3 poses to keep your hamstrings healthy
SUPTA PADANGUSTHASANA Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose, variation This classic pose reveals the truth behind your current hamstring length. By lying on the floor with one foot against a wall, you can keep both your pelvic bones and spine in neutral positions as you explore the range of motion in your raised leg (which is permitted by the length of your hamstrings).
HOW TO Wrap a strap around the middle of your right foot. Lie on the ground with the bottom of your left foot against a wall and your left toes pointed toward the ceiling. Engage your core, maintaining a neutral spine. Note the position of both pelvic (ilia) bones as you begin; your ilia should never tilt or shift. Grasp the strap and bring your right hip into flexion without changing the position of your pelvis or spine. As soon as you feel a stretch on the back of your right thigh, stop pulling and breathe deeply. Once the stretching sensation dissipates (30–60 seconds), switch sides.
CHALLENGE Harness the strap firmly around your heel, and try to push your right thigh back toward the ground without allowing your thigh to move. Hold for 10–20 seconds. UTTANASANA Standing Forward Bend, variation This Uttanasana asymmetrical variation favors a stretch in your outer hamstrings, the biceps femoris. The pose is great for practitioners who have a limited range of motion in their hamstrings.
HOW TO Begin in Uttanasana with both knees bent, feet hip-width apart. Place one block under your right foot and one next to the outside of your left foot. Lean your weight forward as you try to straighten both knees. Walk your hands to the left to place them on the block, and lean your hips to the right to emphasize the stretch on your right hip and right hamstrings. Breathe deeply for 30–60 seconds, then switch sides. STRENGTHEN-TOLENGTHEN CHALLENGE Put pressure on the block under your foot and simultaneously try to slide it to the right without actually moving it. Do this for 10–20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. PURVOTTANASANA Upward Plank Pose This is one of the few classic yoga poses that requires concentric contraction (shortening) of the hamstrings along with the whole posterior chain of muscles—the calves, glutes, and back muscles. Thanks to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, we tend to be weaker in the back of our bodies than in the front. This back-body strengthener is an excellent antidote to this common problem.
HOW TO Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your torso upright and legs outstretched in front of you. Slide your palms backward approximately 9–12 inches, with your fingers pointing toward your feet. (In the full expression of the final pose, your shoulders should stack above your wrists.) Point your toes so that the soles of your feet plant into the ground, then engage all of your back-body muscles to lift off the floor into a reverseincline plank. Internally rotate your hips by squeezing your thighs toward one another. Hold the pose until you can no longer sustain all of these actions.
CHALLENGE Try pulling your heels toward your bottom without allowing your knees to bend. Even though your heels won’t move very far, you should feel your hamstrings engage, which will build strength.