You don’t have to be a runner, skier, cyclist, dancer, or a climber to know the feeling of tight hamstrings. Sitting for hours at a desk can also restrict the muscles along the backsides of your legs, and this kind of tension can cause stiffness and soreness, as well as numerous other issues.
Left untreated, overly tight hamstrings can cause injury to your joints — especially your ankles, hips, and your knees. They can also affect your ability to play sports, and the simple act of walking can start to feel stiff and painful.
Tight hamstrings can lead to further imbalance in the body, manifesting as pain in your lower back and/or knees, a tight sciatica or IT band and pelvic problems. You may feel pain in one or both sides of your hips, and your stride may be uneven — which in turn affects your whole body.
If you’re suffering from these kinds of symptoms, you can help relax your hamstring muscles and realign your body by practicing yoga. In fact, yoga for your hamstrings not only helps relieve some of that tension, but it also builds strength, improves mobility, and lowers inflammation.
You can relax and lengthen your hamstring muscles by practicing a few simple moves every day. You won’t see immediate changes overnight, but if you perform poses that stretch your hamstrings, glutes, calves, and connective tissue on a regular basis, you’ll find relief from pain and a better sense of balance throughout your body.
It’s important to always warm up before practicing yoga to avoid injury and to allow for a deeper stretch. Avoid pushing yourself too deeply into a pose, and if you’re just starting out pay attention to how your body feels and remember to take it slowly.
Try practicing this warm up and asana sequence on a regular basis to relax your hamstrings. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can take your practice to the next level with even deeper postures for tight hamstrings.
Start by warming up at the top of your mat, inhaling and standing tall in Mountain pose. Feel your hamstrings, calves, glutes, and quads energize as you stand rooted and firm on your mat.
As you exhale, bend forward from your waist while keeping your gaze straight ahead. Rest your hands on your thighs or the floor while you hold this pose for 30 to 60 seconds.
From Standing Half-Forward Fold, allow your body to sink deeper into the stretch by letting your chest relax on your thighs and extending your arms down onto the mat. Inhale and exhale, allowing your torso to extend without rounding your back. Lengthen and soften your neck, and let the muscles of your thighs and lower back open and release any built-up tension. Hold the pose for 1-2 minutes.
This stretch lengthens the muscles along the backsides of your legs and provides relief for lower back pain. Even though it’s a standing posture, Standing Forward Fold is incredibly relaxing and effective in calming your mind.
You can transition from Standing Forward Fold into Downward Facing dog by bending your knees, placing your palms firmly on your mat, and walking your feet backward. Keep your hips lifted so that your body resembles an inverted “V” shape. Press down through your heels and your hands so that you’re giving your hamstrings a deep stretch. Keep your head between your arms, lengthening your side-body as you stretch. Stay here for several breaths.
Downward Facing Dog activates your legs while stretching your glutes, hamstrings and calves. It also helps relieve lower back pain and builds strength in your shoulders.
From Downward Facing Dog bend your right knee and bring your right foot up between your hands. Plant your feet and lift your body up, extending both arms out to your sides. Pivot your left foot so that it rests parallel with the edge of your mat. Balance your weight between your feet, keeping your legs engaged but with a soft bend in your knees. On your next exhale, hinge at your waist, bending to place your right hand on your right foot, ankle, or floor. Slowly rotate your torso and extend your back arm until both of your arms are positioned in a straight line. Hold for several breaths and repeat on the other side.
Triangle pose lengthens your hamstrings as well as the muscles along your entire side-body. This position also helps stretch and realign your pelvic muscles.
Transition by moving back to the top of your mat and standing in Mountain pose. Relax here for a moment while you find your balance. Gently shift your weight to your left foot and raise your right knee from the ground. With your first two right fingers, reach for the big toe of your right leg. As you inhale, slowly extend your right leg in front of you while maintaining a straight spine and open chest. Hold this pose for five breaths, and on your next inhalation, open your right leg to your right side and hold it there for another five breaths. To return to your original position, inhale and slowly bring your right leg back to the center and lower it to the ground as you exhale. Repeat on your left leg.
Hand-To-Big-Toe not only stretches and lengthens your hamstrings, but it also realigns your pelvis and improves your balance and posture.
Turn at the top of your mat and step your legs wide for Wide-Angle Forward Fold. Engage your quads while keeping your knees soft. Bend forward from your waist and rest the crown of your head on the floor. If you’re feeling stiff and unable to touch your head to the floor, try bending far enough to rest your forearms or hands on the floor. Breathe deeply into this pose and hold for 30-60 seconds.
Wide-Angle Forward Fold relieves lower back pain while stretching your hamstrings and the sides of your legs. This pose also provides a deep hip stretch.
Ready to elevate your practice to a new level? Once you’ve begun the process of loosening your hamstrings with the above poses, try challenging yourself a little further with some of these more advanced poses:
Give yourself a deep hamstring stretch while developing strength and balance with this pose. From Plank position, rotate your right arm and body until you are balancing on your left hand the outer edge of your left foot. Bend your right knee, hold your big toe, and straighten your right leg. Repeat on the other side.
This pose stretches your hamstrings and activates your inner thighs and glutes from a seated position. From the Crescent Moon pose, extend one leg in front of you and the other behind you as far as you can, while raising your arms above your head.
Firefly requires advanced-level abdominal and upper body strength. Planting your hands on your mat, bend your knees and rest your thighs on the backs of your arms. From this position, wrap your legs in front and extend your feet outward.
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