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