A Yoga Pose For Your Hamstrings

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If you’re someone who suffers from tight hamstrings (keep reading after the jump for a tip on determining if you are tight), it’s important that you take the time to properly care for these muscles as statistics show that the hamstrings are the most commonly strained muscles in the thighs and rank second in incidence of sports injuries to the thigh.

There are many reasons why one might have tight hamstrings and a major culprit is sitting at a desk for eight to ten hours. Leaving your hamstrings inactive all day keeps them at a shortened length. And, if you participate in sporting activities, you are also prone to tight hamstrings especially if you don’t do the proper stretch exercises post activity. Or, you might just have been born with naturally short hamstrings. Ultimately, we neglect and abuse our hamstrings and they need a little love and a good stretch and there is a yoga pose that can do just that: Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana).

If you don’t know if you’re hamstrings are tight, the ‘normal’ range of hip flexion (determined when laying on your back and raising the leg straight off the floor with knee straight) allowed by the hamstrings is in the area of 80-90 degrees, anything less than 80 degrees is considered ‘tight’. If you leave these guys without the proper attention, you will be susceptible to bad tears, and may develop postural and back problems such as sacroiliac joint pain, which will limit your physical activity.

Seated Forward Bend pose allows for not only a great back stretch, but a wonderful and much-needed stretch to the backs of the legs. I’ve not seen too many students, including myself, who can just quickly move into the full expression of this pose so move slowly and patiently, breath by breath, as you deepen into it. If you try forcing or pushing, you could have the reverse effect of a stretch happen, which creates a “stretch reflex” causing the stretched muscle to automatically contract.

Paschimottanasana literally translates to “stretch to the west”: The idea being that the west is where the sun sets and it’s a time when we start to slow down and unwind as the evening approaches. We bring our focus inward to reflect, relax and replenish.

Seated Forward Bend pose also calms the brain, improves digestion, soothes headaches and reduces fatigue.

Tips: If you cannot reach your feet, consider using a strap to wrap around your feet, this helps lengthen your spine as opposed to rounding your back.

If your belly and chest are far from your legs, consider placing a folded blanket(s) or bolster on top of your thighs and rest your torso on it.

If you have really tight hamstrings, bend your knees and place a folded blanket underneath your knees to avoid strain.

Seated Forward Bend Pose (Paschimottanasana)

1. Sit on your mat or on the floor with your legs outstretched in front of you.
2. Make sure to sit evenly on your sitting bones.
3. Bring all toes to face up and bring your big toes together.
4. As you ground your sitting bones, start to lengthen your spine so you’re sitting up nice and tall.
5. Bring your arms up by your ears and slowly to hinge forward at your hips.
6. You can bring your hands to the floor or take hold of the outsides of your feet.
7. Try not to round your back and think about bringing torso onto thighs as opposed to reaching your head to your legs.
8. Move slowly and stay in the pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Note: If you have asthma, diarrhea or suffer from a back injury, please consult your doctor.

Author: Michelle Uy is a certified yoga teacher and owner of LoveActionYoga. She is co-creator of the Eat Well, Feel Well Program, a yoga and nutrition program, and she is also certified to teach Yoga Thrive, a therapeutic yoga program for cancer survivors.

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