The Question: What are the best yoga poses for stretching the hamstrings?
I get questions about the hamstrings all the time. Especially for athletes (and specifically, runners), learning how to stretch and listen to these giant, tight muscles in a safe and effective way can be a really important part of deepening your yoga practice.
Here are my favorite yoga poses for stretching the hamstrings.
1. Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)
I love Happy Baby because it works several areas of the body. Obviously it’s a great hip opener, and the bend in the knees makes it difficult to overstretch the hamstrings while lengthening them.
2. Padangusthasana, Parsvottanasana, Paschimottanasana, etc. (Forward Bends)
All forward bends (both seated and standing) provide the most obvious stretch to the hamstrings—it’s up to the yogi to not overdo it. We all know what it feels like to stretch too much while bending over; you might even feel pain in the backs of the legs.
So I suggest you allow yourself a small (or large) bend in the knees to provide the element of safety to the stretch.
3. Adho Muhka Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Ah, the ol’ mighty Down Dog. Whenever people ask me what my favorite yoga pose is, they tell me I’m boring when I respond with this one. Yes, the pose seems simple, but there are so many little intricacies that make it great, starting with the legs.
In Down Dog, bend your knees enough so that you can send your hips super high into the air. As you slowly begin to straighten your legs and bring your heels closer to the floor, you’ll get a great stretch in the hamstrings (and also strengthen the arms, the back, and the shoulders!).
Be sure to never overdo it when it comes to stretching! Make sure you stop at the moment you begin to feel uncomfortable.
Pushing yourself too far to get to a particular place can cause tears in the muscles, which take time to heal. On the same realm, be sure to strengthen along with the stretch. Becoming too flexible is just as bad as becoming too stiff.