A practice to stretch out your hamstrings and warm up your body. Although there seems to be a lot of focus on hamstring length in our yoga classes, we need to be careful not to overstretch them, but instead nourish and gently explore our range of movement. A great class for anyone who gets a little tight at the end of the day.
By Isabel Lankester
We start our class on all fours, with the knees hip-width apart and the hands shoulder-width. Gently extend the right foot back, so the leg is straight back and you're resting on the ball of your foot. Lean forward and back into the hands to gently open up the right hamstring. After a few breaths, lower the right knee back into position and repeat on the left leg (image not shown). Here we are slowly warming up the wrists, applying pressure down the right and left side of the body to prepare for our standing practice.
Exhale start to tuck your toes, lift your knees up and gaze to the back of the mat in downward dog (adho mukha svanasana) (images 1 and 2). When you are ready, lift the heels up and down, gently opening up the back of the legs. Listen to your intuition here: you might not be able to completely straighten your legs. Be patient as your body begins to stretch open.
After a few moments on each leg, look ahead and step forward to the top of your mat. Remain in a forward fold, inhale to Ardha Uttanasana (Images 3 & 4), a half-way lift before releasing the spine completely in Uttanasana a deep forward fold (Image 5). Take a pause here. Option to reset hands on blocks, finger tips on the floor – or as shown in the image, clasp the hands around the back of the ankles. After a few moments, inhale, press into your feet and raise your arms overhead, looking towards your thumbs in Urdhva Hastasana (upwards salute, image not shown). Exhale bring the hands back to your heart, begin to settle your breathing.
Inhale and reach your arms upwards to urdhva hastasana (upwards salute) (not shown), exhale as you forward fold to Uttanasana (standing forward bend) (Image 5). Now heel-toe the feet hip-distance apart and start to thread the hands underneath the feet Padahastasana (Image 6). Option to use blocks in this deep forward fold. You can gently bend the knees, but feel like the hip points are reaching up as you tuck your chin into your chest.
When you're ready, release your hands and step back into plank (Phalakasana) (Image 7) lowering down onto your knees, chest and chin. Slide onto your tummy and press into your hands. Inhale to baby cobra (Bhujangasana, image not shown). Exhale start to draw back into downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) where you can walk out your legs by alternately bending your knees. This will further awaken the back of the legs. Notice how the back of the knees feel... does this differ to the back of your ankles? Notice where you feel the most tight: the glutes, upper leg or lower leg?
When you're ready, reach your right leg up and back into a three-legged dog (Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana) (Image 8). Flex the toes down here to further activate the back of the leg. This will also switch on the front of the thigh muscles. Step forward to the top of the mat, foot in between the hands, lower the back knee. Start to straighten the front leg into a half-split pose (Ardha Hanumanasana) (Image 9). To bring the earth upwards towards you, use blocks under each hand. Even though you're stretching out the right hamstring, feel like you're lengthening over the leg, reaching forward with your spine and flexing the toes upwards.
After at least 10 breaths, keep the legs still, lean into your left hand and reach your right arm up into a twist. Feel like your spine is reaching up as your maintain the length on the right hamstring. Kneeling twist (image not shown). Exhale, release the pose and make your way back into downward dog.
At each opportunity of rest (like down dog) take a moment to check in with your legs, and the relationship between the leg muscles and how your jaw, neck and thoughts in the mind all soften. Even though we are opening up the back of the legs, we are always practicing inner alignment as well as outer.
When you're ready repeat on the left leg.
When you're ready, reach your left leg up and back into a three legged dog (Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana). Flex the toes down here to further activate the back of the leg. This will also switch on the front of the thigh muscles. Step forward to the top of the mat, foot in-between the hands, lower the back knee. Start to straighten the front leg into a half-split pose (ardha hanumanasana). To bring the earth upwards towards you, use blocks under each hand. Even though you're stretching out the right hamstring, feel like you're lengthening over the leg, reaching forward with your spine and flexing the toes upwards.
After at least 10 breaths, keep the legs still, lean into your right hand and reach your left arm up into a twist.
Finishing today’s practice, make your way from downward dog into a seated position. Stretch your legs out in front of you, lift your arms up and then reach forward into Paschimottanasana (not shown). Option to use a strap here to assist the spine forward over the legs. Hold for a few breaths, before softening the back of the legs, bend the knees to the chest and give yourself a well-deserved hug inwards.
For more classes with Isabel Lankester visit isabellankesteryoga.com, where you'll find 100s of on-demand classes available from vinyasa to yin yoga. Each class is rooted within its own elemental series, streamed from the comfort of your own home. You can also practice live and in-person together at the OM Yoga Show in London this October.
Enjoy the full yoga studio experience from the comfort of your own home with 100+ more on-demand and live-stream classes, from power yoga and vinyasa to yin, meditation and slow flows. isabellankesteryoga.com