Tight hamstrings are the number one issue all you broga dudes ask about, so I am super excited to present this post. As well as preventing you from performing at your best, and in extreme cases leaving you at risk for tearing (my god, OUCH!) the main problem caused by tight hamstrings is actually in our backs. Tight hamstrings can cause the hips and pelvis to rotate, or pull the pelvis out of our normal alignment, flattening the back and causing back problems and/or postural issues.
Some hamstrings. Not modelled by DC. Image courtesy Physio Advisor.
And, as you will know from previous posts of me harping on about this: healthy spine = healthy body! SO THIS SCOURGE MUST END!!!
By stretching out the hamstrings on the regular, they will become more and more flexible and less tight, which means as well as preventing the above problems from occurring, eventually you will be able to move further into your yoga postures and impress allll the ladies (Well, by ladies I mean me. And not so much impressed as "proud of your progress". But still)
**Update! I just spoke to a brogi who once suffered from lower back issues about this post, and he told me that after six months of daily hamstring exercises like the ones below, not only can he move about a foot closer to touching his toes (Go Brogi!) but also that he is no longer bothered by pain in the lower back! Amazing!**
SUPTA DANDASANA - with hamstring slide
Born to Slide
Sit sideways to the wall, with your butt up against the wall, and swing your legs so that they are up above your head, creating an "L" shape with your legs up the wall. Keep a bend in your knees until your spine in correctly aligned along the floor - to do this wiggle your butt so it is right up at the wall and use your core to secure your lower back firmly into the floor - removing any arching that may occur. Anchor your shoulder into the floor.
When you are in position, with your arms resting by your sides, exhale and slide your right leg from the bent position to straight up against the wall, with your foot flexed back and toes pointing at your head. Push up through the back of the heel. Inhale and slide the left leg up to straight, bending the right. Continue with the breath.
When you have done this for ten breaths per leg (or longer if you like! Go crazy!) you can hold the stretch and "rest" with both legs up the wall. Keep pressing your lower back, butt and shoulders into the floor, and try to get the backs of your knees to touch the wall, eliminating all of the space behind them. Also continue flexing the toes to the face, pushing through the heels. Relax and slow your breath, holding this pose for as long as feels comfortable (or maybe a bit beyond that, considering many will want to cry after one second... opps, I mean, you might get "sweat in your eyes")
Inhale to slide your legs sideways back down the wall, then roll back to the middle, resting (for reals this time I promise) with your back on the floor and your knees pulled into your chest.
Eventually can also do this exercise without the support of the wall, like this.
SUPTA PADANGUSTHASANA(Reclining Big Toe Pose)
You will need a yoga belt for this one, and by yoga belt I mean something you have improvised using a rolled up cotton scarf or any kind of strong belt like material. DC used his girlfriend Meg's scarf (Sorry Meg. It was definitely his idea, I swear)
Snitching aside, let's get into it. Lying on your back, with your knees bent and pelvis tilted to remove any arching occuring in the lower back, inhale and bring your right knee into the chest, looping your belt behind the foot. On the exhale, breathe out fully and begin raising your leg straight up to 90 degrees. Keep the left leg bent as much as you need to allow this to occur.
No scarves were injured during the making of this blog. Or DCs.
Keep your shoulders grounded into the floor, and continue bending out the back of your knee to as straight as possible, flexing the toes back down towards the face as we did before - extend up through the back of the heel. Once you have the leg as straight as possible in the air, try lengthening out the bottom leg along the floor more, getting rid of the bend. However, the second your back starts to arch, or you begin to lose the integrity of the straight leg, return the leg to the bended position in which this does not occur. Keeping the extended leg straight in air the main purpose of the exercise, not getting your damn leg straight against the floor :)
After holding for 1-3 minutes, slowly release on the exhale, and repeat on the other leg.
PASCHIMOTTANASA- Seated Forward Bend
Sit on your mat with feet together and legs bent, with your belt looped over your feet. Inhale to lift up out of the pelvis, bringing your spine straight. Be careful not to overemphasise this and balloon out your chest, tuck your chest to ribs if you feel the happening. Roll your shoulders down away away from your ears bringing your shoulder blades together behind your back so you are not hunching either.
Nary a hunch nor a balloon to be seen! A++
Then, on the exhale, begin bringing your torso down closer to your thighs, hinging forward from the hips. Notice I said hinging forward from the hips NOT hunching forward from the shoulders! Continuing to bring your shoulder blades together behind your back should alleviate this common error. You are trying to get your torso closer to your thighs, not your shoulders closer to your feet. Gaze straight ahead.
Once you have your torso on your thighs, experiment with bringing your thighs down towards straight along the floor. Go as far as feels comfortable but do not force this. Patience (and practice!) grasshopper. Eventually you will be able to lose the belt and use your hands behind your feet to pull you into the pose. See: Paschimottanasana.
No matter where you are in the pose, use your inhale to pull your spine out from the pelvis making it longer and straighter; and your exhale to pull you further down towards your thighs. Lengthen, compress, lengthen, compress.
Try holding here for ten breaths, but come out if you feel any pain, or you begin slumping into the lower back.
UTTANASANA(Standing Forward Bend)
Starting in our trusty "fierce pose" position, take a breath in the bring the arms up and torso as straight as possible, gazing up between the hands.
Then on the exhale, "hinge" forward at the hips to bring your torso down onto the front of your thighs. Bend your knees as much or as little as possible as you need to achieve this. Some people will be able to do this with straight legs, others very bent. It Does. Not. Matter!
When you are here, soften the belly against the thighs and make sure your shoulder are relaxed, with your shoulder blades pulling down the back away from your ears. You do not want your shoulders tensing up around the neck. From this position practice trying to straighten one leg - exhale straighten, inhale return - then the other. Try to manage abut ten "straightens" per leg.
If you are able to straighten both then use your breaths to tilt the pelvis and bring your body even closer to the thighs, and head closer to the floor. Inhale - lift and lengthen the torso out from the hips, exhale - release more fully into the forward bend, letting your head hang. You can wrap your arms around your calves to assist you with this - but no forcing. Use your core to scoop up the belly, making it disappear up into your ribcage, helping you go deeper into the pose. Breathe!
Keep practicing and you will look like this. Yay!
When your are ready, bring your hands onto your hips, and lengthen the torso, hinging from the hips to bring your torso to standing on the inhalation.
Hope these all help, my tight hamstrung friends. Relax in between exercises by sitting with your feet out in front of you and shaking them out.