As a teacher, you’ve undoubtedly heard a student ask more than once about how to open up those %#&*! hamstrings.
Hamstrings are one of the most resistant muscle groups to lengthen, and even when it feels like they are beginning to open up, miss a few days of practice and twang! They snapped back as tight as ever.
This was certainly the case when I started yoga a long time ago and I remember distinctly how frustrating it was.
I’m a big fan of dynamic movements initially to get into the hamstring complex, which is comprised of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and the semimembranosus. These are large muscles so warming them with some light movements, gently bumping up against the edge of stretch, has been really helpful in my hamstring journey.
This is not a “bouncing” movement, which will only defeat the purpose. Watch the video below for a demonstration of what I mean.
The next thing that worked really well for me was to allow my head to relax forward, which happened when I started my Ashtanga practice.
Ashtanga is a rounded-back practice (versus the long back of an Iyengar style practice) and for some reason, when I allowed my head to drop forward and relax down towards my knees, I finally started making progress in the lengthening of my hamstrings.
I now understand this has to do with the superficial fascial back line of the body as described in this post on the Pilates Fitness Institute website. The weight of my head was tractioning my fascial line from my sub-occipital muscles at the base of my skull all the way down to my heels.
After warming up with some dynamic movements be sure to include some longer holds at about a 60% effort level, which is well off your furthest edge. Why? Because you want all the muscles to relax and send your fascia a message of safety. Only then will the fascia start to trust you and begin letting go.
Most important tip of all? Do these stretches CONSISTENTLY, with great devotion, over a long period of time, just as Patanjali prescribes in Yoga Sutra 1.14 as the secret to mastery in yoga.
Sutra 1.14: sat tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih
A long time of effort and devotion, without interruption, creates the ground for a firm, established practice.
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