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Why you can't touch your toes & how to do it

Become more flexible

Can’t touch your toes? Or can you do it only when you bend your knees? Whether you notice that in your yoga class, at home or when stretching right after exercise, that’s definitely not something you want to worry about.

I know how frustrating it can be to not to be able to touch your toes when the rest of the world seems to have no problem with that. It can become a major obstacle to enjoy yoga.
Having stiff legs and back can absolutely ruin the experience. At the end of the day, being flexible also makes you feel lighter, leaner and stronger.

Anyway, here are the most probable reasons for your inflexibility and some tips on what you can do about it;

There are a dozen of factors that influence how flexible you are. One of them is the relative length of your arms and torso to your legs. Simply put, if you have longer arms and shorter legs, reaching your toes should not be a problem.

Most often though, it is the flexibility of your hamstrings and the range of motion in your hips that keep you away from your goals. Things get complicated here as the range of motion in your hips can be limited by a stiff back, stiff glutes, the hamstrings themselves and joint structure.

Let’s see the basic rules for improving your forward bends.

  1. Stretch for at least 15-30 sec. In this way you are overcoming the neurological protection mechanism known as stretch reflex which activates every time you try to bend. Holding a stretch for 15-30 sec tends to loosen the muscle stretched and ease you into the movement.

  2. Do not ignore pain. “No pain no gain” isn’t working in yoga. While slight discomfort is normal during any stretch, sharp or dull pain isn’t. It is a sign you should back off.

  3. Set long term goals and be patient. Expectations to lay flat on your legs after a practice or two will leave you disappointed and discouraged. Flexibility is a lifetime endeavor, so equip yourself with patience and look for little improvements.

  4. Before trying a forward bend, loosen your inner thighs and glutes. Try Downward dog, Pigeon, high and low lunges, wide opened leg forward bend, Triangle and eagle.

  5. Stretch your back. When you bend over, you are stretching the whole back of your body and a stiff back can certainly be in the way. Loosen your back with Sun salutations, Downward dog, Cat/Cow stretch and Triangle.

  6. Move that booty. Movements with your pelvis - just like in belly dance - take care of your pelvic mobility. If your pelvis isn’t able to initiate the bend, stretching will have limited results. So get in front of a mirror and move your pelvic forward and backwards into a posterior/anterior tilts. Move it sideways, too and in all directions you are able to.

  7. Do not fret about it. Stressing about what you can and cannot do isn’t going to help and actually may worsen things. We are all different in shapes, sizes, flexibility and strength. And while we should be working on improving anyways, focusing on the process of doing and the fun out of it will help you create more sensitivity and awareness of your body and mind. Enjoy whatever is, as whatever is inevitably changes.

Not being able to touch your toes may be a pain in the butt but it isn’t the worst that can happen to a person. Accept what you have now and have fun exploring it. Be creative and be you.

About the author

Irina Bachvarova

Yoga Guru

Master in Sports Pedagogic and director at Bulgarian Ashtanga Yoga Academy.

Irina is the author of the first Bulgarian book for Ashtanga Yoga and trusted Yoga Guru for TV series, produced by Bulgarian National Television.

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