Hamstrings. Those big ol' muscles on the backs of your thighs that practically scream the second you enter your first forward fold. Okay, well at least for me if any of the following are true: I've done a vigorous workout the day before involving running or squats, I've been sitting for too long, or I've abandoned my yoga practice for more than a few days in a row. Earlier this summer I went on a one-week road-trip and it reminded me of how much our hamstrings tighten up from too much sitting. Many of us sit all day -- from car (or subway) to desk to couch. It's rare that our hamstrings get much love from our daily routine. So what's a modern-day woman or man to do?
Answer: YOGA! But you knew that was coming :)
Here are three simple poses that you can do to keep your hamstring muscles nice and long:
- Forward fold (Uttanasana) - step your feet hips-width apart (place your two fists side by side between your arches to measure), bend in half, fold your arms, and let your head hang. Release your jaw, and any tension in your face. Experiment with legs as straight as you can get them, and then bent so that your torso rests on your quads. In the second position, you can also walk your fingertips out in front of you to lengthen and traction out your spine.
- Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) - in this pose, you are making an equilateral triangle with your body and the floor. Hands are shoulder distance, fingertips spread wide and pressing into the floor (particularly your thumb and forefinger), arms straight. Back extends at the same angle as the arms, and the pelvic bowl tilts up toward the ceiling. Back is flat, head is lined up with your arms, and your legs are straight or bent, with heels pressing down toward the floor. Make sure your feet are hip-width apart (about the size of your head). Experiment with "walking your dog" (alternating the bend in your knees) and deeply bending both knees at once, tilting your pelvic bowl even more -- "stick your ass out" as Nevine at Katonah would say.
- Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana) - lay on the ground with one leg extended (resting on the ground) and the other perpendicular to the floor, feet flexed and active. If you can grab the big toe of the lifted leg and keep the leg straight, begin to pull the leg toward your face (while keeping the leg on the floor straight and pinned to the ground). To modify, wrap a strap around your lifted foot (or if you don't have a strap, a face towel works too). Keep your head and neck on the floor, and bring the leg toward your face until you feel your hamstring engage. If you can release one of your hands, use it to massage the hamstring muscles on the back of the leg that is raised...hurts so good!
There you go! Three great poses that you can do in the morning, during a work break, or when you get home -- in less than five minutes. For more poses that target hamstrings (or any other area), check out Yoga Journal's awesome pose library.
A few other related resources:
- The Whole Story on Hamstrings - from Active.com
- Yoga Journal's Office Yoga Series
- Mark's Daily Apple: You Might Want to Sit Down for This
If you're sitting as we speak, stand-up and fold on over for at least 2 minutes! Sway your torso from side to side with knees slightly bent, and appreciate that gentle (or roaring) nudge from your hamstrings to do this a little more often :)