Too tight to practice? These poses can help
Flexible and strong, hamstrings are key to a healthy, happy yoga practice. Here’s what you need to know in order to lengthen and strengthen these muscles.
WHEN I WAS IN MY EARLY 20S, I had a vigorous Ashtanga Yoga practice, and I loved that my hypermobile body could easily contort into even the most advanced postures. Yet my drive to feel a deep stretch, particularly in all of the forward folds in the Ashtanga series, caused microtears in my hamstrings, which led to knee and hip pain—plus so much soreness that when I got out of bed each morning, I wasn’t able to straighten my legs for at least an hour.
Like me, many yoga practitioners learn lessons about their hamstrings the hard way. After all, having the ability to achieve all kinds of complex yoga poses due to hypermobile hamstrings is a common, if unspoken, goal. On the flip side, a lack of flexibility is often associated with not being able to practice yoga at all. How many times have you heard someone say, “Yoga isn’t for me; I can’t even touch my toes!” ?
In fact, optimal hamstring health lies somewhere between the two ends of this spectrum. If your hamstrings don’t have a lot of motion, gaining flexibility can help keep your knees, hips, and legs healthy. If your hamstrings are hyperlax, controlling their range of motion will also help you stay injury free. It took me two solid years of avoiding forward bends in order to heal my hamstrings and learn the importance of both stretching and strengthening this muscle group. Here’s how you can create strong, pliable hamstrings, wherever your starting point.