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Practice These 5 Yoga Poses for Tight Hamstrings + Gain Flexibility

Michelle Thielen
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From yoga to running or lifting weights, all forms of fitness incorporate leg strength. While that may seem obvious, a lesser-known fact is that the stronger you are, the more flexible you need to be. You can find strength and flexibility with yoga for hamstrings.
 
Strength and flexibility go hand in hand, yet many of us are lacking flexibility in key areas of the body . . . hello hamstrings! A lot of people suffer from tight hamstrings, but the good news is that tight hamstrings are easy to target with the yoga poses we’ll discuss in this article.
 
What Are Your Hamstrings?
But first, what – and where – are your hamstrings anyway?!
 
Picture1
Photo Credit: Teach Me Anatomy
 
Hamstrings are muscles located in the back of thigh that help with knee flexion and hip extension. Hamstrings play a key role in activities like walking, running and of course yoga, and they impact many aspects of physical movement, especially flexibility in your hips.
 

Practice these 5 yoga poses to lengthen your hamstrings and deepen your flexibility:

 
 

1. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)

A forward fold is a go-to posture for not only lengthening the entire back of the legs, but releasing deep tension in the upper back, neck and shoulders. The benefits of this posture not only include stretching the hamstrings lengthwise, but strengthening the quadriceps, knees and spine, keeping all of these areas strong, flexible and mobile.
 

The stronger you are, the more flexible you need to be.

 
Since the head is below the heart, Uttanasana will also produce a rejuvenating boost of fresh oxygen to your cells. It relieves tension, so you simultaneously calm the nervous system, which in turns aids in anxiety and stress. This posture improves digestion because it “massages” your internal organs.
 
How to practice Uttanasana:

  • Find Mountain Pose with feet together or hip-width distance apart and lengthen the torso. Raise your arms, if desired
  • Hinge at the hips and fold your torso forward. Bend your knees as much as you need to
  • Press your heels into the earth as you let your head and neck hang heavy

 
forward fold
 
How to modify Uttanasana:

  • Use blocks under both hands and elevate the spine
  • Use a strap under the arches of your feet and hold the strap instead of your toes
  • Bend the knees as much as needed
  • Practice using a chair
  • Practice Standing Half Forward Fold (Ardha Uttanasana) with blocks beneath your hands

 
forward fold variation
 
How to deepen the stretch:

  • Use your breath to deepen your hinge at the hips
  • Tuck your chin into your chest and bend your elbows to bring your forehead closer towards your shins
  • Stand on blocks and deepen your fold

 
forward fold deeper
 
 

2. Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose)

Also known as Pyramid Pose, Parsvottanasana is a dynamic and invigorating posture. In the full expression of Pyramid, both legs are straight, which lengthens the hamstrings.
 
This posture relieves tension throughout the entire torso; from the low back up to the neck. The blood rushing to the brain will bring energy and stimulation throughout the entire body, and tucking your chin to your chest will stimulate every system of the body, helping to balance mood, digestion, and sleep patterns.
 
How to practice Parsvottanasana:

  • From Mountain Pose, bring hands to heart center, take a 3-foot step back with one foot, and turn the toes of your back foot slightly outward about 45 degrees
  • Keep both legs straight without locking the knees, hips squared to the front, and hinge at the hips to fold your torso over your front leg
  • Extend your hands to frame your front foot and root all four corners of both feet firmly into the earth
  • To find the full expression, tuck your chin to chest and bring forehead to knee. Bend your front knee as much as you need to to touch your forehead to your front knee

 
pyramid
 
How to modify Parsvottanasana:

  • Prop a block against the wall and press your back foot into the block. If you find it difficult to ground the back heel down, or place a rolled blanket under the back heel
  • Keep your spine elevated by placing your hands on blocks.
  • You may also use the seat or back of a chair
  • Maintain a micro-bend in both knees or one knee and work to lengthen both legs on each exhale

 
pyramid variation
 
How to deepen the stretch:

  • Find your expression, as outlined above, or when you’re ready to add on from there, you can move into Standing Splits

 
standing split
 

 

3. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big Toe Pose)

This posture gently stretches your hamstring and allows the upper body to completely relax. Because you are supinated (on your back), this posture can be easily modified into restful hamstring stretch.
 
Reclining Hand-to-Big Toe allows the spine and vertebrae to relax, alleviating tension in the low back. If you suffer from backaches, practice Supta Padangusthasana often to relieve the back pain and stretch the hamstrings.
 
How to practice Supta Padangusthasana:

  • Lie on your back, and bend one knee in towards your face.
  • Grab onto your big toe with peace sign fingers of the same hand
  • Keep the leg extended and flex the toes back toward your face to anchor your tailbone to the mat
  • Hold for several deep breaths before switching sides. Over time, you can work up to holding this stretch for a full minute on each side

 
How to modify Supta Padangusthasana:

  • Place a blanket under the sacrum and/or neck
  • Bend the resting leg and plant that foot if you have lower back issues
  • Use a yoga strap around the arch of your lifted foot
  • Try a folded blanket as a pillow beneath your head

 
strap stretch 1
 
How to deepen the stretch:

  • Drop your extended leg outward for an open hip stretch
  • Gaze in the opposite direction of your extended leg

 
strap stretch
 
 

4. Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Split)

Half split will help lengthen your hamstrings and can feel pretty intense at times. This pose is one to slowly work into and to practice often.
 
How to practice Ardha Hanumanasana:

  • From Mountain Pose, step one foot back. Both feet face directly forward, and the back knee drops down to the mat to find a low lunge
  • Straighten your front leg and peel your toes back towards your shin, keeping your hips directly over your knees
  • Place your hands on your hips or lean slightly forward

 
half split
 
How to modify Ardha Hanumanasana:

  • Rest the back knee on a folded blanket
  • Place a block under one or both hands

How to deepen the stretch:

  • Hinge at the hips to lean forward and place your hands on either side of your front shin
  • Incorporate a twist by placing one hand to the mat on the inside of your front knee and twisting toward your front leg. This will also bring the stretch into the outside of your hip.
  • Shift your front heel forward to move closer to Hanumanasana (Full Split)

 
half split variation
 
 

5. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)

Downward Facing Dog is considered an inverted arm balance. If you are just starting a yoga practice, this pose may be challenging and difficult. As you continue your practice, Downward Facing Dog often becomes more of a “resting” posture.
 
This common yoga pose greatly lengthens the back side body and releases upper back tension. It also lengthens the spine. Relax the head downward to avoid strain on the neck.
 
How to practice Adho Mukha Svanasana:

  • From Standing Forward Fold, walk your hands and feet outward. Bend your knees, as needed, to find a long spine
  • Make an upside down “V” shape with your body, with hands about shoulder-width distance apart and feet about hip-width distance apart
  • Press your finger pads actively into the mat as you gently press your heels down towards the mat for a hamstring and calf stretch
  • Relax your head and neck and send your gaze towards your thighs

 
down dog
 
How to modify Adho Mukha Svanasana:

  • Place a block against the wall and press your hands or feet against the blocks
  • Rest your forehead on a bolster or block
  • Bend into your knees as much as you need to if you feel any pressure in the low back or hamstrings
  • Place your hands on yoga blocks to alleviate wrist pain

 
How to deepen the stretch:

  • From Downward Facing Dog, drop down to your forearms for Dolphin Pose.

 
 

Bonus! Down Dog Variation: Parivrtta Adho Mukha Svanasana (Revolved Downward Facing Dog)

Adding a twist to this posture will deepen the hamstring stretch and also massage the organs and help flush toxins. As you twist, you are cleansing the internal systems with every exhalation. Twist from the core and avoid using the limbs to leverage your twist.
 
How to practice Parivrtta Adho Mukha Svanasana:

  • From Downward Facing Dog, step feet towards palms and shorten your stance. You want your hands and feet to both rest firmly on your mat
  • Grasp the exterior ankle with opposite hand

 
down dog twist
 
 
Remember that yoga – and the pursuit of gaining more flexibility – is all about the journey, not the destination. Enjoy the journey! Have patience with yourself and practice compassion and self-love. Find bliss when challenges arise. Lean into discomfort (safely – pain is not discomfort) to uncover hidden treasures in your practice.
 

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Michelle Thielen

Michelle is the Founder of YogaFaith, an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance, and a Manduka Brand Ambassador. She is an International Speaker, Yoga Alliance and Yoga Festival Presenter. Michelle has taught over 20 Teacher Trainings and remains passionate about the gift of yoga bringing healing to the world. As a Shared Hope Ambassador, she travels to third world countries teaching Trauma Sensitive Yoga to human traffick survivors of all ages. Her first book Stretching Your Faith was published in the Spring of 2016.

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