The hamstrings are a notoriously tight muscle group. Our lifestyles force most of us to sit the bulk of the day, so our hamstrings are always in a shortened state, which causes them to grow tighter and lose flexibility. Over time, tight hamstrings can cause muscle and joint strain, back and neck pain and negative performance of the lower body.
The following 10 yoga poses will lengthen and strengthen tight hamstrings, while opening up your hips and increasing overall flexibility.
1. Forward Fold
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and arms at your sides.
- Take a deep breath and as you exhale, bend forward at hips, lowering your head toward floor.
- Continue to fold until your hamstrings resist, being sure to keep your head, neck and shoulders relaxed.
- You can hang here, feeling the stretch through the hamstrings and lower back, or for more a more intense stretch, wrap your arms around the top of your head grabbing each elbow with the opposite hand to add more weight pulling you to the ground.
- Hold for 30 seconds, or feel free to slowly rock from side to side.
- Bend your knees and roll up slowly to return to standing.
- The slower you move, the less of a head rush you’ll experience as the blood has more time to redistribute.
2. Downward Dog
- Start on your hands and knees, knees directly under your hips, toes turned under.
- Place your hands slightly in front of your shoulders.
- Lift your knees away from the floor and straighten your legs.
- Press through your hands to shift your weight into your heels, keeping your back flat and your head in between your elbows.
- As you relax into the pose, try to bring your heels closer to the ground with each breath.
- Hold 30 seconds and release.
3. Head-To-Knee Forward Bend
- Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and back straight.
- Bend your right knee and externally rotate the right hip to bring your right foot to the inside of your left thigh.
- Keeping your back straight, rotate your torso toward your left leg and bend forward at the waist bringing your head toward your knee until you feel resistance in the left hamstring.
- Hold for 30 seconds, release and switch sides.
4. Reclining Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose
- Lie face-up on your mat, legs extended.
- Bend the left knee and pull it into your torso.
- Hug the thigh to your belly.
- Loop the two first fingers around your left big toe and straighten the left knee, pressing the left heel up toward the ceiling. (If this is too difficult, loop a yoga strap or a towel around your foot to help).
- Straighten the knee as much as your hamstring will allow, keeping your head and shoulder blades relaxed against the floor.
- Hold for 30 seconds, release and switch legs.
5. Seated Forward Bend
- Sit up tall on your mat with both legs extended in front of you.
- Rock your hips back and forth a few times to release the hips and ensure you are on your sit bones.
- Keeping the spine long and your knees straight, slowly lean forward from the hips until your hamstrings resist.
- If you can, reach for and grasp the outsides of your feet.
- Rest here for 5 breaths and then lean into the stretch further.
- Hold for 30 seconds and release.
6. Wide-Legged Forward Bend
- Take a very wide stance, feet on each end of your mat.
- Turn your toes so they’re facing forward, feet parallel to each other.
- Lift your chest, and fold forward at the waist keeping your back flat.
- Once you’re upper body is parallel to the ground, extend your arms to the ground below your shoulders.
- Your legs and arms should be perpendicular to the floor and parallel to each other.
- Lift your head to look toward the ceiling and hold for five breaths.
- Then, walk your hands toward your feet and fold completely at the waist, bringing your head as far as you can between your legs.
- If able, rest the top of your head on the floor.
- Hold for 30 seconds and slowly release, keeping your back flat as you return to standing.
7. Standing Split
- Begin standing with your arms at your sides.
- Inhale as you reach your arms overhead.
- Exhale and bend at the hips to move into Forward Fold (above).
- Shift your weight onto your right foot and place your hands on the floor.
- Once balanced, raise your left leg up as high as you can behind you.
- Walk your hands back toward your standing leg and tuck your chin to deepen the stretch.
- Keep hips parallel to the ground and continually reach to the ceiling with your left leg.
- Hold for five breaths and slowly lower the left leg to release.
8. Staff Pose
- Sit on the floor, back straight and tall, with your legs extended in front of you.
- Rock your hips back and forth to ensure you’re sitting your sit bones.
- Flex your feet, toes pointing up toward the ceiling, while you draw the shoulder blades down.
- Your body should form a 90-degree angle.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds and release.
9. Gate Pose
- Kneel on the floor with your hips extended.
- Take your right leg and extend it to your right side.
- Rotate your right hip so your toes point upward toward the ceiling (use a yoga block to prop up your leg if need be).
- Keep your left knee directly below your left hip and line your right heel up with your left knee, keeping the hips facing forward.
- Extend your arms out to your sides and keep your shoulders square as you reach with your right hand toward your right foot while bringing your left arm over head.
- Keep your torso on top of your hips, contracting your core; don’t collapse to the right side.
- Hold for 30 seconds, release and switch sides.
10. Bound Angle Pose
- Sit up tall on the floor with the soles of your feet pressed together, your knees bent and dropped out to each side.
- Keeping your back flat and your head high, grasp your feet or ankles with your hands, engage your abs, and slowly lower your torso toward feet, leading with your chest instead of your forehead or nose.
- Continue to lean until you feel your abductors resist.
- Hold here for five breaths while you relax into the stretch and then try to stretch a little further. Slowly release and repeat.