Other than our shoulders, our hamstrings are often the tightest muscles in our body. Since most of us spend a lot of our time sitting, these long, powerful muscles can atrophy. Though some people are born with naturally flexible hamstrings, the rest of us need to put in effort to keep these stabilizers long and supple.
If you have ever taken a yoga or exercise class that included hamstring stretching, you likely know how quickly it can bring up frustration. There is something in the hamstrings, which are part of the muscle chain connecting us from our root energy center to the ground, that reveals feelings of competitiveness, the desire to achieve and the accompanying experience of limitation. Of course, witnessing such is one of the great gifts of yoga.
This safe and simple exercise will give you an opportunity to continue to explore how life-force moves through your body/being while also increasing the flexibility in your hamstrings. Watch for any tendency to push. Remember, YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine and yoga as a whole are not about how “far” you get, or how flexible you are. Yoga is about awakened presence. Welcome wherever you may be without competitiveness, judgment, or wanting. In this, you embody the meaning of yoga, to be in non-resistance to the fullness of life right here and now.
Before you proceed, please do Savasana and at least the Breathing Wave to cultivate awareness of how life-force energy moves through your body/being. Ideally, you do all exercises that lead up to this one. The series in these magazine issues is designed to build one exercise upon the next to best help you reap the full benefits of this unique and powerful YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine practice.
1. Find a quiet and relaxed environment where you can lie on the floor. Use a towel or yoga mat if you like.
2. After establishing two-way moving energy awareness with Savasana, the Breathing Wave and any other preparatory work you wish to do, draw in life-force through your breath through the whale spout at the crown of your head, down the tube of breath that is your spine. Allow that energy to travel on the inhale right down to your toes. Feel your whole body breathing.
3. Take hold of your right leg, leaving the left leg on the ground. If you find this creates stress on your hamstring, simply bend your left leg and place your foot on the ground. The intention here is to keep your right leg straight. Think of how a straight conduit will aid in energy travel.
4. As you inhale, point your right toes. Sense the energy moving down your spine.
5. As you exhale, press out your right heel. Sense the energy moving along your leg and out your foot. Sense life-force energy expanding through the sole of your foot.
6. Allow your spine to rest neutral along the floor, as your hips release toward the ground. Avoid the tendency to want to roll your pelvis off the floor with your leg, to seem as though you gain more stretch.
7. Repeat for as long as you like. As your toes point, inhale. As your heel presses, exhale. Feel your whole body breathing.
8. When you have had enough, bend your knee into your chest and hug it. Inhale, feel your belly rise and your knee rise slightly as you let go of your grip just a bit. Exhale, your knee and belly rest back. Hug your knee into the chest. Let your spine feel long.
9. Rotate your knee around your hip, drawing an invisible circle with your knee in clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Be mindful of every point you touch along this circle. Keep your chin, jaw and shoulders relaxed as you keep breathing into your belly.
10. Release your leg and switch so that you bring your left leg into the air, then repeat.
Eventually, bring your breathing back to what feels more normal for you. Take a few more long breaths and roll over onto your right side, before you press yourself up into sitting.
Parvati is an award-winning musician (“I Am Light”, “Electro Yog”, “Yoga In The Nightclub”), yogini (YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine), author (“The Grace Mindset”, “Aonani of Avalon”, “The Three Supreme Secrets for Lasting Happiness”) and founder and CEO of the nonprofit Parvati.org. All her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS). More info: parvati.tv; parvati.org.