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With tight hamstrings, forward bends can strain your lower back.
If your hamstrings are tight, a wide range of yoga poses become difficult. Trying to perform a forward bend, an inversion, a twist or even sitting on the floor cross-legged can be a painful endeavor. Tight hamstrings also pull on your pelvis, rotating it forward into a posterior tilt. You can engage in gentle poses to slowly stretch and strengthen your hamstrings.
The Stretch Reflex
It can be helpful to imagine freeing your hamstring as a process of lengthening rather than stretching them, according to Roger Cole's article вЂњLong and StrongвЂќ in Yoga Journal. What keeps your hamstrings short and tight is the stretch reflex. Your muscles sense when you're trying to stretch them past a comfortable range of motion. They'll resist your efforts by contracting even harder. When you do a forward bend, your hamstrings' stretch reflex stops you from achieving the pose.
One stretching technique to work around the stretch reflex is to deliberately relax your hamstring muscle. Slowly lengthen the muscle by easing into the stretch. For example, in the Reclining Big Toe pose, you can elongate your hamstrings from a supine position. In contrast to forward bends that can place too much stress on your lower back, this pose allows you to avoid the weight gravity. Flex your right knee and draw it to your chest. Loop a towel or belt around the ball of your right foot. Slowly extend your right leg toward the ceiling. Switch legs and repeat the stretch with your left leg. If the backs of your legs are too stiff, bend your right knee and allow your sit bones to sink into the ground.
Stretching and Strengthening
You can use a technique in which you simultaneously stretch and strengthen your hamstring muscles. For example, perform the Intense Side Stretch pose in which you begin by facing a wall with your feet about 12 inches away. Place your palms on the wall at shoulder level. Step behind you with your left foot anywhere from 3-1/2 to 4 feet, angling your toes out about 30 degrees. Bend forward at the hips, keeping your hands higher than your shoulders. Feel the stretch in your hamstrings on the forward bend. While pressing into the ball of your right foot, turn your right thigh. Contract your right thigh muscle at the same time. Keep your knee straight. Hold the contraction for about 10 seconds. When you release it, ease back into the stretch and feel your hamstrings lengthen further. Repeat the cycle of contraction and release for a total of four reps.
Easing into Forward Bends
According to Julie Gudmestad's article вЂњEase on BackвЂќ in Yoga Journal, if you have tight hamstrings, you have the greatest risk of doing injury to your back on forward bends. There are other gentler poses that can prepare you for forward bends and help to stretch your hamstrings. For example, the Extended Hand-to-Foot pose enables you to work on your hamstrings while maintaining normal placement of your pelvis and lumbar spine. Face the back of a chair and place one foot on it in a supported front leg extension. Keep your legs straight and parallel. Make sure you choose a chair height that doesn't force you to tilt your pelvis forward. If you put your fingers on your spine at waist height, you can check for rounding of the back. As you stretch your hamstring muscle, envision your vertebrae lifting and also lengthening.
- Insight Yoga; Sarah Powers