The best way to loosen tight hamstrings is to stretch them every day, according to Sabrena Merrill of the American Council of Exercise, and several standing, seated and supine yoga poses will do just that. Adding one or two hamstring stretching poses to your routine can help, as can linking together several hamstrings-stretching poses into one sequence. Before beginning, warm up with some light cardio and simple stretches to reduce your risk of injury.
Bound Angle Pose
To prepare your hamstrings to work, begin with the seated Bound Angle pose. Extend your legs in front of you while sitting straight; some yogis call this the Staff pose. Bend your knees, bring your heels toward your pelvis and let your knees drop to the sides. Press the soles of your feet together and guide your feet closer to your pelvis. Hold the big toe of each foot with your thumb and first and second fingers. If you have tight hips, sitting on a towel will help your alignment. The closer you can bring your heels toward your pelvis, the deeper the hamstrings stretch.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose
Step to the front of your mat, bend forward and shift into Plank pose, balancing on your hands and toes. Lower to a Chaturanga, or yoga pushup, hover a couple of inches above the ground while balancing on your palms and toes, and transition to Upward-Facing Dog pose by lifting your chest up and between your arms while pressing your palms and tops of your feet into the ground. From Upward-Facing Dog pose, lift your hips up and back until your body resembles an upside-down V. The closer your heels get to your mat, the more your hamstrings will stretch. Don’t worry if your heels don’t touch at first. The longer you practice, the looser your hamstrings will get, which will help your heels eventually reach the ground.
Reclining Big Toe Pose
Lie supine with both legs extended, bend your left knee and bring it toward your chest and hug it toward your body. Anchor your right heel, leg and thigh to your mat. Wrap a strap around the sole of your left foot and hold the ends of the strap in each hand. Straighten the knee and extend your leg toward the ceiling. Walk your hands up the strap until you have fully extended your arms and can reach no farther. Lower your left leg, remove the strap, lie with both legs extended and repeat with your right leg. If you don’t have a strap you can fold a towel lengthwise and use it instead of a strap. Holding your leg in this extended position can loosen tight hamstrings, but you can deepen the stretch by adding movement. You can bring your leg closer to your chest and then return it to its full extension or you can extend your leg to the side or while it is extended you can slowly circle it, pointing your toes toward the ceiling.
A restorative pose that stretches your hamstrings, you can always access Child’s pose during your practice if you need a moment to rest or refocus your breath. Begin by kneeling and then shift your hips back until your glutes touch your heels. Bend your chest forward toward the tops of your thighs and toward your knees. Relax your forehead to the ground. To deepen the hamstrings stretch, extend your arms in front of your head and lower your chest closer toward the ground.
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.