Saturday, January 7, 2012

4 Yoga Stretches for Hamstring Muscles

Yoga is an ancient wellness system consisting of poses, breathing exercises and meditation. Yoga can develop strength, endurance, coordination and fitness, as well as flexibility. Many of the poses will be familiar to regular exercisers as they have become part of mainstream exercise. Combined with controlled breathing and mental relaxation, yoga can significantly improve your hamstring flexibility.
Triangle Pose, or Trikonasana
Stand with your feet about three feet apart. Turn your left foot so it is facing directly forwards and your right foot so it is facing outwards. Tense your thigh muscles. Inhale, and raise your arms to shoulder level. Exhale, and bend to the right, reaching down towards your shin, foot or the floor outside of your foot, depending on your flexibility. Your left arm should be pointing towards the ceiling. Turn your head and look up your arm to your outstretched fingers. Hold this position for five to 10 nasal breaths, and try to relax deeper into the pose with each exhalation. Make sure you keep your face, neck, jaw and shoulders relaxed. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. Reverse your foot position, and repeat on the other side.
Wall Supported Forward Bend, or Uttanasana
This gravity-assisted stretch allows you to relax as your hamstrings lengthen. Stand with your back and feet around 12 inches from a wall. Your feet should be hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly. Push your hips back against the wall, and extend your spine, keeping your chest lifted. Lean forward from your hips, and allow your upper body and head to hang downwards. Take hold of your opposite elbows with each hand. As you exhale, allow gravity to pull you deeper into the stretch. Maintain this position for five to 10 nasal breaths, and then inhale, bend your knees, and lift your body upright.
Downward Dog, or Mukhasana
This is an more active stretch for your hamstrings, calves and chest and will tone and strengthen your arms, shoulders and core muscles. Kneel down in a box position with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Your hands should be flat on the floor and your fingers pointing forward. From this position, push your hips upward, and extend your legs. Imagine you are trying to touch the ceiling with your butt. Push your palms and heels into the floor, and let your head hang down between your arms. If you need to do so, bend your knees slightly so that your lower back is not excessively rounded. Hold this position for five to 10 nasal breaths while trying to push your hips higher and extend your knees a little more on each exhalation. Slowly lower back to the starting position to rest.
Bent Knee Seated Forward Bend, or Mahamudra
Sit on the floor with your legs extended and feet together. Sit up tall, and pull your left foot in so that the sole of your foot is against your right thigh and your heel is as close to your groin as comfortable. Let your left leg relax and rest on the ground. Inhale, and raise your arms overhead, palms facing each other. Exhale, and fold forwards, placing your hands on your outstretched leg. Lean as far forward as you can without your lower back rounding. Hold for five to 10 nasal breaths and try to relax a little deeper into the stretch as you exhale. Slowly ease out of the stretch on an inhalation and then change legs.
Spider, or Supta Padangusthasna
Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms by your sides. Slowly bring your knee to your chest. Grasp your big toe with your left thumb and forefinger. Exhale, and extend your leg while maintaining your grip on your toe. Straighten your knee as much as possible, but don't worry if you can't fully extend it. Pull your leg as close to your body as you can while making sure your other leg remains straight and in contact with the floor. Relax and hold this position for five to 10 nasal breaths while trying to increase the stretch on each exhalation before lowering your leg and repeating on the other side.

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