Whether you run, bike, swim, lift weights, play sports, or spend a lot of time sitting down, it’s likely you’ll encounter stiff hamstrings at some point. While these rear thigh muscles are powerhouses for sports that require leg strength, they get tight by both overuse and underuse. Practicing yoga increases hamstring flexibility, creating a greater range of motion to enhance all of your activities! Here is a short routine to increase hamstring flexibility. Remember: Yoga is not a competition! Take it easy and have fun. Be patient and consistent — over time, you’ll gain all of the benefits yoga has to offer.
The beauty is that people often come here for the stretch, and leave with a lot more.
It should take about 20 minutes to complete all of the poses. Practice the sequence daily and take it slow. Tight hamstrings may take a while to relax and lengthen, but they will tighten up even more if you force them to stretch too quickly. Always remember these general guidelines for practicing yoga:
- Move slowly in and out of the poses.
- Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
- Practice with an empty stomach.
- Never strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.
Stick to the exact order of this sequence — it has been organized to bring you the most benefits. Be sure to check with your doctor before practicing yoga if you have any injuries, health issues, or concerns.
One of the most-recognized yoga poses in the West, Downward-Facing Dog — Adho Mukha Svanasana (Ah-doh MOO-kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh) — energizes and rejuvenates the entire body. Do not practice if you have severe carpal tunnel syndrome or are in late-term pregnancy.
- Begin in Table Pose, on your hands and knees. The fold of your wrists should be parallel with the top edge of your mat; your middle fingers should point directly to the top edge of your mat. With your feet hip-distance apart, exhale and lift your knees off the floor. Gently begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling. Press down equally through your heels and the palms of your hands.
- Firm the outer muscles of your arms and press your index fingers into the floor. Lift from the inner muscles of your arms to the top of your shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs and down towards your tailbone. Relax your head between your upper arms, but do not let it dangle.
- Hold for 5-100 breaths. Gently bend your knees with an exhalation and come back into Table Pose to release.
A standard pose in many yoga styles, Triangle — Utthita Trikonasana (oo-TEE-tah tree-koh-NAH-suh-nuh) — tones the legs. It also stretches the groins, hamstrings, and hips; and opens the chest and shoulders. It also helps to relieve lower back pain, stress, and sluggish digestion.
- Begin standing at the top of your mat. Turn to the left and step your feet wide. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Your feet should be as far apart as your wrists. Rotate your right (front) foot 90 degrees, so your front foot’s toes point to the top of the mat. Turn your left toes in slightly. Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot.
- Reach through your right hand in the same direction as your right foot is pointed. Shift your left hip back, and then fold sideways at the hip. Rest your right hand on your outer shin or ankle. If you are more flexible, place your fingertips on the floor. You can also place your hand on a block.
- Align your shoulders so your left shoulder is directly above your right shoulder. Gently turn your head to gaze at your left thumb.
- Hold for up to a minute. To release, inhale and press firmly through your left heel as you lift your torso. Lower your arms, change the position of your feet, and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Pyramid Pose
Also known as Intense Side Stretch, Pyramid Pose — Parsvottanasana (PARZH-voh-tahn-AHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the spine, shoulders, hips, and hamstrings. It also calms the mind, improves balance and posture, and stimulates healthy digestion.
- Begin standing at the top of your mat. Turn to the left and step your feet two to three feet apart. Place your hands on your hips. Align your heels. Turn your right (front) foot 90 degrees so its toes point to the top of the mat. Turn your left (back) toes toward the top of the mat, about 60 degrees. Turn to face the same direction as your front foot. Press weight evenly through the outer edge of your back foot and the big toe of your front foot.
- Draw your left hip slightly forward, squaring your hips to the top of the mat.
- Inhale as you reach your arms out to the sides. As you exhale, reach your arms behind your back. Clasp your elbows. You can also bring your hands into reverse prayer position, pressing your palms together and reaching your fingers toward your head.
On an inhalation, elongate your torso. Exhaling, fold at the hips and extend your torso over your front leg. Keep your shoulders drawing back but do not let the low ribs puff forward. Maintain the length of your spine. Keep the crown of your head extending forward and your tailbone reaching behind you.
- Those with more flexibility can release their arms to the floor, folding the torso completely over the front thigh. Be sure to fold from the hip, not the waist.
- Ground down through the heel of your back foot. Gaze at your front big toe.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release, press firmly through your back heel and slowly lift your torso. Release your arms and place your hands on your hips. Change the position of your feet, and repeat on the opposite side.
Uttanasana (ooh-tuhn-AHS-uh-nuh) combines the benefits of forward folds and inversions. Dropping your head below your heart calms your brain. This relieves stress, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, mild depression, and insomnia. Uttanasana also deeply stretches your hamstrings and calves.
- From Tadasana, exhale as you bend at the hips, lengthening the front of your torso.
- Clasp your elbows with your arms bent. Let the crown of your head hang down. Press your heels into the floor and lift your sit bones toward the ceiling. Turn the tops of your thighs slightly inward. Do not lock your knees.
- Lift and lengthen with each inhalation. Release deeper into the pose with each exhalation. Hold for up to one minute.
- To release, draw down through your tailbone as you inhale and come up to standing. Return to Tadasana. Repeat 5-10 times.
Supine Hand to Big Toe Pose, also known as Reclining Big Toe Pose — Supta Padangusthasana (SOOP-tuh PAHD-ahn-goos-TAHS-uh-nuh) — is a gentle hamstring stretch that helps open the hips and reduce low back pain. It requires a yoga strap, but a towel or belt will also work.
- Lie on your back. Bend your right knee and hug your thigh into your chest. Keep your left leg extended along the floor. Wrap the strap around the ball of your right foot and grasp it with both hands.
- Straighten your knee, extending your heel to the ceiling. Keep your right foot flexed and your buttocks equally balanced on the floor. As you draw slightly down on the strap, let the head of your thigh bone rest in your hip socket. Feel your lower back press into the ground.
- Hold for 5-10 breaths.
- Place the strap in your right hand and turn your leg outward to the right. Keeping your left thigh pressing down, lower your right leg all the way to the right. Let your toes hover a few inches above the mat, keeping your leg outwardly rotated.
- Hold for 5-10 breaths.
- Inhale as you raise your leg again. Exhale as you draw your knee into your chest and let go of the strap, and then release your leg completely.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Flex & Fold
Hamstrings can be stubborn, but be patient. Practice stretching your hamstrings every day, and be sure to modify the poses as needed, depending on your current flexibility. Over time, your muscles will begin to relax and lengthen!