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.

Yoga Journal - - Contents - By Jill Miller

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.

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