I Should Go Do Yoga....Hips & Hamstrings
Whenever I tell people I practice yoga or am a yoga teacher the usual response is "oh, I should do yoga because..." followed up by any number of reasons, some of which I have listed below:
- I sit at a desk all day and my hips are really tight
- I have lower back pain/knee pain/shoulder pain
- I am a runner/footballer/cyclist and need to loosen up my hamstrings
- I lift weights but could lift so much more if I had more upper body mobility
- I have a really weak core
The great thing about this is that these people recognise that yoga can help them physically, however the 'should' part of the sentence often means that they have not made it their priority, or are intimidated by a public yoga class, or simply don't know where to start.
So in this series called "I Should Go Do Yoga..." I have put together some short simple sequences which you can do any time of day to help you work on the bits you know you need to work on, from the comfort of your own home!
This first one focuses on a really important area: hips and hamstrings. If you've been sat at a desk your entire life you'll probably have tight hips and hamstrings, which may have led to knee pain, or even lower back pain. This series of poses can be done first thing in the morning or in the evening before bed, or while you're watching TV, or even while your dinner is in the oven. Even better, take some time out in your lunch break, find a quiet corner and get the blood flowing in the middle of the day. You don't need a mat, or any props if you don't have them, so let's get started!
TIP: when doing stretches the longer you hold the stretch the more beneficial. I have indicated to breathe in and out (through the nose!!) deeply 7 times for each of the poses, but if you can hold them longer then do so. PLEASE be mindful of the difference between a good stretch, and pain. If you feel a sharp pain at any time during any stretches then ease off, as over-stretching can lead to injury. Find your edge and stick with it, breathing deeply and evenly, but don't push too far - flexibility will take time, show yourself some love!
Baddha Konasana (Butterfly)
Start seated with your feet in front of you, soles of the feet together, and knees out wide. If you find it difficult to sit up straight in this position place a blanket or a book under your bum so you can get a nice straight back. Hold on to the ankles and gently 'flap' your butterfly wings, bringing the knees up and down in small pulses. Count to 60 as a minimum, and keep going after that as you feel comfortable.
From seated, push your weight forward into a table-top position. Make sure your wrists are below your shoulders, and knees below your hips with the tops of your feet flat to the floor. Pushing away from the floor with your hands, engage your abs gently and lift one leg off the floor and start drawing circles in the air with your knee. The wider the circle, the more you'll be opening up your hip joint. The slower the circle the better. Breathe in and out deeply through the nose 7 times while circling clockwise, and then 7 times while circling anti-clockwise, before changing leg.
Anjaneyasana (Low lunge)
From table-top position, bring your left foot forward between your hands and rise up to a low lunge position. Keep your front knee stacked over your ankle, and push your back knee (the one on the floor) back if you want to feel a deeper stretch. You should feel a deep stretch in the hip flexor. Breathe in and out deeply for a minimum of 7 breaths.
Ardha Hanumanasana (Half splits, or runner's lunge)
From your low lunge position, straighten your left leg and push your weight back towards the heel of your right leg. Place your hands on the floor for balance and try and keep your back straight, your chest open and your shoulders relaxed and down away from your ears. You should feel a yummy stretch in your hamstring here. Breathe deeply in and out through the nose 7 times, or longer if you feel comfortable.
Now come back to your low lunge on the other side, and repeat!
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard pose, variations)
From your table-top position, bring your right foot forward to the outside of your right hand. Breathe here in, and out, 7 times. Next, point the toes of your right foot out sightly, and using your right hand and a straight arm, gently push the inside of your right thigh away from your body (see middle photo). Breathe in and out 7 times, or longer if you feel comfortable. Finally, bring your toes in to point forwards again, plant your elbows where your hands were, and lift the back knee. Focus on breathing deeply, you guessed it, 7 times.
Come back to table top, and then change legs and do all three variations on the other side.
Supta Kapotasana (Reclined pigeon, or thread the needle)
Next, come on to your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Raise the right leg, bend at the knee and place the outside of the right ankle on the left thigh, close to the knee. While pushing your right knee away from your body, bring your hands behind your left thigh and pull the left leg in to the body to create a stretch on the outside of the right hip. Keep the toes of your right foot flexed (not pointed). Hold this pose for 7 deep breaths, or longer, then switch legs to the other side.
Paschimottanasana (Seated forward fold)
Come to a seated position in Dandasana, or staff pose, with your legs stretched out in front of you, your toes flexed and your back nice and straight. If you struggle to sit up straight in this position you can place a blanket or book underneath your sit bones. Raise your arms to parallel with the floor, and inhale deeply. On the exhale, imagine you are holding a tray of drinks in your hands and are trying to pass them (without spilling) over your feet to someone sat opposite you. Keep your back straight, your chest open and your shoulders away from your ears.
Inhale again, and with every exhale try and pass the tray further towards your feet. Resist the urge to round the back in order to touch your toes, or worse still, your forehead to your knees! If you can reach your toes while keeping your back straight then that's great, but otherwise rest your hands on your thighs or your shins. Focus on reducing the space between your stomach and your thighs instead. Find your edge here and hold it, for 7 deep breaths, or for as long as you can. Exhale to come up to seated, and then gently roll down onto your back, hugging your knees into your chest to release your lower back.
So there you have it! 6 easy poses which will help release tension in your hips and hamstrings, easing lower back and knee pain, as well as getting rid of unwanted stress and emotional tension which may be sitting in these areas. Practice these every day and you are sure to feel the benefits, no public yoga class required!