Foam Roller!. You can use a Foam Roller. Basically you put the roller under your hamstrings, put your bodyweight on it and roll up and down along your hamstring to give yourself a massage. I used it to loosen my IT band and it worked great!
Try a Different Stretch. There are lots of different stretches out there for hamstrings. Try a simple one that really isolates the hamstrings. Or, try two new hamstring stretches.
Warming up properly could be a contributing factor as well. The warmer the muscles are the better they stretch.
Another thing: Are the quads stretching okay? The hamstrings and quadriceps work together hand and glove, muscle to muscle. Try to stretch the quads more as well.
Upper body fall. I too have the same problem. I am 60 years old and do yoga every day. I have recently found that instead of trying to "reach" down to my toes I let my arms relax and my upper body free fall towards the floor. I am now able to touch my feet (haven't got to my toes yet).
Not necessary for downdog.... While I sympathize (having "in the family" tight hamstrings myself), you don't need to put your heels all the way to the floor in downward facing dog. In fact, some teachers will advise against it because they feel it keeps the pose too static. Regardless, I would recommend not getting caught up in whether you are able to do this or not...you might never be able to do it and yet still be a fine yogini.
Warm up your muscles first.. I think stretching is the only way to lengthen those muscles. One thing that will help is to go for a short walk or walk in place before stretching. This will warm up your mucsles and increse blood circulaiton to them. That will allow you to stretch more effectively.
A bit more information would be helpful before attempting to direct you. How long is "ages", what style of practice, with what frequency are you practicing, and what poses are you doing to target the opening of the hamstrings? It would also be pertinent to know what sorts of "other" exercise you do or what you do occupationally.
Apart from stretching? You can certainly support the opening of musculature through diet and lifestyle. But I want to emphasize the word "support" rather than "do".
There are no special yoga points for having your heels on the floor in Adho Mukha Svanasana. It is far more important to honor the line of the spine in the pose and the actions throughout the body. However, for those wishing to open the hamstrings it is Supta Padangusthasana that will work directly on the hamstrings without placing the lower back, sacrum, or sacro-iliac joint at risk.
That pose twice a day for nine breath on each side in conjunction with the actions of pressing the calf muscles down into the heels in AMS will open the hamstrings assuming the student hasn't already reached the limit of their genetic range of motion.
In the meantime, do the pose with your heels up the wall so you can get the energetics of rooting into the heels without overtaxing the hamstrings.
Thanks for the helpful answer, Gordon, but could you perhaps use the English words for the poses in addition to the Sanskrit? I know some yoga teacher trainings and studios like to use only Sanskrit because there are admittedly many variations in English names, but I think most casual yoga students generally know the English names better.
A couple of things to think on--sometimes the anatomy of the ankle won't allow the heel to descend all the way, for instance, it's not that uncommon that in the front of the ankle, the bones touch. If this is the case, no matter how much you stretch, you won't ever get your heels down.
The other thing--tight calves can keep the heels up. So can tight hips. Or tight shoulders. So be patient and vigilant in your practice. And accepting. Maybe by focusing on what is "not" happening in your practice, you're missing out on all the wonderful things that ARE happening. And maybe in time the heels will come down, or maybe they won't. The practice of yoga is found in the journey.
Stretching is very beneficial for the hamstrings as well as all other muscles of the body. Make sure that you are streching the muscle/s AFTER it has been properly warmed up through low-level aerobic-like activities (i.e. walking, bike riding, marching in place). It is critical that the blood flow be in enhanced as well as an increase in body core temperature occur before stretching. Also, make sure that you are spending a minimum of 30 seconds holding the stretch and complete each stretch 3-5 times with slow, deliberate, relaxed technique. Using props such as towels and stretch bands can enhance the experience. Remember too that previous injury to the hamstrings may have caused an accumulation of scar tissue in that area, which will need a bit extra TLC. Finally, keep in mind that some genetic factors such as muscle length, insertion point, etc. can also play a factor in flexibility. A few other things to try besides the traditional stretch are massage and/or foam rolling. The following
website, shows some simple massage techniques that, if appropriate, might help. Rolling the hamstrings with a foam roller (i.e. myofascial release) is another technique that is gaining more respect and popularity.
You need to practice it against the wall with your hands pushing against the wall. It allows you to extend your spine and create room to place the feet on the ground. Using blocks may help to. This is a perfect segway into recommending Iyengar yoga. Those teachers know every prop trick in the world to get you to do the pose well. The more you bend down and extend your spine, the more space you can get to place the feet down.
I also concur with Gordon. Supta Padangusthasana is a great pose to work those tight hamstrings. It cured my sciatica problem. While practicing yoga at the Iyengar Institute in Pune this was one pose that was practiced religiously in my class. Ofcourse you cannot forget uttanasana or half uttanansana as well. There are variations in Iyengar style with props that will help with the tightness. Check out my blog - I have a a whole video on Supta Padangusthasana. theyoginme.blogspot.com
Visit Yogajournal.com for a comprehensive description on yoga poses in Sanskrit. Some of us iyengar yogis get spoilt with Sanskrit names. I used to link the names back to yoga journal pages in my earlier posts, but now I have become lazy. Anyway, I hope the information helps. Your inability to touch the floor may have nothing to do with tight hamstrings. Best to have a yoga teacher examine your posture in person - and hear is my Iyengar plug again. See a local certified Iyengar yoga teacher. I am certain they will give you great advice.
Muscles can get tight because many of its sarcomeres are in contracture. These can't simply be pulled apart; they need expend energy internally to open. The sarcomeres need to be restored to health, then the muscle and the fascia that envelopes it can both be stretched.
The normal opening and closing of the individual sarcomeres pump their own blood supply, as well as doing the work of the muscle. But the fascia around the muscle is tight, the blood supply can be very poor and sarcomeres can get into trouble.
Because they pump their own blood, sarcomeres that do not get a good supply can simply run out of energy to open and close and can become stuck in a contracted position.
Intense massage, which forces blood into the sarcomeres, can restore the ability of the muscle to fully contract and stretch. Then the fascia that envelopes the muscle can also stretch. And it is the stretching of the fascia that ensures that circulation remains healthy to that muscle even when demands are great.
Yoga can help with this, but its not the stretching itself that frees up the sarcomeres. Its the increased blood flow and the massage of yoga itself.
You can pull on a muscle all day and all you may accomplish is tearing some fibers. And you can overstretch with yoga too.
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