Almost everyone has tight hamstrings. Of course, “tight” is a relative term, and some will appear to be more flexible than others. If you sit all day, the muscles shorten in the flexed position of the knee and hip, and get tight. If you walk or exercise a lot, the muscles are constantly being worked, and tightened. So, those three big muscles on the backs of the thighs are always being tightened. The only time they get relief is when you are lying down, relaxing, or when you make a conscious effort to release and stretch them!
The hamstrings can inhibit pelvic movement since they attach to the sitting bones (ischial tuberosities) at the base of the pelvis. When they are shortened from being tight they pull down on the angle of the pelvis and do not allow it to tilt properly. This then affects posture. So, making sure there is enough length and flexibility in the hamstrings to allow movement in the pelvis is very important.
Since I like to stretch my hamstrings and am constantly reminded of their tightness in most of my daily activities, I do a variety of movements that stretch them in my classes, either through poses or basic stretches. There are many complicated poses and intense movements that can accomplish this stretch, but one of my favorites is the Seated Hamstring Stretch.
Begin by sitting on the edge of your chair, with your pelvis stable and aligned so it is not tilting back behind the sitting bones. Extend your right leg straight out in front of you, keeping your left knee bent at a ninety degree angle. Flex your right foot. Place both hands on the creases where your hips flex, with your thumbs behind and your fingers aligned with the crease. This position of your hands helps you to focus on where you will be moving: from this hip flexion (not from the spine.) Often people have too much back involvement in their forward bends so this awareness can help to prevent you from leading with your head and curving the back. Inhale and sit up tall, lengthening your spine. As you exhale, bend at the hips going forward only a few inches. Most people will be able to go a few inches while keeping their spines long. Inhale and once again think about lengthening your spine, all the way to the top of your head. Then, as you exhale, allow yourself to relax and move forward, still keeping your spine long. (In other words, do not lead with your chin and shoulders.) Then, once again, inhale, lengthening the spine, and as you exhale, go as far forward as you can without moving from your middle back. Feel the wonderful stretch behind your right thigh (the hamstrings) and also by flexing the foot, you will feel it in the right calf as well. Hold this pose for three more breaths. Then, inhale and sit up and return to your starting position, switching legs and repeating on the other side.
Because this seated stretch can be done almost anywhere, such as at your desk at work, there is no longer any excuse NOT to stretch your hamstrings! On those days when you just don’t feel like getting onto the floor, remember this variation and try incorporating it into your daily life!
If you have any question or comments, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.