Ways to Stretch Your Hamstrings With Yoga

Ways to Stretch Your Hamstrings With Yoga

Specific yoga poses targeting the hamstrings can alleviate tightness and improve flexiblity. The hamstrings are the three muscles than run along the back side of your thigh, connecting your pelvis to your knee. So many people have tight hamstrings that it’s not an exaggeration to call it an epidemic.

There are a lot of ways to end up with hamstring tightness. Sometimes it just comes down to anatomy. Regular stretching, even beginning in childhood with activities like dance and gymnastics, helps, but most people don’t do enough to maintain their flexibility. By the time adulthood rolls around, you’re doing a lot more sitting (bad for hamstrings) and even if you exercise regularly, you’re more likely to spend your time running (bad for hamstrings) than stretching (good for hamstrings). Pretty soon, you find yourself with back pain or sciatica, both of which are often related to tight hamstrings.

Improving your hamstring flexibility is usually a gradual process, but it’s possible with regular practice. Start slow and don’t force anything since a hamstring strain is the last thing your want. Use props when appropriate, be consistent and patient, and you will see results.

The poses below are arranged in order from beginning to more advanced. The beginners’ poses are definitely the place to start. The advanced poses assume that you already have a good deal of mobility in this area. Read through for full instructions for each pose.


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Reclined Big Toe Pose – Supta Padangusthasana

We’ll start lying on your back. Hamstring stretches in this position tend to be the most gentle and accessible.

A strap is going to be a really useful prop for anyone with tight hamstrings. Using the strap to close the distance between your hand and your foot in this pose, for instance, allows you to straighten your legs and get the full benefits of the stretch. If you don’t have an official yoga strap, don’t worry. Any belt, scarf, or towel will work just as well here.

Standing Forward Bend – Uttanasana

Standing forward bends are a good way to deepen your hamstring stretch because gravity lends you a hand. However, some people with back pain find spinal flexion uncomfortable, so lying on the back might be a better option for them.

Some teachers will tell you it’s alright to bend your knees in this pose if your low back hurts. That’s true, but it’s also going to make the pose less of a hamstring stretch. If you are bending your knees because of back pain, it’s better to find another pose. If you are bending your knees to try to get your hands to the mat, that’s misguided. Touching your toes is not the goal of this pose.

Try to keep your legs as straight as possible and let you hands dangle or place blocks under them if they don’t reach the floor.

Standing Wide Legged Forward Bend – Prasarita Padottanasana

Another option for a standing forward fold is to take your legs out wide. A common mistake in this pose is to take the legs too far apart in an effort to get your head closer to the floor. Keeping the legs at about a 90 degree angle allows for a good hamstring stretch and is a safer position for the hip joints. It’s generally easier to get your hands to the floor in this position, but you can still use blocks if necessary.

For full hamstring effects, concentrate on keeping your weight in the balls of your feet just as much as in the heels. Really feel the rotation of your pelvis forward as the driver of the forward fold as you come down with a flat back.

Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Downward dog is an awesome pose for many parts of your body, including your hamstrings. It’s a misconception that getting your heels to the mat is the goal of this pose. In an effort to achieve that position, some people end up walking their feet closer to their hands. Don’t do it!

Try instead to release the heels down but have the feet in a position where the heels hover off the floor. This is the most effective way to stretch your hamstrings and calves.

Head to Knee Pose – Janu Sirsasana

Often when working with one leg extended at a time, as in janu sirsasana, it’s easier to get a good hamstring stretch than it is with both legs straight.

Do note that you’ll need to turn your torso to orient it over your extended leg as you come forward. If forward bends hurt your back, loop a strap around your flexed foot. Hold one end of the strap in each hand, pull firmly, and only come as far forward as you can keeping your spine straight and pain-free. This may not be very deep, but that’s alright.

Seated Forward Bend – Paschimottanasana

This is a seated version of uttanasana (see above). It”s important to keep the feet strongly flexed throughout and to engage your thighs as much a possible.

Use a strap around your feet for traction instead of slumping forward in order to hold your feet. Keep the spine long and straight. It doesn’t matter how far down your torso comes. Imagining the pelvis as a bowl slowly tipping forward helps encourage the correct rotation of the torso over the legs.

Wide Legged Forward Fold – Upavistha Konasana

For people with tight hamstrings, just sitting in upavistha konasana is a big challenge, never mind coming into a forward bend. It’s fine to stay fully upright if that’s the case. One of the best ways to find more space in this pose is to bring some lift with one or more folded blankets under your seat. This works well in any of the seated poses.

Pyramid Pose – Parsvottonasana

In standing forward bends like this one, make sure you are not hyper extending in your knee. Even though your leg might not look as straight, a microbend, which is a slight softening, at the knee is a safer position for your joint health.

Blocks will absolutely be your best friends here. Use them under you hands at whichever height is most appropriate. It’s also important to note that the feet are only about three feet apart here and they can be separated toward the sides of the mat as much as you need.

Triangle Pose – Trikonasana

As in pyramid pose (above), make sure not to lock your knees in triangle. You can rest your hand on your ankle, shin, the floor, or a block. Pick the one that allows you to really open your chest to the ceiling.

Do note that in comparison to pyramid, the legs are further apart toward the front and back of the mat but closer in toward the midline (i.e., stepped in toward the center from the sides). This works here because the hips are stacked on top of one another rather than squared to the floor.