“Healing Yoga” with Deborah Devine airs daily on One!
Click here to find out when.
Just about 99% of our population has tight hamstrings, the muscles found on the back of the upper legs. But this is not a genetic thing, there’s really nothing wrong with our hamstrings. The problem is that we sit on them all day and all night!
We sit on our hamstrings because we’ve been trained to sit in chairs for virtually everything in our lives. And not only do these muscles shorten; they get compressed and dull. Thus, the flow of vital fluids and energy is blocked. The matrix of tissues back here is dehydrated of prana and life force and starved for cellular nourishment. What’s more, the connective tissues thicken and harden over time. To make matters worse, tight hamstrings lead to problems with our knees, hips, low back and even our sense of balance. The normal functioning of the entire back line of our body is compromised.
Even though we now have clear evidence that sitting is the new smoking, we continue to sit. As I sit here writing this, I think about this. So if you’re sitting right now as you read this, I invite you to stand up right now, as a radical and practical act of self-care.
How Yoga Helps
Our Healing Yoga practice helps to both stretch and strengthen the hamstrings. The practice improves the functioning of the parts of the body that are most closely associated with the hamstrings, specifically, the knees and hips.
When we wake up the sleepy tissues, it feels so wonderful to just stand strongly and feel our balance and sense of being firmly grounded. When these tissues are enlivened, it feels great to engage them in our poses, but also in our daily life, walking up and down stairs, or getting up and down off the bed. As we move into the wisdom years, this becomes more and more important.
Yoga is an extremely effective countermeasure to guard against chronic tightening, as well as healing and repairing. Yoga keeps the back of the legs supple yet strong, flexible yet stable. We cultivate more awareness in our legs and feet, through the poses and breathing practices, and we expand and our spatial awareness in front and behind. This helps improve balance dramatically.
Tips for Tight Hamstrings
Ring The Bell
If you sit for long periods, set an alarm and get into the practice of standing and walking for two minutes every 20 minutes. Your circulation and digestion will improve and mental performance will also be enhanced.
Prioritize the Backs of the Legs
Before you go to bed each night, take a few minutes to practice the three variations of our supine hamstring stretch (Supta Padangustasana A, B and C) to get access to all three of the muscles and their associated tissues and connections. Stay within the comfort/discomfort zone, and stay out of the pain zone! Engage some movement in the practice to warm the tissues and lubricate the joints. Use the breath to visualize light and spaciousness while inhaling and sense the exhalation drawing tension and holding down out of the tissues. This will help open up the tissues and your legs will feel lighter and more limber. Three breaths in each pose, on both sides, is all you need. Spend some extra time in the “C” variation with support under your top leg. Your slumber will also be sweet!
Don’t Over Do It!
Your Healing Yoga practice should feel great! Work within the healthy boundaries of the comfort and discomfort zones, but stay out of the pain zone. It can take 18 months to repair a torn hamstring, and it’s important to be aware of and respect our boundaries. If you’re gripping the belt, or having a hard time breathing, or if your eye brows are knitting together, and your jaws are activated, then do less or do something different. Come back to the breath and start soft and work your body to the boundary between comfort and discomfort. Then take a few long breath cycles here, drawing attention to all the subtle shifts that are happening to the complex array of tissue and fluids.
Stand at Attention
Every time you stand, imagine yourself coming into the Mountain Pose (Tadasana), with more weight coming onto your heels. Now, feel the whole back plane of the body coming into more awareness. Engage the legs and the hips strongly. Sense the idea of moving old energy down the backline of the body on the out breath. Sense Apana, the downward moving energetic wind described in ancient sacred yoga texts. This is a very empowering way to stand and feel strength being cultivated back up the front part of the body. After several rounds, standing feels effortless and enjoyable.
Take the Floor
As often as possible, be a floor sitter. Sit on the floor with your back against the bottom part of the sofa and watch TV. Sit on the floor and take your office to the coffee table. Enjoy floor time as you read, listen to music, and socialize. Use pillows to support the natural curves of your spine. Your hamstrings and hips will improve while accessing more creativity and playfulness by being at kids-eye level.
Chronic tightness of the hamstrings doesn’t take long to fix. It only takes a commitment to practicing, and bringing awareness to the amazing benefits and how they show up for you!
If you have a hamstring story, we would love to hear it!