3 Yoga Poses to Increase Your Hamstring Flexibility
How’s your hamstring health? As a yoga instructor I often hear, “Yoga isn’t for me. I can’t even touch my toes!” Good news: yoga can help! Achieve balance and ease into greater flexibility (not to mention strength) through yoga.
Flexible and strong hamstrings are essential to a healthy and happy yoga practice. Here are some helpful hints in order to lengthen and strengthen those muscles without too much force or over-stretching.
Optimal hamstring health lies in listening to your own body. If you don’t have a wide range of motion in your hamstrings, increase your flexibility to protect your knees, hips and legs. If your hamstrings are hyper flexible, control your range of motion in a safe way to prevent muscle tears or other injuries. The following poses are for both hyper-mobile and restricted hamstrings.
1. Reclined Hand-to-Foot Pose
Let gravity do the work here! There should be zero strain in this pose, particularly if you have a strap as a prop. Lie on your back and place a strap around the arch of your right foot. Hold onto the strap and extend your arms out fully. Flex your left toes toward the ceiling and maintain a neutral spine. Your pelvis should be neutral. Guide your right toes toward the wall behind you, stop at any degree that suits your body. Breathe deeply and switch sides.
2. Half Splits
From downward facing dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. Lower down onto your left knee and release the top of the left foot onto the ground. Flex your right foot and begin to straighten your right leg as much as you comfortably can. Keep your hips squared and stacked over your left knee. Inhale to lengthen your spine and maintain the extension of the spine, exhale and fold over your right leg. Energetically draw your right heel back while you reach your chest forward. Draw your shoulder blades down your back body. Repeat on the other side. As necessary: use blocks underneath both hands to bring the earth closer to you!
3. Seated Forward Fold
Sit on your yoga mat with your legs extended in front of you. Reach actively through your heels. Beginners should bend their knees throughout the pose; eventually straighten the legs as flexibility increases. Inhale as you reach your arms overhead, lengthen your spine. Exhale, bend forward from the hip joints. Do not bend at the waist. Lengthen the front of your torso. Hold onto your shins, ankles, or feet — wherever your flexibility permits. You can also wrap a strap around the soles of your feet and hold it firmly with both hands. Keep the front of your torso long, do not round through your back! With each inhalation, lengthen the front torso. With each exhalation, fold a bit deeper.
This yoga tip is brought to you by Kathryn McCann of Hang Zen Yogis.