6 stretches for your hamstrings and hips
I come across a lot of people who often complain about having super tight hamstrings, (the muscles that travel down the back of the thighs which will often restrict you from touching your toes in a forward fold or sitting up straight in Dandasana).
It can be frustrating to have tight legs as in most yoga classes there is a lot of forward bending or a strong focus on sitting up tall, which can prove pretty tricky if you're battling your hammies.
Tightness in the hamstrings can arise from various scenarios. Maybe you're new to yoga and have previously spent a lot of time in sedentary positions where there is limited movement on a day to day basis. Or maybe you're fairly active but spend a large amount of time running or cycling, building lots of power and strength in the legs but neglecting your post workout stretches!
Try adding all or some of these postures into your fitness routine and see if they start to make a difference. Improving flexibility is a process that takes time and patience so don't expect these changes to happen over night. Try to be consistent with your stretching and hopefully you will begin to see some benefits!
Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Splits pose)
Have your hip stacked over your back knee and your other leg extended straight out in front. Feel free to pad underneath your back knee if it is sensitive to have it pressing into the floor. Also you can use blocks underneath your hands to elevate your torso if the floor feels too far away. Aim to keep a straight spine in this pose to maximize the stretch. Stay for 5-10 deep breaths or longer if you want to get deeper into the pose.
Ardha Gomukhasana (Half cow face pose)
This is one of my favourite poses for finding a deep stretch through the hamstrings and as a bonus it also gently opens through the hip on the top leg.
You can use a block or cushion underneath your sit bones if you find it more comfortable to be slightly elevated in this position. With one leg extended in front of you cross the other leg over trying to stack the knees as best as you can but don't worry if there is a gap. Place the outside of your foot on the floor and start to lean forward. The weight of the top leg will begin to press into the other one and intensify the stretch. Keep your spine long and use your palms on the floor for extra support. Stay for 5-10 deep breaths or longer for a more intense feeling.
Supta Padangustasana (Supine hand to toe pose)
Lay down on your back and loop a strap around one foot. Lengthen both legs but don't worry if the elevated leg is bent at the knee. Use your hands to gently guide your leg closer to your chest trying to keep your head and shoulders relaxed down into the floor. See if you can find length in the leg by pressing the heel to the ceiling as you inhale and then use your exhale to deepen the stretch. Spend 1-2 minutes on each leg.
Parsvottanasana (Intense side stretch)
From standing place one foot forward and slightly turn out your back leg. Making sure that your hips stay parallel to the floor, start to fold forward keeping your hands on your hips to begin with. Pause when you feel like your back wants to round and stay here for your stretch. Alternatively you can fold deeper and bring your hands either to some blocks or the floor, again making sure that your spine stays long and your hips remain level. Stay for 5-10 breaths before swapping sides.
Start with your legs wider than hip distance apart and bend one knee turning the foot onto a 45 degree angle. Either place your hands on the floor or use some blocks if you need to be slightly higher up. Try to keep your bent knee going over towards your second toe and not dropping forwards towards your shoulder. Press down into the opposite foot to get a stretch down your adductor muscles (inside thighs).
For a more intense option rotate your extended leg so that the knee and toes point up to the ceiling and sink your pelvis down to the floor. Hold for 5-10 deep breaths before swapping to the other side.
Also another one of my favourite postures! This asana comes from the Yin Yoga practice which if you haven't tried is definitely one to look into!
You will need a wall, sofa, bed or something to support your ankles for this one. Try to scoot your pelvis as close to the wall as you can whilst keeping your bottom on the floor, so this distance will be different for each individual. Start with your legs straight up the wall, and then start to widen them until you feel some resistance. Make sure you take nice deep breaths in this pose, you can stay here anywhere from 1 minute to 10 minutes. Make sure you listen to your body for this one as staying for long periods of time can be quite challenging so build up to it slowly. When you're ready to exit the pose start to bend your knees and draw them back together. This is just as important as the pose itself so make sure you take your time and avoid any sharp movements.
Consistency is key when it comes to flexibility so see if you can build these stretches into your practice maybe twice a week. You don't have to do them all, maybe just pick a couple each time so you don't get stuck doing the same one each week. Above anything else patience is super important, so be kind to your body and try not to get frustrated, I know its hard!