Five Yoga Poses to Stretch Your Hamstrings
Tight hamstrings are the bane of many yogis. If you’re one of them, you know that pinching feeling as you begin to release into Uttanasana (Forward Bend). A tautness grips your hamstrings and, as you try to reach down, your fingertips stubbornly hover a foot above the floor—and the gap doesn’t seem to be closing any day soon. That same tightness may be limiting your enjoyment of other physical activities, from walking and running to golfing and baseball. But, as with any aspect of a yoga practice, you have the power to change.
A flexible body starts with a flexible mind. As you set your intention for each class, breathe into the three long hamstring muscles that run along the outside and inside of your legs from your glutes to the backs of your knees. Concentrate on inhaling to send fresh oxygen cascading along those muscles and consciously softening them as your exhale. Feel that ribbon of breath warming the hamstrings and releasing tightness. Instead of sliding into samskaras about how tight you are, refocus your thoughts on how the warmth flowing through you hamstrings is making your entire body feel more supple, more agile. Think about the benefits that will have not only in your yoga practice, but in any physical activity. See your body flowing forward. Visualize your fingers touching the floor in the next forward bend or your body easing down into full Hanumanasana (Splits).
Stretching your hamstrings won’t happen overnight. It takes times. But the journey is both interesting and beneficial. Each improvement can not only open up new possibilities on your mat, it can also make your golf game or daily run more enjoyable. So try these poses and stretch your ideas about just how flexible you can be.
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)
Benefits: This pose opens your hamstrings and calves, muscle groups commonly tightened by high-impact activities like running and step aerobics.
How to do it: Begin on your back with your legs straight. Bend your left leg in to your belly. Using your hands or a strap, straighten your left leg and gently pull it toward your face. Hold for one to three minutes, then release and repeat on the other side.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Benefits: Opening your hips in this pose helps to release your lower back, which is critical to creating length in your hamstrings.
How to do it: Start seat with your legs straight out in front of you. On an exhale, bend your knees in and drop them outward so that the soles of your feet touch. Use your hands to bring your feet as close to your hips as you can. If you can, clasp your fingers around the same-side big toe or shin. Hold this pose for one to five minutes, then release.
Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
Benefits: This pose opens your shoulders, an area of the body that gets overworked in sports like tennis as well as under-stretched during long days at the computer. Focusing on leaning forward also releases your hamstrings.
How to do it: Sit on the floor. Bend your legs and cross your right knee over your left, aiming to stack your knees if you can. Reach your right arm up, holding a strap if you need it. On an exhale, reach your left arm under and grasp the towel or your right fingers. Gently lean forward if possible. Stay in the pose for 30 to 60 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.
(Standing Forward Bend)
Benefits: Forward bends release your hamstrings and lengthen your lower back.
How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Exhale and lengthen your torso as you fold forward, hinging from your hips. If you can reach the floor, place your hands next to your feet. If that’s not available for you, cross your arms and clasp each elbow in the opposite hand. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release by lengthening your spine to come back to Tadasana.
Krounchasana (Heron Pose)
Benefits: This pose releases your hamstrings, which are a key component for physical flexibility as well as a place that often holds tension.
How to do it: Begin seated. Bring your left foot into Virasana (Hero Pose). Bend your right leg in. Press your right arm into the inside of your right knee. Turn your right hand so that you are reaching to the outside of your ankle. Use your left hand to reach for the inside of your right ankle. Leaning back slightly, lift your right leg as far as is comfortable. Hold this pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then lower your right leg and carefully extend your left leg before repeating on the other side.
Since some sports tighten the body, it’s a good idea to incorporate these poses into your warm-ups before you begin. Stow your Yoga-Paws with your other fitness gear to make it possible for yoga to happen anywhere you go. Then, go outside and play.
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