A Saving Grace for Tight Hamstrings

A Saving Grace for Tight Hamstrings

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On January 26, 2018
  • Comments

Tight hamstrings? Read on.

A balanced asana practice includes moving the body in a number of ways including stretching lengthwise, forward folding, back bending, twisting, balancing and inverting. Let's talk about forward folding this week! Most of us are plagued with tight hamstrings; forward folding can be a saving grace for this issue. We find this type of posture in standing and seated variations. There are hundreds of different ways to do a forward fold! Let's look at 11 tips that will help us get as much benefit as possible from these asanas.

11 Tips for Forward Folds

*We were planning on featuring 10 tips (because that's the normal thing to do), but it turned out to be 11! Maybe it's because we've been watching a lot of Stranger Things and Eleven is on our mind? Either way, one extra piece of advice can't hurt!

1. The body should be warmed up through sun salutations or other warming exercises before any asana practice. Typically about 15 minutes worth or 5 Surya Namaskara A's and 3 B's should do the trick.

2. Whether standing or sitting, if your hips and hamstrings are tight, bend your knees so that your hamstrings stretch to the point where you feel something, but it feels nice. It is easy to stretch so much that you injure your hamstrings!

3. If you are in a posture that is going to take more than 5 breaths you can fold a blanket and sit on the edge of it so that you get a greater degree of hip flexion. Also feel free to keep the knees bent, and put another folded blanket under your knees for support. This use of props is wonderful for holding postures for up to 5 minutes or so.

4. Don't worry about having a "perfect" looking posture. In the yoga sutras of Patanjali, we learn "स्थिरसुखमासनम्, sthira-sukham-āsanam," which means practicing yoga with steadiness and in a relaxed manner gives rise to harmony with the physical body.

Let's break down sthira-sukham-āsanam:
Sthira= (nom. sg. m.) strong, steady, stable, motionless.
Sukham = (acc. from sukha) comfortable, ease-filled, happy, light, relaxed.
Āsanam = (acc. sg. n./nom. sg. n. from āsana) asana, posture, seated position, physical practice.

If you need to bend your legs, you may need to round your spine a little bit too. If you have straight legs and a very rounded spine, straighten your spine a bit and bend your legs a bit too. Don't round the spine to the point of discomfort or strain though, this can put undue pressure on the vertebral discs.

5. The lower abdominal muscles should be firm and supportive. Suck the lower belly in toward the spine and up toward the rib cage as if using a giant ice cream scoop to hollow out the area above the pubic bone and about 4 inches below the navel. This strengthens the core, pulls the torso closer to the legs and protects the lumbar discs.

6. Fire up your quads. The quadriceps or muscles covering the front of the thighs should be actively squeezing in a bit; this takes the tension away from the hamstrings so they can relax and stretch more.

7."Foint" your feet in seated forward folds. This term comes from Yoga genius Richard Freeman out of Boulder Colorado, who many of The Front's teachers have studied with. "Fointing" is a combination of flexing and pointing. We want to point the feet away from the rest of the body, and flex the toes back toward the shins at the same time. This also takes undue pressure off the hamstrings and strengthens the shins and feet.

8. Keep the tops of your shoulders down and relaxed. Shoulder blades should gently pull evenly down toward the waist. Collarbones should widen and roll back. Don't scrunch the shoulders up toward the ears.

9. Breathe deep and pay attention. Breathing deeply and evenly is really important to any yoga practice. Focus on the posture so that you can find steadiness and comfort. Think of yoga asanas as therapy rather than a challenge and your body and mind will benefit.

10. Be patient. The body takes lots of heat and time to change, but with heat (created by a warm room and a proper warm-up) and consistency even iron will bend!

11. Keep a steady gaze. Have a looking point on which to rest your vision while your practice. Generally, this looking point should be down toward the tip of your nose. For those with very flexible bodies, whose faces easily can touch the legs with a relatively straight spine, the gazing point can be forward toward the toes. Not only will gazing point (drsti) practice help your neck relax and stay properly aligned, but it will improve your focus and awareness of your own posture rather than someone else's. Everyone's body is different and comparing only serves to distract us from our own yoga practice.