Yoga Stretches for the Legs
Dozens of yoga poses stretch your legs.
Regardless of the yoga style you practice, you'd be hard-pressed to miss lengthening and stretching your thighs and calves. You don't even have to attend a an hour-long class; just take a few minutes each day to release tight hamstrings, calves or quads with a few choice yoga poses. With regular practice, yoga leads to limber legs.
Whether you want to stay close to your mat or stand up to stretch, you've got folding options. You'll primarily stretch the hamstrings with forward folds, but flexing your toes toward your shins in seated options activates your calves. In a pose like Bound Angle, you'll also stretch the inner and outer thighs.
Standing Forward Fold: Stand with your feet close together, bend forward from the hips and touch your feet or the floor. Bend the knees to ease tension in the backs of the thighs. Variations of this pose have you wrap your first two fingers around your big toes or place your palms underneath your feet.
Your legs don't have to be perfectly straight like a yoga model to benefit from Forward Folds.
Seated Forward Fold: Sit on your buttocks with your legs extended in front of your. Reach forward, hinging from your hips, and grasp where you can — depending on the flexibility of your hamstrings and back, it may be your toes, shins or thighs.
If you have flexible hamstrings, you might grab your feet.
Single-Leg Forward Fold: Assume the seated fold position, but bend one knee so that the sole of that foot is against your thigh. Fold forward over the extended leg. Repeat on the opposite side.
Hinge over just one leg in Janu Sirsasana.
Bound Angle: Sit and bring the soles of both of your feet together. Your knees bend out to the sides like butterfly wings. Let your knees drop as far to the floor as you're able. Grasp the outsides of your feet and hinge forward from your hips.
Wide Forward Fold: Sit with your legs extended in front of you and open them into a V-shape, the width of your mat or wider. Fold forward over each leg for several breaths and then fold into the center. You may also do this pose from a standing position.
Stretch your legs from standing or seated with a wide fold.
Standing poses get a lot of attention for their leg-strengthening abilities, but one or both legs also get a quality stretch in these poses. You'll likely notice your hamstrings, but poses such as Triangle and Side Angle will also engage your calves and inner or outer thighs. Repeat all but Downward Dog on both sides.
Side angle: Stand and separate your legs about 4 1/2 feet apart. Turn your right toe to the front of the mat and bend the right knee. Open your arms to reach to the front and back of the mat and extend your right arm forward and down, so your right elbow rests inside your right knee. Reach your left arm up to the ceiling or past your ear toward the front of the room.
Side angle lengthens the extended leg.
Triangle: Stand and separate your feet about 4 feet apart. Turn your right toes toward the front of the mat as you open your arms to reach to the front and back of the mat. Hinge from the hip over the right leg; allow the right hand to touch the calf, ankle or floor and the left arm to extend toward the ceiling. Both legs stay straight. Turn your head to look up toward your left hand.
Triangle targets your hamstrings, as well as the inner and outer thighs.
Pyramid: Step your feet about 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart. Face your right toe to the front of the mat and angle your left toe in as much as possible. Turn your torso to face the front of your mat and reach your arms up overhead. Bend forward from the hips over the straight right leg to touch the shin or the floor. Focus on pulling the left (back) hip forward and the right hip back.
Pyramid can be an intense leg stretch.
Downward Dog: Get into all fours with your hands planted firmly. Raise your knees off the mat as you extend your legs, so your buttocks shine toward the ceiling, creating a triangle-like shape with the mat. Reach your heels toward the floor as you push the mat away with your hands to really activate the entire backside of your legs.
The quadriceps at the fronts of your thighs get fewer opportunities to stretch with yoga poses. Choose one of the following to open them up.
Hero pose: From an all-fours position, sit your buttocks back onto your heels. Your torso should be perpendicular to the floor. To deepen the posture, separate your legs, sit your buttocks on the floor and lean back. A fully reclined version of the pose is most intense for your quadriceps.
Leaning back in Hero pose intensifies the quad stretch.
Child's pose: From all-fours, sit your buttocks back over your heels and reach your arms forward on the mat. Allow your forehead to come close to the floor and even touch it, if that's comfortable for you. Open your legs widely to get more of a stretch through the thighs.
Once you master Half Frog, bring both legs in for the full Frog pose.
Half Frog: Lie on your abdomen, with your right hand pressed into the mat under your right shoulder. Extend your right elbow to support a lifted chest. Bend your left knee and reach back and grab the foot with your left hand. Draw the heel close to the outside of your left buttock until you feel the stretch in the front of your left thigh.
Andrea Boldt has been in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. A personal trainer, run coach, group fitness instructor and master yoga teacher, she also holds certifications in holistic and fitness nutrition.