Stretching Your Hamstrings is Bad?

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in Back Pain Relief, Yoga Practice Tips | 0 comments

Stretching Your Hamstrings is Bad?

Stretch or Strengthen Your Hamstrings?

The Spirit of B.K.S. Iyengar must have somehow touched Michael Edwards, creator of Yoga Align when he wrote the article Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings, hosted by Huffington Post. Alignment in yoga is important for many reasons. I agree with the intent of his article, which is to shed light into a dark place in the understanding and practice of yoga where people overstretched their hamstrings, weakening the integrity of their structure.

Having been trained in the Iyengar method, the source of alignment yoga, as well as having national recognition in my specialty as an expert in yoga for back pain, asking people to stop stretching and focus on shortening their hamstrings seems problematic. Read my Bio. Check out my book: Healing Our Backs with Yoga: an essential guide to back pain relief.

Do Muscles Really Get Longer? True or False.

While this is a more complicated physiological topic, there is some research that indicates one can create more length in a muscle through usage, according to Roger Cole, PhD, Yoga Journals anatomy expert. By repeatedly asking the muscle to lengthen until the body responds by adding more Sacromeres or muscle cells, making the muscle in actuality longer. Of course this will not happen overnight, more likely over several years. Our bodies do change and adapt to the challenges that we place before them.

Static vs Active Stretching

With static stretching a person holds a pose for several breath’s or minutes allowing the opposite or antagonistic muscles to go to sleep. This form of stretching is unhelpful because the muscle you think you are stretching is actually contracting to protect the joints. Therefore it is true that you cannot stretch your hamstrings by just pulling on them, you can get the muscles and tendons to let go by employing what is hardwired in our nervous system namely reciprocal inhibition. Your hamstrings and quads are partners. This is why it is important to lift your kneecaps and flex your quads anytime you bend forward so then asking your hamstrings to release will have a more positive lasting effect.

Supta Padangusthasana 1

Weak Hamstrings and Weak Low Backs

With my concern for back pain relief, stretching the hamstrings correctly and stretching them in balance with other muscle groups is important. When someone is experiencing lower back pain, often accompanied by muscle spasms, stretching the hamstrings from a supine position reflexes to the paraspinal muscles allowing them to let go. When we add to that simple moves to tone the lower abdomen, a feeling of ease in the low back can be re-established.

I too have seen many yoga students with weak lower back’s, loss of buttock tone, with vulnerable or injured hamstring tendons. All this comes from poor practice and lack of understanding.

While I agree with him that the muscles of the back body need to remain strong, I have a slightly different approach.
In my view of yoga practice and back care with Yoga, it is important to; first actively and safely stretch using reciprocal inhibition, Second release tension using the breath, third open the muscles that are short and contracted, fourth tone the muscles that are too long or loose.

5 Considerations when Stretching your Hamstrings

While stretching the hamstrings will come easily to some people and be more difficult for others, here are some thoughts to help you maintain safety in your yoga practice.

1. When performing any forward bend, firm the quads by lifting your kneecaps to create neurologically correct action.

2. Think – Open and extend from the back of your knee in two directions, down toward the heels and up toward the hips. You will then be stretching the muscular end of the hamstring rather than it’s origins at the hip.

3. Avoid a smashing the front thigh and the belly together. Rather than lifting the Sitz bones higher, scoop the lower belly in and up to drop the Sitz bones slightly and make space between the belly in the top thighs. If and when the hamstrings are naturally short keep your chest lifted to relieve stress in the low back.

4. Make a journal of all the yoga poses you practice for two weeks. Look for the balance between forward bends and backward bends. I recommend a ratio of 2 to 1 back bends to forward bends.

5. Add yoga poses to your regular practice to tone the posterior chain muscles. Poses such as Salabhasana, locust pose.
In my book Healing Our Backs with Yoga: an essential

guide to back pain relief, I offer eight variations of locust pose to progressively tone all aspects of the posterior chain.

In conclusion:

Yoga is about more than stretching. It is also about connecting to and feeling into who we are through breath, awareness, and presence of mind. We learn through experience on the mat about how to create right relationships, let go of prejudices, and create balance on all levels; mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you found this post helpful. Namaste! Lillah

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