise Abi enough, I been following her yoga plans for years now, her videos are clear and easy to follow, she always replies to any questions, her yoga plans have got me injury, EWS races and all aspects of my life, Cheers Abi.
  • 13 0
 "through injury"
  • 20 0
 Thank you! It really is a pleasure.
  • 4 0
 Heartily agree..the 15-minute post-ride sessions have been a game-changer. Thanks Abi!
  • 5 0
 @freeinpg: that's awesome to hear!
  • 17 3
 I m a big believer of using evening/relax/tv time to work on mobility. I have a routine of static stretches that involve very little effort that I run through once or twice a week.
These yin poses also look great, I will give them a try! Though I do not see anything for the quads specifically which together with the hip flexors contribute towards front chain tension for us bikers. Shouldn’t we add something quad specific to this routine?
  • 7 0
 Yeah, indeed. If you want to watch a TV Series, movie, documentary or whatever, you can also spend some minutes of that to do some stretching instead of sitting etc. It's super useful.
  • 6 0
 The supported bridge does that. You can get rid of the support to help. An alternative is to modify #7 where your knees are flexed and your feet are up next to your butt. Or any variation on an upward bow/wheel pose.
But you're right. The anterior chain shortening and tension is a major problem for riders, predominantly through psoas and the pecs.
  • 3 0
 @vectorforces: supported bridge will definitely hit the hip flexors but will not stretch the quads much at all...
  • 11 0
 It's a good point. Quads for sure get incredibly tight but my reluctance to include yin poses for the quads is that staying in those positions puts tremendous pressure on the knees so it's not something you want to hold for too long especially with leverage. Here are some yoga quad stretches you could try: yoga15.com/quick-guide/5-poses-to-stretch-your-quads

And Lizard (or Dragon) is the standard yin pose for hip flexors, which is really great, it's just not as relaxing as these as it isn't a reclining posture. Good one to throw in though: yoga15.com/pose/lizard
  • 3 0
 Personally, I have the most issues with my tension in my hamstrings from the biking/running that I do and a good amount of these exercises target those muscles. Thanks Abi!
  • 5 0
 @lobohusky: yeah. Those 3 with the strap are great for the calves and hamstrings. You can also try both legs up against the wall with your butt really close and or one leg at a time against a doorframe.
  • 2 0
 @yoga15app: Thanks for the feedback! I'll give that a try as well.
  • 18 0
 Mobility exercise now is your body's pension Big Grin
  • 7 0
 I think another way to look at it is ‘mobility exercise is now your body’s suspension’
  • 8 0
 That's a nice apartment!
  • 3 0
 Abi, thanks for all the great recommendations over the years. Been following your posts on Facebook for some time and always seem to find something useful, especially your stretches for back injuries/sciatic pain. I recently spent time with a physical therapist (for 3 ruptured disks) and she echoed a lot of the stretches and strength poses of yours! Great stuff, allows me to keep riding with limited pain!
  • 2 0
 Amazing! Thank you. Let me know what else you need.
  • 3 0
 Another Sufferfest subscriber. I included yoga as part of my training program. (Which is all Abi) I’ve been adding additional videos that aren’t scheduled for me to target what ever else I need. Videos are easy to follow and we can choose beginner, intermediate or advanced. Really great stuff. Really helps with the hard work I’ve been putting in. Also had a nasty OTB last month and have been dealing with some nerve issues as I landed on the top of my neck/spine. Her shoulder/neck videos have been on repeat a lot lately.
  • 1 0
 Thank you. And I'm really sorry to hear about your crash. I hope that you're recovering well.
  • 5 0
 I have serious upper back and shoulder issues, anything I can do for that? At 62 I'm just a walking ball of knots.
  • 2 0
 @yoga15app: Thanks, I'll check that out, most of the vids I've seen are advanced yoga and I'm years away from that kind of contortion
  • 1 0
 @yoga15app: OK I watched that vid, guess most of my problems are the right side upper mid-back between the spine and shoulder blade, I have an unusually large muscle mass there. That area is always tight and when riding gets unbearably tight, also the right trap and neck muscles get really tight. I drove a semi-truck for 38 years so I think my spine is a pretzel. Right rear rotator cuff/s are always irritated (broken collar bone and rotator cuff rupture/2 surgeries) so this just ads to the discomfort. I found one stretch that works well for me though, I don't know the name but it's right hand behind the neck/head and right elbow touching the left knee. It gets the muscle mass area in my upper back that I can't get otherwise. Still gets tight on rides and my arm always has a dead feeling so maybe there's more than just muscle tightness going on???
  • 2 0
 I get access to a bunch of Abi’s videos through my Sufferfest subscription. As an extremely inflexible person who cannot even sit up cross legged without hanging onto my ankles I find her 15 minute sessions surprisingly enjoyable, wish I had tried yoga sooner.
  • 2 0
 I’ll take that! Thank you ????????
  • 2 0
 Do you have any favourite videos or poses?
  • 2 0
 @yoga15app: yeah, final resting pose, I can boss that!. Some of the hip ones (pigeon pose?) feel really good to loosen up post ride.
  • 1 0
 @Banditlock: If you love FRP, it sounds like you need the rest. These should be great too as you don't have to put in too much effort.
  • 2 0
 Some new challenges for the next week or two! Lower half has been tightening up a bit lately from sitting around little too much this winter LoL. Thank you again Abi!
  • 2 0
 Let me know how you get on. They should feel really good!
  • 7 3
 Is that snake poisonous?
  • 2 0
 Thanks for doing this. Why isn't Vinyasa included as one of the types in the write up?
  • 2 0
 Ashtanga is actually a subset of vinyasa so I didn't want to put them both. But you're absolutely right, it is one of the most popular forms of modern yoga.
  • 1 0
 @yoga15app: what’s your opinion on Ari yoga style?

youtu.be/MA6c7AsVNfo
  • 6 4
 Ok, so i ordered her kit off of amazon.... ill share my experiences next week. pics...maybe a full video slow mo sick edit
  • 3 1
 Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!
  • 4 0
 Love this! Thank you Abi
  • 2 0
 Let me know how you get on Joe!
  • 1 0
 I’ve been having an awful time with my hamstrings, maybe some yoga will help. Any suggestions for good hammy stretches? m.pinkbike.com/u/yoga15app
  • 2 0
 The 3 poses with a strap are the best for calves and hamstrings. I recommend you hold each for up to 3 minutes on each side. Let me know how you get on.
  • 3 0
 @yoga15app: Been trying long holds for the first time this past season, it's amazing how the increase in mobility has changed my position on the bike. And pain free for the first time in years.
Kudos @yoga15app
  • 2 0
 @DirkMcClerkin: that’s so good. I’d love to hear how you find these and others you’ve tried.
  • 3 0
 Been doing pose #7 for years... Works great.
  • 2 0
 As a wannabe hockey goalie these moves translate beautifully to increase flexibility and avoid injury. Thanks Abi.
  • 1 0
 My pleasure. They should feel really great.
  • 2 0
 Thank you! Some of these have been part of my routine for a couple of years but the "B" and "C" leg holds were new to me.
  • 1 0
 No problem! Those ones are fantastic. You keep the stretch in the calves and hamstrings and bring it to the inner and outer hips.
  • 2 0
 More of a yang yoga guy, myself...
  • 3 2
 Yoga works to help avoid injury and increase athletic performance, but I refer to it as stretching.
  • 3 1
 Going to give the final resting pose a try .
  • 2 1
 I've got that last pose down to perfection
  • 1 1
 Can’t get past the lack of furniture.
  • 1 0
 I do number 7 a lot!
  • 2 2
 Flame emoji flame emoji
  • 3 4
 Nice kitchenette
  • 4 7
 too much equipment needed...
  • 10 0
 But there are instructions given on how to improvise Smile
  • 12 0
 Says someone who probably owns more bike equipment than 99% of the general population (just like the rest of us on PB).
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