How to increase flexibility in your hips and hamstrings while avoiding injury
Avoiding injury is a tough topic! It really depends on your own innate ability to listen to internal cues. Have I gone too far? What is enough? Can I back off when I see the goal so close?!
Increasing flexibility takes time. I have been stretching since I was 7 and still can’t do the splits. Everyone’s body is different. So, “detaching from the outcome” is not only part of the journey but also part of the reality. Not all of our bodies are designed to contort in ways others can. Some of us have a narrow hips, wide shoulders, short torso, etc. I can backbend for days but ask me to press from crow to handstand and I fall flat on my face. For me, this is actually the most beautiful part of the practice, knowing that everything is temporary and to stay present to what is, in the current moment.
So, really, how do you do it? I would say, balance out your flexibility work with stability training. Yep, you need to increase blood flow into certain areas in order to rejuvenate the muscles. You see, when you stretch, you are actually tearing tissue. If you stretch in a responsible way then you’ll discover a greater range of motion, which is what we are looking for in Yoga. We want you to be able to move around comfortably throughout the day and medicate certain ailments with basic movements.
If you are looking for more flexibility in your hamstrings then try this…
*A note about transitions. Most injuries occur entering in and out of certain poses rather than in the pose itself. Oftentimes we “check out” as soon as the pose is over. “Op, that’s done and on to the next.” We are destination thinkers, constantly working towards one goal and then the next. When you smooth out the transitions, make them more elegant and graceful, then you discover holding patterns that are preventing you from finding the full expression of the pose.
Take Ardha Chandrasana for example. I see a lot of students with an internally rotated standing leg, tense psoas muscles which comes from inauthentic external rotation of the standing leg, and slight backbend in the lower lumbar spine. If you watch the tracking of your bottom knee as you enter in and out of this standing balance you will see if you are in external rotation of the standing leg and, as you step up, engage the core muscles to lengthen the lower spine so you have the stability necessary to balance in the pose.*
Moving onto hips. They usually go hand and hand. If you have tight hips then try this variation from the pose described above.
The hips are a very vulnerable place in the body. We can feel a lot in our hips. You might recall certain memories, feel certain emotions, experience frustration, anger, resentment, joy, happiness…so many things. Our hips are known as our “emotional center” because it is the home of the sacral chakra. When we release unnecessary tension in this area of the body then you may feel very vulnerable, for a while. Again, come back to your breath, try not to label the sensations, instead just notice, feel, and allow it to clear. Take breaks. Exit out if your body tells you it is too much (watch out for shooting pain, that’s a signal to come out). Stay gentle with yourself through the process.
The more extreme version of this pose is Pigeon. I love Pigeon. I personally have a motto, “a pigeon a day keeps the doctor away” but it is not available to every body and certainly not in the beginning of your practice. It is oftentimes practiced incorrectly, which leads to injury of the knee. Pigeon can release sooooo much emotional tension in the body. The hips, which is your emotional center, and your psoas, which is your fight or flight muscle. Basically, it puts you into a state of rest and relaxation, which prepares you for the best pose of all, Savasana.
Take your time with these exercises. Try other ones that work for you. Stick with a schedule and “stretch” everyday for a month. You’ll notice a huge difference with consistency.
Lots of love,