Addressing the Hamstrings in Yoga
The hamstrings are (literally?) a tug of war for athletes.When we finally make time to do some yoga and stretch out, we’re pretty much back to square one again after our next workout.
The standing forward fold is your buddy in the tug of war going on in the hamstrings, and learning to apply it with skill is like putting the rope down and signing a peace treaty with your hammies.
6 Keys to a Perfect Standing Forward Fold
- Don’t worry about touching your toes. Contrary to popular belief, touching your toes does not make you a better person or better at yoga.
- Bend your knees for the first few reps in a class and keep bending your knees if you feel any tightness in the hamstrings or back (this will protect your lower back)
- Take your time to enjoy the benefit of inverting your upper body (mainly for the spinal release and calming effect)
- Shift weight into the forefoot (ball of foot) while keeping the heels firmly rooted on the ground
- Energetically spread your sitting bones away from each other and rotate upper tights in towards one another (internal rotation) to widen and control the the hamstring stretch and to take pressure out of the low back
- Exhale fully when taking this pose in a flow class. The full exhale allows you to experience more benefits and keeps you present in the sensation of the pose
One of my favorite things to do in this pose is let my torso rest on my thighs with bent knees. That feels pretty great on its own and, from there, holding onto my feet or ankles (or keeping my hands firmly planted against the floor), I’ll slowly extend my knees towards straight. Grounding my body into my thighs keeps the pose in the back of the legs and out of the low back.
With all the trouble that can come up in the low back from extreme forward folding (in frequency or intensity), doing this keeps the pose isometric and safe, simultaneously strengthening and creating functional range of motion.