This is a beginners yoga routine from the ebook Yoga Hamstring Basics.
The intent of this yoga workout is to introduce some basic postures.
Rather than holding each of the postures the focus is on moving in and out of the postures or on doing movements within each posture. This is to train body awareness (proprioception) and to practice muscle control.
For a more thorough understanding of the exercises and how to evolve them towards more traditional static yoga poses please order and read the full version of the ebook.
All exercises are non-ballistic, that is slow and smooth.
In any case, make the movements slow and smooth and continuous.
All exercises have a directed focus.
If a movement involves placing the hands on the floor but you can't reach the floor then use props.
Understand what you are trying to do in each pose.
Know the destination but focus on the journey.
In the exercises below that means focusing on feeling your body and responding to what you feel.
The following is an introduction to some basic exercises. The intent is to introduce you to the basic choreography or framework without bogging you down with detailed explanations.
The first exercise focuses on repeatedly bending the spine backwards and then allowing it to return to neutral.
Relaxed with spine bent forwards.
Sacrum lifted and lumbar spine bent backwards.
Sitting relaxed with spine bend forwards.
Sacrum lifted with lumbar and thoracic spine bent backwards.
While sitting cross legged and keeping your torso upright:
Repeat a few times while focusing on feeling the movement of the sacrum and pelvis.
Continue repeating the same movement but expand your awareness to include your lower back.
Once you have a feel for bending your lower back backwards and forwards, try to bend the thoracic spine backwards and forwards also.
Upright spinal back bending and forward bending can be practiced while sitting in a chair, kneeling, sitting cross legged or while standing (not shown.)
Sitting in a Chair (top to bottom): spine relaxed, then spine bent backwards.
Kneeling: spine relaxed then bent backwards.
Cross Legged: Spine relaxed then bent backwards.
The next exercise is an introduction to isolating, feeling and controlling the position of the shoulder blades relative to the ribcage. This next exercise focuses on Retraction, drawing the shoulder blades inwards.
Scapular Retraction Exercise:
With chest lifted, move the shoulders back so that the shoulder blades move inwards, towards each other.
While sitting cross legged with your arms hanging down by your side, lift your chest. Keep it lifted.
Repeat this action a few times, then focus on feeling the inside edges of your shoulder blades.
If you have trouble keeping your chest lifted:
Relax your chest after your shoulders return to neutral.
Then prior to retracting the shoulder blades again, lift it.
This next exercise focuses on Protraction, drawing the shoulder blades outwards.
Scapular Protraction Exercise:
With chest lifted, move the shoulders forwards so that the shoulder blades move outwards, away each other.
While sitting cross legged with your arms hanging down by your side or on your thighs:
Repeat this action a few times, then focus on feeling the inside edges of your shoulder blades.
Avoid contracting the pectoralis major (the large chest muscle) when spreading the shoulder blades.
The next exercise focus on the shoulders, spine and legs first in isolation then together as an integrated action.
For Table Top:
Start with shoulders relaxed.
Retract shoulder blades.
Then lift and open chest (bend thoracic spine backwards).
Then lift the hips.
If you have trouble with any of these steps, then practice that step in isolation. i.e. for retraction practice relaxing shoulders then retracting shoulder blades. Repeat until you are comfortable with the action.
While sitting, place your hands on the floor behind you with fingers pointing forwards.
Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor about shoulder width apart in front of you.
Repeat a few times then:
Repeat a few times then:
Repeat a few times then:
While holding see if you can reach your chest/front ribs backwards, away from your pubic bone and towards your chin.
This next exercise focuses on active hip flexion one leg at a time while balancing on the buttocks.
You can also think of this as bending the hips forwards.
Sitting upright, lift the chest.
Lean back and reach the arms forwards (keeping the chest open.)
Lift one knee and pull it back towards the chest (without collapsing the chest.) Lower the leg and repeat with the other leg.
While sitting upright with knees bent and feet on the floor hip width apart reach your arms forwards and then lean your torso backwards keeping your spine "straight."
While balancing on your butt with both heels on the floor:
Repeat 3 to 5 times for each leg, alternating legs each time.
Rest for a few breaths and then do the same exercise but straighten the knee after pulling it towards the chest.
Sit upright with chest open.
Lean back keeping chest open.
Lift one knee and pull it towards your chest using your hip flexors.
Keep the knee pulling backwards, straighten the knee. (Then release and repeat on other side.)
Repeat two or more times on each side.
Memorize the feeling at the front of the thigh and hip when pulling the knee to the chest.
Memorize the feeling of the muscles at the front of the thigh when the knee is straight
This next exercise focuses on assisted spinal twisting.
An option while twisting is to bend the spine forwards, then bend it backwards.
While bending forwards you can relax from the twist a little.
While bending the spine backwards work at deepening the twist.
Sitting cross legged with your hands on your waist or together in prayer in front of your chest, turn your ribcage to the right.
Hold the twist:
Repeat a few times then switch the cross of your legs so that the other shin is in front and repeat the twist to the other side.
When twisting to the right:
Focus first on using your right arm to pull the right side of your ribcage backwards each time you bend the spine backwards.
Then focus on your left hand. Use your left hand to pull the left side of your ribcage forwards a little bit more each time you bend the spine backwards.
The next exercise is to from a seated position to a squat. This is simply a way to transition from sitting to squatting (or standing).
Balancing on the butt with the hands reaching forwards between spread knees, rock forwards into a squat.
(If you have difficulty, try sitting on a yoga block and then rock forwards onto your feet.)
Work towards the point that you can slowly roll from your hips to your feet.
Rather than holding the "triangle forward bending" position, this exercise involves bending forwards and standing back up.
While the eventual goal is to be able to touch the hands to the floor, what is more important in this exercise is:
Standing with one leg forwards and the other leg back with both knees straight:
Slowly bend forwards and touch hands to the floor if possible. Then stand back up (not shown).
For this exercise stand with one leg forwards and the other leg back.
Turn the back foot outwards enough that you can keep your back foot flat on the floor.
Keep both knees straight and turn your hips square to the front.
Repeat 5 times or more.
If you can't reach the floor then place blocks on the floor beneath your shoulders on either side of your front foot, and place your hands on the blocks as you bend forwards.
Next, add a twist as you bend forwards.
Repeat five times or more.
The next exercise involves balancing on one foot while bent forwards.
Stand with feet hip width or shoulder width apart, toes and knees pointing straight ahead. Bend forwards.
If you hands don't touch the floor then place your hands on blocks high enough that you can use your shoulders to press your hands down.
Another option is to bend the knees and over the course of your daily practice, work at doing this exercise with gradually straighter knees.
The basic squatting exercise that I use is to lower from standing upright to a squat position with thighs horizontal.
Pause, then slowly stand back up.
Another variation is to lower to half way, hold then lower to a full squat. Then lift to the half way position. Then stand.
Start in a standing position with feet hip width and with knees and toes pointing straight ahead
Repeat 3 or 4 times, then from the final half squat position slowly return to standing.
Reach the hips and knees back so that when viewed from the side the knees do not project past the toes. To counterbalance tilt the pelvis and chest forwards and also reach the arms forwards.
If your feet are active and strong while squatting this "adjustment" may be less critical.
In standing side bend both the spine and the hip joints are bent to the side. However, for better body awareness (and muscle control) the spine is bent sideways first, then the hips.
Stand with feet hip width, toes and knees pointing straight ahead, knees straight.
While holding the pose:
If you have trouble pressing the thighs apart or pulling them together while in standing forward bend then try the action first while standing upright.
When widening the thighs (or pulling them together), keep the feet stable.
Feel like you are trying to pull the thigh bones towards each other or away from each other to activate either the inner thigh muscles or the outer thigh muscles.
The goal for this exercise is to slowly place the hand on the floor. Then slowly lift the hand and pause prior to standing up under control.
To get into half moon pose:
Hold for a few breaths then:
Repeat to the other side.
Sometimes I'll include a weight shift as part of this exercise.
With weight on the right foot and right hand on the floor shift weight towards the hand (to the right) so that the hand presses down more.
Repeat 3 or more times.
To stand, shift onto the standing foot, make it stable, lift the hand, then stand while keeping body weight centered over the standing foot.
Repeat on the other side.
In triangle pose, the exercise again involves stabilizing a leg so that the arm can be lifted and then making the arm strong so that the leg can be relaxed.
It is while the leg is relaxed that you can sink the ribcage lower to deepen the stretch.
Step your feet about a legs length apart. Turn your left foot in slightly. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees.
Repeat the arm lift a few times then come up.
Repeat on other side.
If your torso sinks low enough,you can place the hand on the floor instead of the leg.
Each time you put the hand down, make the arm feel strong, even as you bend the elbow to help lower the ribcage.
When you brace the leg, try to roll the top of the hip (the left side) back a little. Try to keep the ribs reaching away from the pelvis and your ears away form your shoulders so that your spine feels long.
As an alternative to resting the hand on the shin or thigh, place it on a yoga block, chair or table instead.
Side angle is another posture in which you can practice "swapping foundations."
In side angle pose, when the arm is resting on the thigh, or the hand is on the ground, you can use the arm to support the weight of the ribcage so that the bent knee leg can relax.
Prior to lifting the arm you can make the leg strong so that it supports the upper body. You can then let the arm relax and then lift it and reach it to the side.
Stand with feet slightly further apart than in previous pose.
To make the pose a little more challenging try placing the hand on the floor either outside the foot or inside.
Again make the arm strong when the hand is on the floor to support the ribcage. Make the leg strong (without lifting higher) in order to reach the arm.
If you can't go deep in this pose then stand with the feet slightly closer together.
In this instance, lift the hip higher so that you keep the shin vertical.
See if you can still create a straight line along the top side of the body i.e. with right knee bent: left leg, left side of the body left arm all in one long line.
This exercise builds further on the idea of stabilizing one body part so that another body part can relax.
For side plank lay on one side with the supporting elbow bent and on the floor and both knees bent. Point the shins behind you so that thighs are more or less in line with your torso.
Protract your bottom shoulder blade so that the elbow presses down into the floor and the ribcage lifts up.
Then relax the shoulder and let the ribcage sink back down.
Repeat a few times getting a feel for the shoulder action.
Next, add the hips.
What was the feeling in the right thigh when you lift the pelvis? What was the feeling in the thigh when you lowered the pelvis. Was the thigh active or relaxed?
Ideally with the pelvis on the floor your right thigh was relaxed. Then as you pressed the knee down to lift the pelvis you felt (or will learn to feel) the muscles of the outer right thigh activating.
If you have trouble feeling the difference between when your thigh is activate and when it is relaxed try slowly pressing your knee down with your pelvis on the floor.
Notice the tension that occurs in your leg as yo press the knee down.
Then slowly relax. And notice the tension disappear.
This next side plank variation involves shifting the base of support from one leg to the other. When one leg is supporting the pelvis and keeping it lifted, the other leg can be lifted off of the floor.
Next, lift the ribcage, lift the hips. Lift the left leg then place the left foot on the floor in front of your right thigh.
Shift your weight forwards and back a few times: forwards onto the left foot and then back onto the right knee.
Repeat a few times keeping the hips lifted.
Then lower and relax and repeat parts 1 and 1a on the other side.
With this exercise the focus was on weight shifting, then making one leg strong so that you could lift the other leg.
You don't always have to weight shift in order to switch foundations.
As an example, in triangle and side angle the weight didn't shift. Instead you made the leg strong or the arm strong.
Be aware that sometimes you need to shift weight prior to switching foundations.
Sometimes you don't.
Low lunge can be used to stretch the hip extensors. Here we'll be learning to activate the front leg and then relax it. You may find this makes it easier to sink the pelvis.
The hip extensors are the single joint muscles that work on the back of the hip.
Start with your right leg forwards and left leg back with left knee on the floor. Bend the right knee and sink the pelvis.
Move the right foot forwards (or backwards) so that when viewed from the side, the right shin is nearly vertical (with the knee just slightly ahead of the front of the ankle).
Pull the head forwards so that the neck feels long.
Repeat about five times. Then:
Keep the elbows bent while activating the leg.
Then deepen the bend in the elbows when the front leg is relaxed.
In hurdlers stretch one leg is straight and the other leg is bent with the shin folded to the outside of the thigh.
The instep of the bent knee foot can be on the floor or you can try placing the top of the foot on the floor instead particularly if your knee feels uncomfortable in the first position.
Position yourself on your mat so that your bent knee is on the mat for more comfort, or place a towel under the bent knee or fold the mat and double it under the bent knee.
The thighs are ideally 90 degrees apart. If you can't get them 90 degrees apart work towards it.
Repeat a few more times then switch sides.
If you want to work towards this pose you may find it helps to sit with spine long. See if you can sink your bent knee hip.
Or do a weight shift.
Shift towards your straight leg then shift towards the bent knee and press the hip down. Repeat a few times and then switch sides.
Another option is to sit on a yoga block. So that you can also try pressing the leg down, place a slightly smaller block under the straight knee.
Generally since the focus is on forward bending and stretching the hamstrings I often finish this type of workout with a back bend, something to open the front of the hips and stretch the front of the spine.
For bridge pose start in a laying down supine/belly up position with knees bent and feet close enough to your butt that you can touch your heels with your finger tips or hands.
Each time you begin to press the hips up notice:
Push up again and hold allowing your lumbar spine and lower thoracic spine to bend backwards. Press shoulders and elbows into the floor.
Repeat 2 to 3 times per leg.
Then rest for a few breaths.
If you had trouble rolling up to a squat previously you can practice again here.
Try rolling from supine to sitting on your butt, grabbing your knees if you need to.
Then try rolling from supine all the way up into a low squat.
Hold the squat and from here you can try bakasana.
This first exercise is to get used to shifting weight backwards and forwards and to notice the difference in foot activity when the weight is forwards on the feet as opposed to back.
Stand with feet hip width and parallel with knees slightly bent. Shift your weight forwards and back.
What happens to your toes when you rock forwards? How do they feel when you rock back?
Try the same exercise in a squat. Rock forwards, lift the heels, then lower the heels as you rock back. Notice the change in sensation in the feet.
Next you can work towards lifting the feet (if you haven't' done so already.)
Place your hands on the floor and move your hands back so that your upper arms rest against the fronts of your shins.
Make sure that hands are shoulder width apart, fingers pointing forwards (but spread) and elbows bent so that the upper arms form a shelf for the shins or knees.
Lift your hips.
As you rock forwards your knees ideally press down into your arms with greater pressure. This pressure also reduces as you rock back.
Practice rocking forwards and back slowly and smoothly.
See if you can feel the point your feet become relaxed.
At that point you can try lifting the feet but keep the fingers strong, pressing into the floor.
Rock back to get the feet back on the floor.
As a teacher I'm generally happy when I see students getting the weight shift even if they can't lift the feet. If you can get the weight shift your can then focus on feeling changes in sensation as you rock forwards and backwards.
While it is nice to see students get their feet off of the floor I'm generally less than pleased if they try jumping or hopping since then the foot lift is only momentary.
If however they get their feet off of the floor by shifting their weight forwards, and even if they can only hold for a brief moment, that to me is a win.
Understanding the weight shift (and being able to feel it) is a key moment in body awareness development.
It, along with being able to feel the difference between when a body part is "stable" or "active" or "strong" versus when it is relaxed is another key element of understanding.
Lay on your back and hug your knees.
Then reach legs and arms straight up. If you like turn palms face up. Slowly lower legs and arms and rest with legs spread apart and arms slightly out to the side with palms up.
Did you remember to move slowly and smoothly?
Moving slowly and smoothly ideally forces you to focus on creating stability. Will go into more details in the next workout.
However, if you like repeat this workout one or two times to see if you can control your movements.
An indication that you are moving slowly and smoothly with the right kind of awareness is that you feel good after the workout without feeling worn out.
Order the full books Yoga Hamstring Basics: Beinner Yoga Routines for Improving Hamstring Flexiblity.
Why improve muscle control?
Muscle control not only helps you to control your body, it also helps you to feel it.
Muscle activation creates the tension that not only moves your body, but helps you to "sense" it.
With better muscle control you can use your body with less effort and make it easier to balance, improve flexibility and deal with pain and poor posture.