Mary Schatz, M.D.

Q-A Stiff

Q: “I am so stiff I can’t even touch my knees, much less my toes!    I know flexibility is important.  Am I too stiff to do yoga?  Can yoga help me?”

 - John R.,  Nashville, TN 

 A: Absolutely YES !!

“In fact, starting off stiff can actually help protect you from over-stretching.  Your body’s own natural tightness will continually remind you to go slowly and to progress at your own personal pace.

This slower pace allows you to make adjustments in posture and body mechanics as your muscles and joints respond to your yoga program.”


 Where to start?  

Back Care Basics, Dr. Schatz’s classic yoga book, helps you understand your flexibility and alignment.   You will learn gentle easy yoga poses to start you on your way to improved flexibility.  

 Great Poses

 One Leg up, One Leg Out


  • For those with decreased hip flexibility: one leg up the wall, the other leg outstretched. Place a pad behind the head and a roll behind the neck. The outstretched leg has a rolled towel be­hind the knee. Buttocks are far enough away from the wall for the up-stretched knee to be straight and the sacrum flat on the floor. Stay in the pose 30-90 seconds. Then change sides. Repeat for six sets.


  • For those with normal hip flexibility: one leg up the wall, the other leg straight on the floor. Both legs straight, buttocks to the wall. Head and neck propped. Stay 30-90 seconds each side. Do six sets.

 Breathing and Imagery:

Use the Relaxation Breath, pages 66-67, chapter 5 of Back Care Basics. Inhale normally. Exhale normally. Pause briefly at the end of each exhala­tion, allowing further release of the breath. See muscles relaxing and pos­ture improving with every breath.

Therapeutic aspects:

The quadriceps (front thigh) and iliopsoas (hip flexor) muscles of one leg are stretched simul­taneously with the hamstrings and hip extensors of the opposite leg. This pro­motes better pelvic alignment and de­creases the susceptibility of the lumbar spine to injury.

Lying flat on the floor gives a passive stretch to the front chest muscles, pro­viding a corrective stimulus for those with a rounded upper back. In those with marked kyphosis, each shoulder and shoulder blade should be propped with several folded facecloths to assure comfort in the pose.

Head and neck are supported in a neutral position by a folded pad and a firmly rolled towel. This eliminates the danger of hyper-extending the neck where shoulders and upper back have become rounded and inflexible.

Wall Push


  • Hold each pose for several breaths. Repeat several times, depending on your stamina.


  • Let the action for pushing the hands begin in the mid back, where the shoul­der blades attach to the spine.


  • Use the wall push with hands higher than the shoulders if hip flexibility is limited.


  • Allow the spine to lengthen with every breath.


  • Actively push the hands into the wall or floor. Actively push the feet into the floor to straighten the knees.


  • Keep the neck passive.


  • To come out of the wall push, bend the knees and walk the feet up under the body. Then stand.

Breathing and Imagery:

Keep the breath soft, gentle, and unforced. Feel the bones stretching. See the bones of the arms and legs getting stronger as they actively support the body. Watch the spine elongate with every breath.

Therapeutic aspects:

These poses help gently stretch out tight leg and chest muscles to allow greater flexibility and freedom of movement in the joints of the hips, knees, spine and shoulders.

Poses adapted from “You Can Have Healthy Bones,” By Mary Schatz, M.D., Yoga Journal, March/April 1988.

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