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Find your working place in hamstring Stretches: Five Minute Yoga Challenge

The Five-Minute Yoga Challenge started as a response to two of Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood: “What you do EVERY DAY matters more than what you do ONCE IN A WHILE,” and “By doing a little bit each day, you can get a lot accomplished.” That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of My Five Minute Yoga Practice. If you have time, of course you can practice other poses. But if five minutes a day is all you have, choose a Five-Minute Yoga Challenge that works for you, do it, and see what happens.

Find your working place and your practice will blossom.

Find your working place and your practice will blossom.

This week’s five minute yoga challenge is to stretch your hamstrings once a day, every day – unless, of course, you’re already happily working with a different challenge, in which case you’re golden.

If you love hamstring stretches, go ahead, knock yourself out:
Supta Padangusthasana with a strap. Downward Dog, one leg up the wall, Uttanasana, Paschimottanasana, Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana with your foot on a chair back or independent.

If you loathe hamstring stretches, here’s my top pick.

It has three big advantages:

• you get to lie down
• you can’t hurt your back
• there’s a good chance you might find that magical spot known as your working place, and come to love stretching your hamstrings.

If this seems unlikely, may I suggest that’s because most people with tight hamstrings have never found their working place in a hamstring stretch and don’t know how it feels.

In your working place, you can breathe, keep your face soft, keep your eyes soft, and stay, observing without reacting.

In a yoga class, if your hamstrings are tight, you are already in pain long before you look anything like the classic pose. Finding the beginning of your stretch means backing off, a lot, and staying there. As you remain in a position that gives you some stretch, but keeps you out of pain, you’ll finally experience the sweetness of a moderate hamstring stretch.
The tightest hamstrings in the world can’t resist that.

Your buttocks could easily be two feet away from the wall as a starting point

Your buttocks could easily be two feet away from the wall as a starting point

Find a column or a doorway that allows you to lie on your back and have one foot resting on the column.
Place a folded blanket under the back of your head to relax your neck and shoulders.
To find the right distance from the wall, look for the spot where your pelvis rests evenly on the floor. Check the outer hip of your lifted leg. If it rolls up and in, you’re too close to the wall.
Your buttocks might easily be as far as two feet from the wall.

First activate the leg that’s on the floor. Press out through the ball of your big toe. Pull your kneecap toward your upper thigh. Firm your front thigh muscle and press your thighbone down to the floor.

The leg that’s up the wall does exactly the same thing, only in a different relationship to gravity.
Press through your big-toe mound. Pull the front thigh muscles toward your hip crease. Press your thighbone toward the wall.
The more you contract your front thigh muscles, the more your hamstring will stretch.

Relax your neck and shoulders. Soften your face. Soften your eyes. Maintain a steady, friendly awareness of the sensations in your raised leg. When the feeling of stretch diminishes – perhaps over a period of days or weeks – move your buttocks closer to the wall.
Stay for two minutes on each side.

Have you overcome tight hamstrings at some point in your yoga career? Do you have a favorite pose or preparation? Do tell.

Shovel photo by Alan Levine at coydogblog

If this was your kind of thing, you might also like:

Roll Your Feet On a Tennis Ball to Loosen Your Hamstrings: Five-Minute Yoga Challenge

Pain or Golden Glow: It Matters What You Call it

It’s Not All Bliss: How to work with poses you don’t like, Part One

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • richard November 9, 2010, 8:04 am

    Hi Eve, i do this hamstring stretch daily, with a strap wrapped around my elevated foot at the toes (physio suggested this for calves) and have found that if i start off far from the wall and hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds then release, I can move in a bit closer. I repeat this several times until i am in close then hold for another minute or two. For the first few months i strongly disliked this stretch, even if i stayed quite a distance from the wall. now i am able to relax face, neck and perhaps even shoulders while holding it. namaste, richard

    • Eve November 9, 2010, 12:49 pm

      Hi Richard,
      Good for you for making it a daily practice, and that’s a great strategy, starting out far and moving in. From what I see of your poses in class, it’s another hamstring success story. Just goes to show that if you do the work, things change.

  • Becky November 8, 2010, 12:07 pm

    This is probably my favorite hamstring stretch, although I haven’t tried it against a column like this before. I usually do this with a belt. It feels really good when you can find that working spot that you talked about and after awhile you become really addicted to it. I have tight hamstrings and slowly over the years with lots of yoga and patience, I’ve been able to lengthen them. Not a ton, but enough to bring some happiness. I like the idea of doing this against the column because my arms and hands sometimes tire out when I’m doing this with the belt. Will be nice to just relax a bit and let it happen! Thanks!

    • Eve November 8, 2010, 12:14 pm

      Hey Becky, how great to hear a hamstring success story! Yes, resting the foot on a column does let you stay longer and focus your attention more completely on the hamstring. Sometimes we grip the strap and end up with tension in the shoulders and neck. So glad you like the idea. Hard to do in a teaching situation though, unless you have a very unusual studio to teach in.