All too often, people focus their fitness routine on strength and cardio. While important, these elements alone won’t provide a well-balanced exercise program. Below, we’ll explore the health benefits of mobility and discuss how you can use yoga to become more mobile and flexible.
What is Mobility?
Mobility refers to your ability to freely and efficiently move your body. A mobile body can easily go through daily tasks like getting out of bed, showering, or playing in your backyard with little ones.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that focuses on the connection between your body and mind. Through the use of poses called asanas, yoga offers a myriad of benefits, including improved flexibility and mobility.
Benefits of Yoga for Improving Mobility
You’re likely used to performing a few static stretches after exercise. This is a great first step toward improved mobility. Setting aside time each week for yoga can help you more efficiently progress toward your flexibility and mobility goals. Check out a few benefits of yoga for mobility below.
Increase Flexibility and Range of Motion
Range of motion refers to how far you can move a body part or joint. Everyone’s body is different, so range of motion will vary slightly from person to person.
You should be able to move your joints within ideal ranges of motion for optimal mobility. Research shows that impaired range of motion may negatively impact balance, leading to an increased risk of falls in older adults.
Yoga improves mobility by incorporating a combination of stretching and controlled movements that help increase flexibility, joint range of motion, and overall physical agility.
One study on college athletes found that participants who practiced yoga twice weekly had better flexibility than athletes who only stretched after workouts.
Improve Joint Health and Reduced Stiffness
Do you often wake up with stiff joints that cause discomfort? For many people, joint stiffness comes with age. Regularly practicing yoga can help improve joint health and alleviate discomfort.
The gentle, controlled poses in yoga circulate synovial fluid inside your joints, which allows them to move more easily, helping prevent stiffness and pain. One study found that participants with osteoarthritis experienced less pain and morning stiffness when they began incorporating yoga into their routine.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you use balance all the time. Standing from a chair, walking, and leaning over to tie your shoes all require balance.
Your ability to balance declines as you age, increasing your risk of injury. Many yoga poses require balance, forcing yogis to strengthen this skill. By regularly practicing yoga, you can improve your balance, no matter your age.
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Understanding Mobility and Its Importance in Daily Life
From simple tasks to complex movements, mobility impacts how we participate in life. Contrary to what some may think, mobility doesn’t just affect your ability to touch your toes. It also helps you comfortably perform activities and protects your autonomy.
Importance of Mobility for Older Adults
While mobility is the foundation of healthy movement for everyone, it’s especially important for older adults.
Moving easily helps prevent falls, the leading cause of injuries and death in individuals 65 and older. Including mobility in your exercise routine will make daily movement feel better and help you maintain your independence as you age.
Importance of Mobility for Athletes
For athletes, the ability to move fluidly and efficiently can be the difference between average performance and achieving their peak potential.
Sports and exercise demand a wide range of motion. Mobility allows athletes to easily go through these ranges of motion without injuring themselves.
Impact of Poor Mobility
Poor mobility doesn't just impact your ability to move. It can also have cascading effects on your overall health. Below, we'll explore a few impacts lack of mobility can have on your wellbeing.
Increased Risk of Injury
Poor mobility can make it challenging to move your body correctly. Low-quality movement patterns caused by tight muscles can increase your risk of injury. This is particularly true for older adults who may experience worse health outcomes when they have limited mobility.
Poor mobility often reduces the amount you move. This can lead to muscle atrophy, a condition where muscles weaken and shrink due to lack of use. Muscle atrophy is especially concerning for older adults, as it further exacerbates mobility challenges and increases the likelihood of falls and injuries.
Loss of Independence
As mobility declines with age, everyday activities can become more difficult and may eventually require assistance.
This can have profound effects on your quality of life, self-esteem, and mental wellbeing. Reduced mobility limits your ability to engage in social interactions and participate in meaningful activities, which can lead to feelings of isolation and a diminished sense of autonomy.
Poor Performance in the Gym
To get the most out of your workouts, it's important to complete exercises within the full range of motion. Poor mobility can make it challenging to do many movements properly. This can lead to challenges in gaining strength and increase your risk of developing injuries.
Key Principles of Yoga for Mobility
Incorporating yoga into your movement routine can help you maintain and improve mobility, allowing you to continue participating in activities you enjoy. It's important to understand some basic yoga principles before getting started.
Focus on Mindful Movement and Breath Control
At first glance, yoga may just look like a series of stretches. However, how you breathe when practicing yoga is just as important as how you move.
Conscious breathing throughout your yoga practice can help improve your mind-body connection. This helps your muscles relax, allowing you to stretch deeper. Breathing exercises help improve spinal mobility and can help correct posture problems.
Importance of Proper Alignment
Alignment refers to positioning your body in poses for optimal safety and effectiveness. Practicing proper alignment helps prevent injuries and enhances the benefits of each posture.
While there are some general alignment guidelines for every pose, everyone's body is different. A good yoga instructor will work your body and ability level to help find the best alignment for you.
Incorporating Active and Passive Stretching Techniques
Active stretching involves actively moving one muscle to stretch the opposing muscle. Passive stretching relies on external forces like a partner, prop, or wall to get in a good stretch.
Like everything in fitness, taking a multifaceted approach to stretching is better than only performing one style. Incorporating passive and active stretches into your yoga practice can help you create a well-rounded routine for mobility.
Basic Yoga Poses for Improving Mobility
When people think of yoga, they often imagine a series of complicated poses. Don't let the challenging postures on social media deter you. Many moves in yoga are simple and safe for most people. Below are a few of our favorite mobility poses for beginners.
The Cat-Cow pose moves yogis from a rounded position to an arched position in conjunction with their breath. This movement helps improve your spine's range of motion and reduces back pain.
To perform Cat-Cow, start on your hands and knees, positioning your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. When you inhale, curve your lower back and look up.
When you exhale, engage your abdominal muscles, imagining you have a string pulling your belly button to your spine. Arch your spine, bringing your head and pelvis down.
Downward Facing Dog helps stretch your posterior-chain (calves, hamstrings, back) while opening up your chest and shoulders.
To get into this pose, start on your hands and knees. Curl your toes under and lift your hips back, pushing through your hands.
Your fingers should be spread wide and your shoulder blades pressed back away from your ears. Let your head hang heavy and gently work toward straightening your legs. If you can't straighten your legs fully that's okay. It's more important to keep your spine long.
Standing Forward Fold is a relaxing posture that can help stretch tight hamstrings, hips and calves. To perform this stretch, start standing. Raise your arms over your head.
Then bend forward, bringing your hands to the floor or elevated blocks. Let your head hang heavy and create a microbend in your knees to prevent your legs from locking.
Triangle Pose is a standing posture that stretches the spine, hip flexors and shoulders. To perform this pose, start standing with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
Point your right foot forward and your left foot at a 45-degree angle. Extend your arms to your sides. Reach your right arm forward and bend at your hip joint, bringing your right hand to the inside of your right foot. Place your hand on the floor or on a block. Extend your left arm toward the sky, forming a straight line with your arms and shoulders. Hold this pose then repeat on the opposite side.
Child's Pose is often used as a resting posture in yoga. Along with providing yogis a little relaxation, this pose also helps relieve tension in your back, shoulders and chest.
To perform Child's Pose, start on your hands and knees. Bring your toes together and spread your knees as wide as your yoga mat. Sit your hips back and rest your stomach between your thighs. Bring your forehead to the mat. With your palms facing down, stretch your arms out in front of you.
Advanced Yoga Poses for Enhancing Mobility
Once you've mastered the basics, you can begin incorporating more advanced poses into your practice. These poses challenge your body in new ways, promoting deeper flexibility and mobility. If you're looking to level up your yoga routine, try a few poses below.
Before giving these challenging poses a try at home, practice them in a yoga class under the supervision of a trained yoga instructor. This will help ensure you’re properly performing each movement, reducing your risk of injury.
Wheel Pose is a backbend that opens your shoulders, hips, and chest while improving spinal mobility. Backbends, like wheel pose, are typically performed toward the end of a yoga class to ensure your body and spine are warmed up properly beforehand.
To perform Wheel Pose, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the mat hip distance apart. Place your hands by your ears, fingers pointing toward your shoulders, and elbows pointing up.
Press into your palms and lift your shoulders off the mat, bringing the crown of your head onto the mat. Press into your hands and feet, lifting your hips and head off the mat. Straighten your arms fully, pushing your chest upward.
Bird of Paradise is a challenging pose that tests your balance and improves flexibility in your hips, hamstrings, and arms.
To perform Bird of Paradise, stand with your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart. Shift your weight onto your left foot and come onto the ball of your right foot. Place your right hand on your right calf and tuck your right shoulder under your right knee.
Wrap your hands behind your back, binding them together. Slowly stand, balancing on your left leg. Once you're standing, open your shoulders and straighten your right leg. Hold this pose then repeat on the opposite side.
Tight hips can impact anyone, from professional athletes to people who sit all day for work. One-Legged King Pigeon Pose helps combat this by stretching your hip flexors, groin, and thighs.
To perform One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, start with your left leg straight back behind you and your right shin parallel to the floor. Your palms should be flat on the mat and your torso upright.
Bend the left leg and place your left foot in the crook of your left elbow. Reach your right arm back and grasp your left hand. Open your chest and gaze up. Hold this pose then repeat on the opposite side.
Compass Pose is a seated posture that stretches your obliques, shoulders, chest, and hips.
To perform this pose, start in a comfortable cross-legged position. Next, hug your left leg close to your body and place your right hand on the floor. Place your left arm on the inside of your left leg, grasping your left heel. Cross your right hand over your body and grasp the outside of your left foot.
Your left hand should now be on the floor behind you. Shimmy your left knee over your shoulder. Extend your left leg until it's straight. Keep your chest upright and look toward your right arm. Hold this pose then repeat on the opposite side.
Yoga Props for Better Mobility
Modifications and props make yoga accessible to practitioners of all levels and abilities. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced yogi, incorporating props into your practice can help you more safely and effectively perform poses. Below are examples of props and modifications that can help assist you through your practice.
Commonly used to make poses more accessible, yoga blocks help provide support by bringing the ground closer to your body. For example, if you struggle to reach the ground in a standing pose, a block can provide an elevated surface to reach for instead.
Most yoga studios provide blocks in class, so there's no need to bring them with you when visiting a studio. If you'd like to use blocks during your practice at home, they are easy to find in stores and online. Below are links to our favorite yoga block options.
Yogis often use straps to deepen stretches and achieve a wider range of motion. For example, if you can’t reach your toes in a seated forward fold, you can place a strap around your feet and hold onto each end instead.
Like blocks, most yoga studios provide students with straps. If you’re interested in incorporating straps into your mobility routine at home, check out the links below to see a few of our favorite options.
Yoga bolsters are popular in restorative-style classes, enabling yogis to get a deeper stretch without straining their muscles or joints. You'll often see bolsters used in poses that stretch your hips and open your chest.
If you're attending a restorative yoga class, the studio will likely provide bolsters. If you'd like to bring your own or are eager to use one at home, check out a few of our favorite bolsters below.
If you can't stand or struggle to move from standing to seated postures, incorporating a chair into your practice can help make yoga more accessible. Chair yoga is a modified yoga practice that you can perform while seated.
Many studios don't offer chair yoga, but many online resources are available to guide you through your practice at home. Below are links to a few of our favorite digital chair yoga classes.
- Sangha Studio Online Classes
- Yoga International Chair Yoga Classes
- Yoga With Adriene Chair Yoga Classes
Whether you want to run a marathon or simply walk up the street, including yoga for mobility in your movement routine helps ensure you can continue to participate in activities you enjoy. Interested in leveling up your mobility practice? Check out the links below to explore digital platforms for yoga for mobility.