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  • Standing Hamstring Stretches
    and Making the Hamstrings Feel Safe

    Standing hamstring stretches include: front triangle, standing forward bend, wide leg standing forward bend.

    In these yoga poses, the hamstrings may tighten up to help control the forward tilt of the body.

    Front Triangle

    standing hamstring stretches, triangle forward bending yoga pose. In this pose the feet are separated from front to back about a leg's length. Both feet are flat on the floor with the front foot pointing straight ahead and back foot turned out slightly. Both knees are straight and the pelvis is facing the same direction as the front foot. The torso is horizontal (leaning forwards) with spine straight, eyes looking straight down and arms reaching back. The head is reaching away from the pelvis. Model Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses
    Hamstring stretch, triangle forward fold with arms supporting the body. In this picture the feet are separated front to back about a leg's length. Both feet are flat on the floor with front foot facing forwards and back foot turned out slightly. Both knees are straight. The torso is tilted forwards so that it is horizontal and both hands rest on the front leg helping to support the weight of the upper body. The spine is straight and eyes are looking slightly forwards. Model, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses

    In the standing hamstring stretch above, called Front Triangle or Parsvottanasana, if my arms are lifted as in the first picture my hamstrings have to activate to keep my torso horizontal.

    And if I want to tilt my pelvis forwards so that my torso moves closer to my front leg then the hamstrings have to lengthen while staying active.

    (This is known as eccentric contraction. But you can think of it as the hamstrings "lengthening while activated".)

    With lack of experience, your hamstrings may lock and prevent you from deepening the forward bend.
    They won't be able to lengthen while active. You could think of this as a fear response.

    And so one goal of hamstring stretching is negating the fear response.

    Overcoming the Hamstring Stretch Fear Response

    One way to overcome the fear response is to use the arms to help support the body when doing standing (or seated) hamstring stretches.

    In the second picture above I'm resting my hands on my legs. If I press my hands down against my leg then my arms support my upper body meaning that my hamstrings can ideally relax.

    If I can keep my hamstrings relaxed I can gradually tilt my pelvis forwards. So that my ribcage can lower I can either bend my elbows as I tilt my pelvis forwards or slide my hands down my leg towards the floor.

    Hamstring stretch, triangle forward fold with arms supporting the body. In this picture the feet are separated front to back about a leg's length. Both feet are flat on the floor with front foot facing forwards and back foot turned out slightly. Both knees are straight. The torso is tilted forwards to about 45 degrees above the horizontal. Both hands rest on the front thigh helping to support the weight of the upper body. The spine is straight and eyes are looking slightly forwards. Model, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses
    Hamstring stretch, triangle forward fold with arms supporting the body. In this picture the feet are separated front to back about a leg's length. Both feet are flat on the floor with front foot facing forwards and back foot turned out slightly. Both knees are straight. The torso is tilted forwards so that it is horizontal and both hands rest on the front leg helping to support the weight of the upper body. The spine is straight and eyes are looking slightly forwards. Model, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses
    Hamstring stretch, triangle forward fold with arms supporting the body. In this picture the feet are separated front to back about a leg's length. Both feet are flat on the floor with front foot facing forwards and back foot turned out slightly. Both knees are straight. The torso is tilted forwards so that it is horizontal and both hands rest on the floor on either side of the front foot helping to support the weight of the upper body. The spine is straight and eyes are looking slightly forwards. Model, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses

    Another option for overcoming the fear response is to practice activating and relaxing the hamstrings.

    Learning To Contract and Relax the Hamstrings

    Using the same standing hamstring stretch, your can start with the hands on the leg. Then, slowly lift the arms and reach them back.

    The hamstrings will have to activate to support the body.

    Then put the arms back down on the leg. With the arms supporting the body the hamstrings can relax again.

    Repeat this a few times and then switch sides.

    One you have the basic feel for this exercise a variation uses the following repeated steps:

    • First make both legs feel strong.
    • Open the chest.
    • Slowly relax the arms so that you can then lift them.
    • Reach the arms back.
    • Put the arms back down and relax the legs.
    • Repeat.
    Hamstring stretch, triangle forward fold with arms supporting the body. In this picture the feet are separated front to back about a leg's length. Both feet are flat on the floor with front foot facing forwards and back foot turned out slightly. Both knees are straight. The torso is tilted forwards so that it is horizontal and both hands rest on the front leg helping to support the weight of the upper body. The spine is straight and eyes are looking slightly forwards. Model, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses
    standing hamstring stretches, triangle forward bending yoga pose. In this pose the feet are separated from front to back about a leg's length. Both feet are flat on the floor with the front foot pointing straight ahead and back foot turned out slightly. Both knees are straight and the pelvis is facing the same direction as the front foot. The torso is horizontal (leaning forwards) with spine straight, eyes looking straight down and arms reaching back. The head is reaching away from the pelvis. Model Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses
    Hamstring stretch, triangle forward fold with arms supporting the body. In this picture the feet are separated front to back about a leg's length. Both feet are flat on the floor with front foot facing forwards and back foot turned out slightly. Both knees are straight. The torso is tilted forwards so that it is horizontal and both hands rest on the floor on either side of the front foot helping to support the weight of the upper body. The spine is straight and eyes are looking slightly forwards. Model, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses

    If you practice a few times you'll learn to feel what you need to do to make your legs strong in just the right way to support the weight of your body.

    With the legs strong, your spine then has a stable base (the pelvis) from which to lengthen. Your then have a firm foundation for lifting the arms.

    Each time you lift the arms you practice engaging the hamstrings. You then give yourself, and your hamstrings, the confidence and experience so that you can begin deepening your hamstring stretch.

    How Do You Stretch the Hamstrings?

    When do you stretch the hamstrings in this exercise?
    When you put your arms back down on your leg or the floor.

    With your hands on your leg (or on the floor) you can gradually bend your elbows as your hamstrings relax.

    As your elbows bend your ribcage can move closer to your leg.

    However, rather than bending the spine so that this happens, tilt your pelvis forwards so that your ribcage and pelvis tilt forwards as one unit.

    You'll then be stretching your hamstrings.

    Standing Forward Bend:
    Using the Butt Muscles Instead of the Arms

    Another way to support the body while doing a standing hamstring stretch is to use the butt muscles.

    hamstring stretches, standing forward bend. In this standing forward bend feet are hip width and parallel, knees are straight and my upper body is leaning forwards at about 45 degrees above the horizontal. Spine is straight and reasonably long with hands touching the fronts of the thighs. Model Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Hamstring stretches, standing forward bend, Neil Keleher, sensational Yoga Poses. In this standing forward bend feet are hip width and parallel. Knees are straight and torso is leaning forwards so that it is horizontal. Thoracic spine is very slightly rounded. Neck is long and arms are hanging down towards the ground but not touching the ground.
    hamstring stretches, standing forward bend. In this standing forward bend feet are hip width and parallel, knees are straight and upper body is tilted forwards far enough that finger tips can just touch the floor. Spine is straight and long and eyes are looking straight down so that the head has a slight backwards tilt relative to the ribcage. Model Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Standing with feet parallel and hip width (or shoulder width) apart for standing forward bending hamstring stretch, you can slowly bend forwards while keeping your butt engaged.

    If you like rest your hands on your legs, or on the floor if you can reach it.

    You could also focus on squeezing your butt cheeks and then relaxing them.

    Each time you relax your butt cheeks see if you can also relax your hamstrings so that you can stretch them.

    Stiff Lower Back?

    If you find that your lower back is really stiff when doing standing yoga hamstrings stretches, you might find that activating your gluteus maximus muscle is really helpful.

    Wide Leg Forward Bend

    Another way to work around the fear response while doing hamstring stretches is to focus on moving your bones.

    In the case of the standing wide leg hamstring stretch (prasaritta padottanasana) you can focus on lengthening your hamstrings by moving your sitting bones upwards, away from the backs of your knees.

    The sitting bones are the bones that you can feel when you sit on a hard chair.

    Lifting the sitting bones is simply a focused method for tilting your pelvis forwards.

    This technique is taught in detail in the Simple Hip Control Exercises video.

    Hamstring stretches, wide leg forward bend. In this wide leg forward bend feet are a legs distance apart from side to side with feet parallel, flat on the floor and knees straight. Torso is tilted forwards so that it's horizontal far enough that I can get both hands on the floor and keep elbows straight. In this case the arms are supporting the weight of the upper body.
    hamstring stretches, prasaritta padotanasana a. In this wide leg forward fold, feet are a legs length apart with both feet flat on the floor, parallel, with knees straight. Torso is tilted forwards with both hands on the floor, elbows bent and forearms vertical. Hands and elbows and shoulder width apart. In this picture head is tilted so that eyes can easily look down. Model Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    hamstring stretches. Prasaritta Padottanasana D. In this standing wide leg forward fold feet are a leg's length apart. Feel are parallel, flat on the floor with knees straight. Torso is tilted forwards far enough that first two fingers of each hand can grab the big toe of each foot. Elbows are bent and pointing out to the sides. Head is tilted relative to torso so that eyese are gazing at the floor. Model, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

    You can also turn this into a muscle assisted yoga hamstring stretch.

    If you can get your hands onto the floor then use your arms to pull your ribcage towards your legs (Prasaritta Padottanasana A).

    You can also grab onto your big toes (Prasaritta Padottanasana D). In this case pull your arms forwards, so that your ribcage moves back, towards your legs.

    In both of these versions keep your spine feeling long. Make your legs feel long also.

    If you have your hands on your waist (Prasaritta Padottanasana B) or you have your hands clasped behind your back (Prasaritta Padottanasana C Shoulder Stretch) then you can use your hip flexors, as well as gravity, to drive the stretch.

    hamstring stretch. Prasaritta padotannasana B. In this wide leg forward fold feet are separated a leg's length. Feet are parallel and flat on the floor. Knees are straight and torso is tilted forwards with eyes looking down. Both hands are on the waist with elbows pointing back and shoulder blades squeezing together (retracted). Model Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    hamstring stretches, prasaritta padotanasana C. In this wide leg forward fold legs are wide with feet parallel. Knees are straight and torso is tilted forwards with hands clasped behind the back. Elbows are straight and arms reach back and up so that they are at about 90 degrees to the body.

    Having trouble activating your hamstrings, butt muscle or hip flexors?

    The ebook (and optional video) Muscle Control For Better Flexibility teaches you how to activate these muscles in the context of a yoga routine.

    This routine includes exercises specifically to help you learn to feel and activate these muscles.

    If all you want is some simple exercises to teach you how to activate the above muscles, the video Basic Muscle Control: Quads, Hip Flexors, Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus has exactly that. Basic exercises for activating those muscles, plus the no-fail exercises that I use as a back up for the students who have difficulty.

    Yoga for beginners 1 ebook, Getting a feel for your body, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Yoga for beginners 2 ebook, Getting a feel for your body, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Muscle Control for Better Flexibility ebook, Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Working Towards Wheel Pose ebook, body awareness exercises to make difficult poses easier, Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

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