How to Improve Hamstring Flexibility in Your Practice

Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana. Ann Pizer

Dear Aunt Yoga,

I have been doing yoga for a year now. I absolutely enjoy it. One pose I would like to improve upon is the forward bend (paschimottanasana). My hamstrings are very tight. I was wondering what is the best way to improving the flexibility in my hamstrings so that I can touch my toes with straight legs and back with a nice smile on my face. Should I increase the number of times I do hamstring stretches? Should I use a yoga strap when doing the hamstring stretches? Will using the strap improve my flexibility more as opposed to not using the strap?


Dear C.,

First of all, it's wonderful that your goal is to do the pose with a smile on your face. This is a very important (and often overlooked) component of any yoga pose. If you're getting yourself into a difficult pose, but you look like you're suffering, what's being gained? Too often I look around and see a room full of grimaces. So you're doing good work already.

Second, welcome to my world! I suffer from tight hamstrings myself, so I feel your pain (in the backs of my legs the day after class).

Third, here's the advice: Yes, it will help if you practice stretching your hamstring as often as possible, ideally every day. Take a look at my daily stretch routine. This will keep you going between classes.

I prefer to work things out in a standing forward bend because I feel like gravity helps me get a deeper stretch than when I'm seated. Other standing poses that will stretch your hamstrings include triangle, half moon, and pyramid. Try to do a few of these poses each day. Bring in your seated forward bend at the end of a yoga session when you're already warmed up. If your teacher gives you the opportunity to pick a cool down pose at the end of practice, that's a great opportunity to do your paschimottanasana.

A yoga strap is indeed a nice tool for working on the seated forward bend. Put the strap around the soles of your feet and work on moving your hands down the strap toward your feet while keeping your back straight and your shoulders in their sockets. The strap helps you go deeper without sacrificing your alignment You can still improve without the strap, but it's nice to get that extra leverage.

Finally, cultivate patience. You don't want to overdo it since hamstring injuries are painful and slow to heal. Don't force anything. Consistent gentle stretching is the way to go here. Your hamstrings will get more flexible over time, but it can take years. Remember to keep smiling!

Aunt Yoga