Happy hams


My practice is going on a journey of exploring the concept of sustainability and longevity. I recently wrote about it in my article on Strong glutes where I discussed the phenomenon called ‘yoga butt’ – where from many years of stretching the glutes and hamstring muscles and tendons can become inflamed and develop tendinopathy. We presume tight muscles need stretching but it is much more complicated than that. If you are an athlete in a specific discipline which continuously fires the hamstrings you may indeed have strong tight hamstrings, but for the majority of us they are tight and weak from prolonged periods of sitting and a general sedentary life. We get lulled into a false sense of security by convincing ourselves we are very active because we exercise everyday. But what are you doing for the other 23 hours of the day! Although we might feel a nice stretch will be the answer, stretching into a tight weak muscles is more likely to cause injury, because the connective tissue is not strong enough to withstand the load we are bringing to the muscles. We must tackle the weakness and strengthen the muscle up first.

In my experience injuries often come from failing to listen to the internal messages of the body and going into the mind frame of ‘I should’. In yoga philosophy there is a principle called ‘ahimsa’ or non harming. This non harming applies to ourselves as well as others. Practising with ahimsa means listening to your innate wisdom and acting appropriately. If your neighbour has managed to fold in two in a seated forward fold ask yourself first does this suit your body to follow suit and try to stay more present on your mat and your practice. We need to start considering our practice through the lens of a long term practice not something that is Instagram worthy.

The hamstrings are a group of muscles that run down the back of the leg starting at the back of the pelvis and the top of the femur and attach to the top of the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg. They are responsible for walking running, jumping and any movement where the knee bends. In this sequence you are going to concentrate your effort on the eccentric movement which is the straightening of the leg and the hamstring fires to control this movement. Extend your exhale with the hamstring mini flows in the sequence and see how slow you can straighten the leg out, bringing your whole attention to what’s happening at the back of the upper leg.

This sequence is perfect if you have any instability going on in your hamstring. It gives lots of opportunity to find the strength in the hamstrings with minimal forward bends. If you use Downward Dog as a transition pose I suggest you don’t hang around in it for too long as essentially it is a forward fold and with further irritate tight hamstrings if they are feeling tender. The peak pose is one of my favourite poses for finding strength in the back chain of the body Salabhasana/Locust Pose. Take time in the pose, pause for three long breathes and repeat it at least three times.

  • Lie on your front, arms by your sides, palms facing your body, forehead resting on the ground.

  • Inhale, press into your pubic bone, lift your head, upper torso, arms and legs, lift with the whole back.

  • Reach your chest forward and up, extend your arms towards your feet, lift your legs up and press through the balls of your feet, roll your inner thighs up.

  • Broaden through the collarbones, firm your shoulder blades onto your back, back of the neck long, gaze slightly forward.

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Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Ardha Chandrasana - Half Moon


Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon is quite the balancing act and requires strong glutes to lift the top leg and plenty of core strength to catch your balance. The trick to finding your balance is to start with a deeply bent front knee to bring your centre of gravity down while your body works out how to accommodate this seesaw arrangement you have put it in. Once your core kick in you can start to very slowly straighten out the standing leg and reach in all directions.

There is nowhere to hide with this challenging pose. It builds focus and concentration and is very grounding and centering. It strengthens the core, ankles, glutes, spine and quads; and stretches the groin, hamstrings, calves and chest. It requires a lot of balancing skills and improves coordination and balance in our everyday movement. It also eases headaches, lowers blood pressure, eases back pain, relieves indigestion, constipation and menstrual cramps, and eases anxiety. Quite the selection of benefits for this simple yet strong balancing pose!

In your full expression of your version of the pose connect with your belly button and radiate out through the standing leg into the support of the ground; through the lift leg reaching through the heel of the flexed foot; through the bottom arm, heart centre and the finger of the extended arm; and finally through your tailbone to the tip of your crown. Think of yourself as a jellyfish reaching in all directions originating from your strong core.

This sequence deeply works the muscles of the glutes at the back of the hips to help you connect to these important muscles that will help you left the top leg in Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon.

Print out the tips below, along with the sequence, and build you best version of Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon:

  • From Utthita Trikonasana/Triangle with your right leg forward. Place your left hand on your hip and step your left foot forward a little.

  • Bend your front knee and place your right hand on a brick a foot forward to the little toe side of your right foot. Press down through the three points of your right foot and lift the inner ankle.

  • Keeping your right knee bent, Inhale, float your left leg up to hip height or slightly above, toes facing forward. When you have your balance gradually straighten your right leg.

  • Flex your left foot parallel to the ground and press out through the heel.

  • Hips and shoulders stacked, reach your left arm up high, palm facing left, gaze down or to your left fingertips.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Strong core


Situated in the centre of our being is the core – ‘the most essential part of anything’. This fundamental part of the body supports the spine, facilitates movement, and contains the organs of the abdomen. It’s main role is to hold us upright against gravity, with only one bone structure to help it to do this important job – the spine – but for very good reasons. It’s multilayered muscle mass facilitates forward, backwards and side mobility. If we had more bone structure built into our core we would not be as fluid in our movements and move more like robots.

When combined with the spine the core gives us our unique upright posture. When the core is weak it can’t hold the upper body upright against gravity the spine suffers leading to back problems. Many people come to the practice of yoga as recommended by their doctor to build up their core strength to support the spine. This sequence will help to find the strength of your core by challenging strengthening poses and stability movements.

The deepest layer, the transversus abdominis, are the containment sheath that wrap around the core like a corset to support the organs and assist in maintaining good posture. Next are the internal and external obliques which cross hatch diagonally along the side body and are responsible for lateral side bends and twists. The most external, and the one that gets the most attention, are the rectus abdominis, running from the bottom of the sternum to the pubis, which flex the spine and stabilise the pelvis. Finally the core is not just the front body, it also includes the quadratus lumborum and the erectors of the spine, which do the opposite and extend the spine into backbends.

The challenge with core work is to maintain a soft expansive breath while you still draw the navel towards the spine. When you are moving into a pose that is directly working the core take a deep inhale exhale into the pose to activate all the supporting muscles of the the full 360 core.

This sequence works the core strengthening. The peak pose is Ashva Sanchalanasana/Galloping Horse. This is a strengthening and challenging pose for the core and back. If you find there is too much pressure on your lower back tilt a little less forward to the point where your core can ‘have your back’

Print out the below tips, along with the sequence, and start to build a connection with your strong core:

  • From Virabhadrasana I or Ashta Chandrasana arms reaching high, inhale, lengthen the spine, exhale, hinge forward from the hip joint over your front leg.

  • Arms in line with ears, lengthen up through your spine to the tip of your crown.

  • Press out through your left heel to firm your back leg, hug your outer hips to the midline

  • Draw your navel towards your spine to protect and strengthen your back, gaze down.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Psoas release


Deep in the central hub of our body lies the psoas muscle. Unique in the fact that it is the only muscle that connects upper and lower body. It starts at the lower spine (T12), travels through the pelvic bowl, connects to the thigh bone (femur) and is part of the body of muscle known as the ‘hip flexors’. Both a tight or weak psoas can cause instability in the hips and lead to lower back pain – a tight psoas tilts the pelvis forward and cause an overarch in the lower back, while a weak psoas causes the pelvis to tilt backwards and reduces the natural supportive curve of the lower back. When the psoas is flexed it lifts the thigh towards the spine in standing poses, and the spine towards the thigh in seated poses. The glutes at the back of the hips contract when the psoas is lengthened – causing the back body to strengthen and the front body to stretch. The psoas becomes tight and shortened through prolonged periods of sitting or activities where it is repeatedly flexed like cycling or large amounts of core work. Running can either help maintain or cause problems with the psoas. When running, as you kick the leg forward you are contracting and strengthening the psoas, and when the other leg is extended back it is lengthening and stretching the psoas. For this reason it is important to consciously maintain a nice wide stride when running to catch both actions and avoid a chronically tight hip flexors.

This muscle is not only a functional muscle that connects upper and lower body and facilitates movement, it is also linked to the ‘fight or flight’ nervous system response. When we feel under threat the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered, releasing the hormone cortisol which causes a series of responses in the body as it become ready for action. One of the muscles involved in this automated response is the psoas muscle. It contract ready to fight it’s ground or take flight. Chronically tight psoas caused by prolonged sitting continuously triggers the stress hormone cortisol. When there is no action required the cortisol stays in the system leaving you feeling a constant low grade state of anxiety and exhaustion. Lengthening out the psoas through gentle yoga poses will break this cycle and help to relieve this built up physical and mental tension.

In our practice we look for strength in the connective tissue of the psoas first by contracting it then lengthen it out through gentle lunges and backbends. Spend a bit of time at the start of the sequence to feel for where this deep set muscle lies and see can you get a sense of it contracting as it draws the leg towards the spine and relaxing as it stretches the leg away from the spine and extends the hip joint.

Approach your lunge with fresh eyes. Instead of dropping the hips as far forward as you can stay more upright with the hips stacked over the grounded knee. Press into the front foot, and lift your pointy hip bones up. Roll the inner thigh back and lift the back of the thigh up. The peak poses for this sequence are Anjaneyasana/Low Lunge and Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon. You will come in variations on these two poses several times. Use the alignments cues below for Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon to get the most out of these poses.

  • From Adho Mukha Svanasana, inhale, step your right foot between your hands, exhale here.

  • Inhale, press into your feet to come up, reach your arms up high, shoulder width apart or palms together. Stack your front knee over your front ankle.

  • Press out through your left heel, lift the thigh and firm your back leg, hug your outer hips to the midline. Pointy hip bones lifted.

  • Draw your navel towards your spine, broaden through your collarbones, lengthen through your spine to the tip of your crown, gaze forward or to your fingertips.

To save the images on your phone click and hold down image until the ‘save image’ option appears; on Mac hold down ‘control’ and click the image to get the option box; on PC right click on the image to get the option box. Scroll down in the ‘option box’ and click ‘save image’.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Twisty flow


The sun is finally making an appearance and the winter coats are being put into storage. I’m finding recently I’m drawn to twists in my practice to help shed the stagnation in the spine and step into a sense of new beginnings and the start of new energy patterns. The warm weather brings everyone out of hibernation and there is a general air of happiness around as we shed our winter layers and make use of the great outdoors and brighter evenings.

In our twists we mirror nature by growing that little bit taller through the spine to reach for the sunny sky and finding space between the vertebrae to twist into. Twists balance the nervous system, help good digestion, ease stress, tension and anxiety, and boost the immune system. In a twist the cells are activated in the organs and circulation is boosted which generates internal heat. When the circulation is stimulated it supplies the brain with more oxygenated blood and give you an extra boost of energy. Making them great to add into your morning practice but maybe not so beneficial to do too many in an evening practice.

There is a misconception that they ‘wring out’ the organs of the body. They will press on the intestines and help move waste along but in terms of the liver and detoxification the liver is very efficient at doing its job and isn’t stimulated with applied pressure of a twist. Where that can help is through the added flow of circulation which will help the organs work more efficiently at detoxing the body. The heat they generate through the activation of the cells will also encourage the skin to emit moisture to control the temperature of the body which will help remove toxins from the body.

There is two different schools of thought when it comes to twists – the first is to keep the hips level and facing forward to facilitate the full rotation to come from the spine, and the second is to allow a small rotation of the hips in the direction of the twist to prevent unnecessary pressure being added to the sacroiliac joint. The way I approach the twist is to keep the hips level but not to go to full range of motion to protect the connective tissue and the precious ligaments of the sacroiliac joint. Play around with both versions and see which suits your unique body best.

The peak pose in the Twisty Flow is Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana/Revolved Half Moon. This pose is the ultimate challenge in a standing twist. The whole body is twisting along the spine and at the same time you have the added challenge of balancing on one leg. Have a read through these steps and pay particular attention to the level of the hip as you twist.

  • Staring with transitioning into Virabhadrasana III/Warrior III from Parsvottanasana/Intense side stretch. Place two bricks about a foot forward of your front foot. Bend your front knee and place your hands on the bricks.

  • Exhale, hinge forward from the hip joint, lift your left leg parallel to the ground behind you, hips level to the ground. Roll the inner thigh of your left leg up, flex your foot and press out through the heel.

  • Lengthen through your spine and the sides of the body, gaze to the ground.

  • To move into Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana/Revolved Half Moon place your left hand on the right brick. Keep your left leg parallel to the ground, toes facing down.

  • Reach your right arm up high, palm facing right, stack your shoulders. Bottom waist rolls forward, top waist rolls back, lengthen from the heel of your lifted leg to the tip of your crown, gaze forward or to your right fingertips.

To save the images on your phone click and hold down image until the ‘save image’ option appears; on Mac hold down ‘control’ and click the image to get the option box; on PC right click on the image to get the option box. Scroll down in the ‘option box’ and click ‘save image’.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru