Estimated Timeline for Progress?

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Hey everyone. I'm looking for some opinions about how long I can expect before I see progress. I've scoured the internet for this answer and come up empty, so I'm hoping you can help.

My question is about yoga, but more specifically my lack of flexibility, which is holding me back in yoga. There are very few yoga poses I can do without significant modifications. The ones I can do (plank is the only one that comes to mind) require no flexibility.

I guess I'll take it from the top. Before I started yoga, I tried to do some research to figure out roughly how long it might take before I noticed improvement. Improvement in flexibility, or ability to fit into poses, become whatever is after "beginner," whatever. I found nothing, except a bunch of predictable answers along the lines of, "Every new person wants to know that, but it's impossible to answer because everyone's different, and it's about the journey and the present anyway, and a watched pot never boils, so don't even ask, and live in the now!" To be clear, I'm sure that's true. But it just doesn't help me. For whatever reason, because of my disposition, and probably because I'm not very receptive to the mentally enlightening side of yoga, I can't just accept, "Well, I'll just do this indefinitely and not worry about if it's doing anything." Frankly, I don't know how everyone else does accept that.

So I took my first class about 9 months ago thanks to a free pass to a gym, then took weekly free classes at a community center. After going once a week for a couple months, I realized I wasn't going anywhere at that rate, and needed to put in work at home if I ever wanted to see any changes. I also learned that studio classes are temporarily affordable after all if you can find a good enough groupon, so for the last 6-7 months I've been doing 1-2 classes per week, plus stretching and doing yoga-like stuff at home (just a few poses, without any thought to sequencing) 3-4 additional times per week.

The problem is I don't think I'm getting any better. I admit I haven't been 100% consistent, partly due to a couple of minor injuries that popped up, but still -- I haven't had any major lapses, and I went from never ever doing this stuff to doing it multiple times per week, so it seems like I should have something to show for it. And what numbers I have been able to track down online suggest I should be experiencing significant progress by now. A little about me: I'm in my early 30s, male, decent shape and somewhat athletic/active. I played sports growing up so always did lots of stretching. I thought I was good at at least the basic stretches I did as a kid and teenager, but I'm learning that's not the case. I didn't even know it was possible to stretch "hips" before, but now I know I've got beyond "extremely tight" hips that keep me from doing most poses, including very basic ones.

I have improved in some aspects. I'm more willing to be in the front of the class than I was when I first started. I know more of the poses by their (English) names now, so I don't spend as much time craning my neck to copy someone else. And I do experience short-term improvements; I'm more flexible at the end of a stretching session than I was at the beginning. It just seems like my body isn't making any long-term progress. I guess it's possible that I'm doing them wrong, but I don't think that's it. I know how to stretch. And I've been to enough classes with many different teachers, I'm sure someone would have said something by now if I was doing everything wrong.

I have a lot of pose-specific, muscle-specific questions, but the ones bothering me most are the bigger ones: do some people just not get flexible? Am I just in such bad shape to start with that it's taking me extra long to gain flexibility? My goals aren't lofty. They're stuff like sitting in easy pose without props, or being able to lie with "catcus arms" that actually touch the ground. But at some point, maybe at the 1 year mark, I may have to give up, because I can't just do this forever if it's not making any difference.

Thanks for reading that essay. I appreciate any thoughts!

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It can take forever, thats not the answer you're looking for, huh?...LOL.

You should investigate "yin yoga". (See

The vinyasa classes you're probably attending, will flow (relatively quickly) from one pose to another, with an emphasis on the athletic side of the practice (for example down dog, step forward, high lunge, warrior 1, warrior 2, etc.), which will be fun, get you to sweat and you'll feel like your muscles "got their money's worth". 

But that's not what you want... you want to increase your flexibility. Yin yoga is very slow, holding positions for up to five minutes, or more. Few boutique studios will attract "soccer moms" for a $30 forty five minute class that includes meditation, four poses on each side and then a couple of they typically don't emphasize yin. 

What are yin poses? How do they help with flexibility? 

They are poses that you stay with for such a long time that the muscles or tendons relax and you get very deep stretches or twists. For example, pigeon. In a typical flow class, you may stay in the position for up to a minute (come on people!!! we need to do a more chaturangas!!) . Next time you're practicing at home, try staying in pigeon for five minutes, try ten. 

Assess how you feel after a minute, then see how that sensation changes the longer you hold the position. Try legs up the wall, for five minutes, then a few variations (cross ankle over knee and then slide heel down wall) each for a few minutes. 

You won't sweat, you won't feel exhausted, you're heart rate monitor might go into sleep mode and you won't be able to boast a 1000 calorie day. But, over time, you'll build up your flexibility (with the emphasis on "over time").


Did you ever play with Chinese handcuffs?  The harder you pull, the more resistance you'll encounter, but the more gently you proceed, the looser the trap. Same with your hamstrings. If you think like it's an athletic competition and try to'll lose (every time). Get to a resistance point (when your body starts fighting you) and stop, then take slow deep breaths, calm your mind, relax...tell you body "it's okay", wait ten seconds and slowly move deeper, until you hit the next stop...lather, rinse, repeat...

Guys typically are less flexible, especially if your athletic, since running, spinning, etc. tends to tighten up the muscles. 

I started yoga three years ago at age 56, doing it (nearly) every day of the year. I do legs up the wall for a minimum of five minutes at the beginning of every practice. Progress? I'm more flexible, but still bend my knees in fold, etc.  


18 hours ago, mffirelog said:

...being able to lie with "catcus arms" that actually touch the ground

Every body is different, depending on how your shoulders and scapula are constructed, you may not be able to. Recognize and accept your own body's limitations and work within your abilities. I've been trying reverse namaste for 2 years and can't get close...I've seen women do it the first time they try.

Warning, zen :meditation-yogi:ahead...proceed at your own risk... --> yoga isn't complaining about what you can't do, rather it's about celebrating what you can. It's not about achieving that perfect pose (you know, the ones that people post on Instagram), but understating what is happening in your body. It's a lifetime pursuit. Some days you'll make progress (I used to time myself and set a goal of holding pigeon for 30 I mentally complain if the instructor doesn't hold it long enough)...other days the body won't cooperate. Don't worry about it. 

At the beginning of class, many instructors will lead a meditation and work through breathing techniques, pay attention and focus on the practice. You're allowed to use them on your own at any time you want during the session. You can meditate during warrior 2 :Warrior: (and maybe you'll be able to ignore your thigh muscles crying "uncle!"). 

If you practice on your own, don't worry about the flows, try spending 45 minutes just doing slow deep stretches. 


18 hours ago, mffirelog said:

...I know how to stretch...

You may know how to stretch...but do you know how long to stretch?

If you're a guy with a competitive personality, you will have to understand that you can't power through the tightness.

It will come, but slowly. Just be patient and positive.

One more thing, take your timeline, fold it carefully, putting it safely in an envelope, then seal the envelope and gently place it in the recycling bin or shredder. 


(see link in my signature #3)

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Cakrasi. That is a Sanskrit yoga word, it means time has no meaning, no concern for time:( Part of the lessons of yoga.

I think yoga may not be the thing for you if you want to become flexible more quickly. Yoga is mostly passive stretching, very slow results. Active stretching techniques will speed up the process. Ask yourself why do I want to do this? Stretching or yoga in general. I work for more flexibility because I enjoy it and think it's fun. I do yoga for other reasons. Both are important to me so I do both.

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That's great you are reflecting on your practice.  I was relieved to read that you acknowledge aspects that you have improved on.  Those can be harder to achieve, believe it or not.  Candace's confessions on her scorpion progress helped put things in context:  Notice her progress pics are over multiple years, not just days or months.

I was fixated on improving the asana (poses) part of my yoga practice for a bit.  So I did one of Candace's monthly programs, and the main thing she asked us to do was to document how we felt before and after class.  After reflecting more, I realized other aspects my yoga practice was giving me - things I could not see in my progress pictures, but things I felt, such as more stability, less shakiness while I got into my balancing pose.  So even though I couldn't see any significant visual differences in the flexibility part, the engagement of new muscles is something I felt and could see in video, but not in pictures.  And to answer your question, yes, everyone's body type is different. Flexibility comes more easily for me, but strength is hard for me to build. After 6 years of yoga now (2-3 times a week, so I'm probably on the more casual side), I still don't practice arm balances, but, I've accepted it and reframed how I view arm balances. I feel stronger in the upper body than before, so I know there is progress in the prep for my arm balances, even if I don't get up.

Instead of focusing on whether your arms touch the floor, how does it feel when you lay back - is it less tight than it used to be, or do you feel more comfortable reaching just a little more than before?  Sometimes we can get so fixated on a binary aspect of the pose (does it happen or not), we forget the subtleties of other progress we've made.  That's what I think most people mean by the "journey" part of it - all the poses are on a continuum.

And agree with Larry - if flexibility is the main goal, try yin or hatha yoga that hold the poses for longer if you haven't already done so.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the advice! I should have mentioned this before, but I have tried yin. About 10-12 yin classes, and a couple of hatha classes too. I enjoy them more than flow, which I attend someplace else once a week. My groupon for the place that has yin expired, but I'm working on finding another place.

I "understand" everything you're saying about focusing on the less tangible things, like Am I enjoying it more, and Does it feel better. I guess the problem is that even though I understand it, I don't feel it. That's probably partly because I'm the kind of guy that likes things to be clear-cut instead of hazy, and partly because I'm not good at... well it's hard to describe, but I'm talking about not being able to feel/know my own body. I can give some examples: if I can't see a body part (like I've got a leg up in the air behind me or something), I don't know where it is or what it's doing, so I have to look to make sure it's not way off. In table top, I can never tell if my shoulders are over my hands, and my hips over my knees, because I don't have the angle to see, and I can't feel it. And that's just the outside - once we start talking about diaphragms, I'm really lost.

If my body is making subtle, invisible improvements, like my back is a little less tight in a certain position, there's a good chance I won't know about it. So the binary stuff is what I can use - Am I able to reach farther, Is this leg getting closer to the ground, etc. The kind of stuff you could see in photographs. I've been using firelog pose as a measuring stick, to track the openness of my hips. In Namaslay it says, "if your hips are extremely tight, you might find your knee doesn't seem to want to touch your ankle." My knee isn't just hovering an inch above my ankle, it's like a foot away. Through all the hip openers I've done over the last 6+ months, it's in the same spot it's always been. The advice is, "Don't force it, just take a few deep breaths, and it will come down in time." But what's the advice when it doesn't? Or is it just that some people can do it in 30 days, and for others it's many years?

Edited by mffirelog
Submitted prematurely

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On 4/5/2017 at 7:36 PM, mffirelog said:

Or is it just that some people can do it in 30 days, and for others it's many years?

Yup - and the reason for the variation is usually due to the bone structure, so there can be a huge disadvantage or something physical getting in the way.

I went to a workshop last week, and you know how some people can squat and have their heels touch the ground? The teacher explained most Asians have a divot in the front of the ankle where the shin meets the foot, so then they can bend farther forward while in a squat.  Because of that genetic disposition, it's probably why East Asian cultures prefer the squat toilets and to squat down while waiting when there are no chairs.

And then the teacher gave another example that her student couldn't straighten his feet out in child's pose, so she propped him with blocs and blankets. She then said he was finally able to lay down and straighten his feet, but it was after 8 years.

I completely understand what you mean that it's hard to feel the intangible things - most are pretty subtle, and I don't realize it's been happening until it happens more often and becomes a new pattern in my practice.  That's a different kind of thinking that can evolve on its own, and again, on its own timeline.  But in the meantime, keep taking progress pics every month or so and evaluate - the distance from your leg to the floor may not have changed, but, are you sitting up straighter and taller than before?

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On 4/11/2017 at 5:34 PM, yogafire said:

...divot in the front of the ankle where the shin meets the foot, so then they can bend farther forward while in a squat...

You have no idea how relieved I am that you posted this.  I have reasonably good hip flexibility. I still think of myself as a newbie (2 ½ years of daily practice), but ankle to knee and lotus come relatively easy to me. I get frustrated watching the class easily plop down in malasana while I struggle holding my arms all the way forward as a counterbalance.

I found two great articles, ones that hit home with me
Apparently, it might be the bone atop my foot not allowing the shin bone to angle forward. Not saying that I can't improve my Achilles or hip flexibility, though.

I imagine some yoga instructors understand this, but from my experience, not all of them 

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@mffirelog I have to say, I totally know how you feel because this bugged me. I had terribly tight, my knees-are-two-feet-off-the-floor in cobbler's pose tight hips. Now, I have a bit of a faster path compared to you - I also do horseback riding for therapy, which is a sport known for opening and relaxing the hips and the entire leg system and slowly strengthening. It's generally a good sport for strengthening and lengthening of the body. It doesn't mean that sport alone helps me. I still get told I need to practice more to get more strength and flexibility. This is where yoga and my other supports come in.

I don't do just hip openers. If you must understand anything, understand this - your body is a system and all of those systems connect together. Just focusing on your hips won't fix your hips. Tight hips are normally the result of tight hamstrings, a weak core, a weak lower back and weak feet. How does this all happen? You 1. sit too much and improperly, 2. walk improperly, 3. exercise inefficiently. One of the things I've had to relearn is sitting and standing the proper, textbook definition - not the society definition. That was the first thing my massage therapist did when I stood up and came out dressed. She forced me into standing straight. I relearned sitting straight from horseback riding (you really learn how inefficient you are when you learn how poorly you sit, much less walk.) I relearned walking naturally from all the riding I did; my boots are reinforced at the heel, and I am a natural toe-heel walker. Take a video of how you walk. If you walk a bit pigeon-toed like I can, switch your shoes around, so your right is wearing your left and vice versa around the house. It corrects that.

Patience is going to be your virtue here. Switch it up. If you find lack of strength in your arms, do strength with light weights one day and not yoga. The strength training works in conjunction to the yoga. Do maybe an all legs yoga video at home the next (which are by far my favorite.) Core the next. You'll find more improvement working on the whole system rather than just a part of the system. It's taken me two years, but I can finally touch the top of my feet when I do a simple fold, my knees hover just a few inches above the ground in cobbler's pose and mere centimeters apart in fire log. I'm still a good few inches above the ground in half pigeon, but I'm working on it. You cannot be the hare here, but the tortoise.

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