HOW HAMSTRINGS AFFECT YOUR YOGA PRACTICE AND THE HEALTH OF YOUR BODY.

Supta Padangusthasana is the number one asana to increase hamstring flexibility and to relieve lower back strain.

Any of you who have participated in my yoga classes knows that I love to make you stretch those hamstrings. But do you know WHY? I’m sure I have mentioned some of the benefits but I also know that sometimes what we hear goes in from one ear and immediately out from the other ear without leaving a memory mark in that important space between your ears: the brain. So let’s dive a little deeper into the hamstring muscle and recap some of those benefits.

One of my missions is to help people make yoga part of their daily life by teaching simple poses and short sequences that actually create change if you just practice them consistently. You don’t need to bend yourself into a pretzel in order to have a healthy body.

But let’s get back to the hamstrings. 

Hamstrings job is to extend the hip and flex the knee but if the hamstrings are too tight they can’t do that job properly. Due to the big amount of connective tissue that hamstrings have, it takes a lot of time to make them flexible. We need to hold poses for a minimum of one and a half minute to two minutes in order to release and stretch connective tissue. I say it again: consistent practice is the key. A lot of patience and regular practice is needed to make your hamstring flexible. It’s not enough to lift your legs up into Supta Padangusthasana once a week in a yoga class but you should do that once (or even twice) a day. Might sound a lot but the good news is that actually, it takes only about five minutes of your time a day. We all have five minutes, right? 

In a yoga class, we do different types of asanas that can be roughly put into four categories: standing poses, inversions, twists, backbends, and forward bends. Different asanas require strength and openness in different parts of the body. Hamstring strength is essential in backbends and hamstring flexibility is necessary in forward bends. This means that in order to do those poses effectively and safely you need to have strong and open hamstrings (among strength and flexibility in other parts of the body as well). Important to note here is that we need both: flexibility and strength. Flexible but weak hamstrings can lead to hamstring origin strains or tears which results in pain while sitting, stretching, and using the muscle. Now we don’t want that.

Open hamstrings allow the spine to fully lengthen in Adho Mukha Shvanasana (the downward facing dog).

Imbalanced hamstrings can lead to a limited range of motion and even serious injuries. For example, tight hamstrings pull down on the sitting bones which can lead to nagging low back pain. I find this to be one very important reason why we should keep those hamstrings open by stretching them daily. 

One of the key messages of yoga is:

“Future pain can be avoided.”

You just need to know how.

So how do you actually notice the state of your hamstrings in your yoga practice? Trikonasana and Adho Mukha Shvanasana are two very good poses where you can actually feel the effects of tight hamstrings in your body. In Trikonasana tight hamstrings can lead to compression on side of the back and overstretch the other side. In Adho Mukha Shvanasana on the other hand tight hamstrings pull on the sitting bones causing the back to round. If you do a forward bend like Janu Shirshansana and your hamstrings are tight, the sacrum tips backward creating a lot of strain to that area which in a long run can lead to injury. 

Trikonasana (the triangle pose) gives a nice stretch to the hamstrings.

Important to note here is also how gender affects the flexibility of the hamstrings. Women have an advantage toward flexibility because of the hormone relaxin which is produced especially in childbearing and birth to allow the pelvis to open. Relaxing helps to loosen the ligaments of the pelvis. Also during menstruation, this hormone is being released to make the connective tissues more flexible. This makes those menstruation days a perfect time to practice hip openers! This doesn’t only increase flexibility but hip openers also help to relieve cramps. Men on the other hand have testosterone which increases bulk and leads to tighter hamstrings.

So as you can see, we don’t (or shouldn’t) practice yoga just for the sake of a perfect pose but for the sake of a healthier and more enjoyable life! Keeping your hamstrings flexible and strong allows you to enjoy your daily activities with ease. That’s the only thing that truly matters. Being able to do fancy yoga poses is something extra where you can also physically challenge yourself but it shouldn’t be the driving force of your practice of yoga.

If you would like to learn ways to keep your hamstrings (and your whole body) healthy I welcome you to join my yoga classes in Gattikon/Thalwil or book a private yoga class where we can together create a practice that serves your specific needs. Private yoga classes can take place online or offline.

Sometimes in yoga group classes and in private sessions we hang in Adho Mukha Shvanasana to traction the spine. This is an amazing release for the whole spine, and hanging in general, is crucial for the health of the back.

THE MAGIC OF PURNA YOGA ASANA PRACTICE

A few weeks ago I was working on Pincha Mayurasana during my personal practice and today, it was taken into a whole new level in my teacher’s, Aadil Palkhivala, advanced asana class. We did some very powerful shoulder and chest strengthening actions in Pincha Mayurasana and I was, once again, blown away by how many aspects one asana can have. When I thought of knowing this pose already inside out, my teacher brought a whole new meaning to it. 


These classes I get to take with my teacher prove, class after class, how important it is to study and practice with an experienced teacher. My own, personal practice is of course the most important thing but I would never grow this much as a student and a teacher of yoga if I didn’t regularly practice with someone who has that sacred & profound knowledge and understanding of yoga in all of its aspects.

 
This whole online yoga thing has been such a blessing to me. All my Purna Yoga teacher colleagues live in a different country which is why I haven’t had regular access to my teachers. I was really feeling the negative effects of that in my practice and teaching but now I feel so incredibly inspired! And that is an amazing feeling!


Learning new things on a daily basis and diving deeper into asana, meditation, and pranayama is truly magical. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned and how much there’s still to learn. 


What I really love and appreciate in the asana part of Purna Yoga is that it’s all about bringing your mind, your intelligence into the body through subtle movements. It’s never about performing a perfect pose or doing a sweaty workout. There is sweat, of course, and that’s all great, but it’s far from the main purpose. The asana is done with great respect towards the body and the gentle soul that lives in it. Doing the asana practice by being fully present and feeling every single action is a way of showing gratitude to all the amazing things that the body is able to do. Without our bodies, we would not be here on this planet and without taking good care of it it’s not able to serve us. To me, moving my body is an expression of joy and a way of feeling fully alive!


Everything that is done in a Purna Yoga class has a reason and there’s a reason why some things are left out of the practice. 
Safety, integrity, growth, inner & outer power are some of the keywords of the asana practice of Purna Yoga.


When the asana is done by being fully present, by finding the dualities and nuances in each pose you create new neuro-pathways. The grey matter in your brain is actually increasing in size and weight and that means sharper, more focused, and younger You. Now, who wouldn’t want to feel and be young!


This is so amazing that it gives me goosebumps!  In a Purna Yoga class, the mind and the body are connected in such a deep way that you can truly feel that amazing connection between your intelligence and the body.

It’s like the actor and martial arts instructor master Bruce Lee so perfectly said: 

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

Yoga is not about learning thousands of different postures but the beauty lies in practicing one posture so many times and so profoundly that the pose itself becomes you! Through this kind of practice, you get to own your body and not the other way round. 

Supta Padangusthasana. An asana that we practice almost in every class. It safely and effectively opens the hamstrings and frees the lower back from tension. A pose that each one of us should be practicing daily to help keep our hips and lower back happy and healthy.


Understanding the cause and effect relationship in asana makes the practice so much more powerful, safe, and interesting. Every action you do in an asana has an effect on your whole being and if that action is correct you evolve and if it is incorrect you devolve and might even end up injuring yourself.


I’m so grateful for being able to share all that with my students and beyond excited to pass these insights to all of you who come to my classes. 


If you never been to a Purna Yoga class but are curious to know what is this magical mind-body connection I’m talking about then check out my studio yoga class schedule and online yoga class schedule and come for a trial class. It might just be that what you’ve been looking for all along. To better understand if what I offer can be beneficial to you, check the testimonials to see what some of my students say about me and the classes I teach.

Namaste!

MAKING YOGA PART OF YOUR DAILY LIFE WITH ARDHA UTTANASANA

The best and most useful asanas for your overall wellbeing are the ones you can easily integrate into your daily life, and into every stage of your life. That’s how you can truly make the physical practice of yoga a part of your day-to-day life and reap the fruits of a daily practice.

Here’s one of those kinds of asanas and my all time favourite:
A R D H A  U T T A N A S A N A

About four years ago I was practicing Ardha Uttanasana / The forward fold at the airport in Münich while waiting our flight to Venice.

One of the greatest benefits of this asana is beautifully explained in my Purna Yoga teacher training manual:”

After doing Ardha Uttanasana you will feel relief from the stresses of day-to-day life that build up in the heart and lungs.” 

I can so feel that every time I practice this in the middle of a busy day. It gives me this AAAAAHHHHHH feeling when after doing the dishes, cooking, lifting and carrying kids or heavy groceries, I place my body in this position and stretch out all the tensions I feel in the body. It’s not only a physical relief but a mental one as well. This is a great position to exhale the business out of your system. Afterwards, you really feel realigned both physically and mentally.


With few small modifications Ardha Uttanasana is accessible to pregnant women and women who have recently given birth as well. This is a pose that every woman should include in her daily self-care repertoire because when done regularly it can prevent menstrual cramps.  And to all the mother’s of small babies out there: this is THE pose to practice between feeding and taking care of your baby because it opens all those parts of the body that easily get tight from all the lifting, carrying, and hustling.

You don’t need any specific props; just a little bit of empty wall space, bench, table, or a big branch at the right hight where to place your hands on.

Going for walks in the nature with my kids is one of my favourite things to do. We often got ho this place in the nearby forest where there are many good places to do stretching and other body workouts. This spot right here is perfect for Ardha Uttanasana.

After doing most of my asana practice either lying down or sitting for three weeks due to my ankle injury, this was the first standing pose that was accessible to me. My ankle doesn’t yet allow putting all my body weight on it or moving it laterally. In ardha Uttanasana the weight of my body is equally supported by both of my legs. In this pose I can ground through the both of my feet, strengthen the quadriceps, and safely stretch the back of my legs.


I still limp when walking which creates a lot of tension in the hips and lower back and negatively affects on my posture. In Ardha Uttanasana I can free the lower back through the traction and stretching of the hamstrings.

Almost not a day go by without me practicing this asana. I do it pretty much every time after spending a lot of time in the kitchen, when traveling, during walks in the nature, at the end of a run or a whenever I feel like my body and mind are in the need of a good stretch & release.

Here are the main actions of the pose:

Ardha Uttanasana is the best thing one can do after spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Cooking and doing the dishes can easily make your upper back, neck, and shoulders achy and create tension in the chest. Ardha Uttanasana brings freedom to all those parts making it an essential part of my daily life.

If your hands are against a wall, then push the hands forward like you would try to make the wall fall down and at the same time move the sitting bones away from the hands.

If you are pregnant, make sure your legs are wide enough so that here is no pressure on the belly. In the postnatal period keep the feet hip width apart.

Ardha uttanasana opens the hamstrings, stretches the sides of your waist and rib cage, opens the armpits, chest, and shoulders, and reduces heart rate. It can prevent stomach pain and cramps during menstruation. I would say that’s a pretty impressive list of benefits for such a simple and accessible yoga asana. Go ahead and try this out. I can guarantee you will love it!

This picture is part of the many beautiful pictures Susanna Iovene
took of me in Sardinia last summer. Exactly seven years ago today she started to take her firsts shots and now she is well known and extremely talented, fully self learned photographer in Italy. I am so proud of my sister-in-law! She is a true living example of what you can accomplish when following your dreams and doing what you love.