5 Yoga Poses for Tight Hamstrings
Those new to yoga often find that they are unable to hold correct form in certain yoga poses. Others experience pain or tension in the thighs or lower back during practice. The hamstrings, the three muscles of the back of the thigh that help to flex the knee and extend the hip, are a common source of this difficulty. Even for experienced practitioners, the hamstrings a common source of ongoing discomfort. Both yogis and non-yogis alike can benefit from yoga poses that target the muscles of this area.
The hamstrings and the muscles of the lower back and core are closely related. Your core muscles help to stabilize the pelvis during movement. When they have insufficient strength to do so, the hamstrings tighten to compensate. Building strength in the lower back and core will help the hamstrings to release.
Most hamstring tension is the result of excessive time spent in a seated position, or from having poor posture while seated. This is a common complaint in Western culture, where a great deal of time is spent sitting in chairs, cars, and on couches. Poses that lengthen and release the hamstrings can help to undo the damage caused by spending too much time in a seated position.
The following asanas build core strength, undo the damage caused by sitting, and strengthen and release the hamstring muscles. Incorporating these poses into your routine will increase the overall quality of your yoga practice.
1. Staff Pose
From a seated position with legs extended, make sure the sit bones are in direct contact with the mat. Extend through the heels with toes pointed upwards. Lengthen up through the waist and the crown of the head. Keep the core engaged, ribs tucked in, and the spine neutral, as though the shoulders and sacrum were leaning against a wall.
2. Big Toe Pose
From a standing position with the feet two fist-widths apart, bend forward from the hips. Wrap the first two fingers around the big toe on each side, and lift the head up. On an inhalation, maintaining the bind between fingers and toes, lift the chest upwards as the breath widens the ribs. On an exhalation, release back down into the fold.
3. Extended Triangle Pose
From a standing position, bring one leg about a leg's distance behind the other. The back food should lie parallel to the short side of the mat, with the front foot turned inwards slightly. With legs straight and engaged, extend the arms upwards, parallel to the floor, reaching through the fingers, and with palms facing down. Hinge at the front hip and place the hand of the front arm lightly against the shin or thigh for support. If there is a yoga block available, place it against the inner aspect of the shin and use it for support by this hand. Reach the other arm up towards the ceiling, drawing upwards through the fingertips of the top hand. Keep the head in a neutral position, or extend the gaze upwards towards the upper hand.
4. Seated Forward Bend
Sit upright, with legs extended outwards in front of you and toes pointed upwards. Hinge forward from the hips, extending through the crown of the head. Continue to hinge forward, reaching the hands for the feet. Keeping the spine long and head neutral, reach the navel towards the knees. If this causes pain or discomfort, a resistance band held in each hand and wrapped behind the soles of the feet can help to ease into the pose.
5. Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose
Lie on your back with legs extended. Flex one leg upwards. Wrap the fingers on the same side around the big toe. If you are unable to reach the big toe with your hand without bending the leg, try using that hand to hold a resistance band wrapped around the sole of the foot. Keep the collarbones wide and the opposite thigh heavy against the mat.
These five asanas strengthen and release the hamstrings. Each may be used individually or as a part of a larger flow sequence. As always, the best results come with dedicated practice.