Restorative Hamstring and Heart Opener, week 5 of “Restore Yourself…Love, Yoga”

Love, Yoga

When I realized that I’d be shooting this photograph in my house, I thought about doing it in my sweatpants and a t-shirt. No fancy yoga clothes. Maybe even a few stray toys lingering about the mat. Possibly with the tv on in the background. Including these elements would have created a more truthful replication of my usual experience of this posture. Because I love this posture. And I have no hesitations bringing it out whenever my lower back is feeling a little cranky from a long day of sitting, schlepping, kid-holding, etcetera or whenever my hamstrings start nagging me. Don’t get me wrong: This posture is great in a yoga class. It’s especially nice after you’ve been doing something active. But it is wonderful all on its own. If I only have time for one restorative posture and I really want to open my back, my legs, and my heart, I come here.

I should also give a hearty thanks to Harvey Deutch, physical therapist and yoga magician, for introducing me to this and next week’s postures. You should go see the man – catch one of his workshops, stop by for a therapeutics yoga class, or make a pt appointment with him. You’ll learn a ton.

Restorative Hamstring and Heart Opener

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You’ll need a long strap, preferably one that you can tighten as you need.

  1. Make a large loop out of your strap.
  2. Slide the strap over your head so that it comes to rest just under your armpits. Check to see that you can find easily the tail of the strap to tighten it.
  3. Lay down on your mat with both knees bent and your feet on the floor.
  4. Check in with your pelvis and spine. Does your pelvis feel neutral? Tilt your pelvis a few times – draw your tailbone towards the ground and then gently curl it up towards your navel – then bring it neutral. Were you to place a small ball on top of your pelvis it would neither roll towards the ground nor towards your belly button. Imprint your sacrum on the mat without changing the tilt of your pelvis. Your lower back should retain its natural curve; the back of your ribs will press into the mat; and your front ribs will feel neutral (as opposed to flaring out and up towards the sky.
  5. Bring your right foot into the strap, keeping your spine and pelvis as it is. If you cannot easily bring your ankle in line with your hips – it is closer to the ground then the sky – then this posture may not be for you (in which case you’ll un-lasso yourself and work with the strap detached from your body, making it less restorative but gentler on your body). Draw the head of your thigh bone down towards the ground.
  6. Now begin to tighten the strap. Keep your right foot flexed with the strap firmly on the ball of the foot (not the arch). You’ll tighten the strap enough to feel a release emerge in your right hamstring and, if you’ve kept the strap close to the armpits so that it’s laying across the breadth of your thoracic spine, a slight lift of your thoracic spine. Do not tighten the strap to the point where your leg quivers. Keep your knee straight. If either of these happen – your leg shakes or your knee bends – loosen the strap to find a new stance.
  7. Breathe here. Let go of the straps, bring your arms to rest, and feel your body drop down into the mat. Play with straightening your left leg. If your spine gets uncomfortable or your pelvis shifts, then bend your knee again. Stay here for as long as you’d like, tightening the strap as your body opens more.
  8. When you’re ready to shift to the other side, loosen the strap enough to bring your right foot back in line with your hip. Bend your right knee, bend your left knee to bring your left foot into the strap alongside the right foot, and transfer the strap over to your left foot. Your right foot will now come to the ground. Bring your left leg in line with your left hip. Repeat steps five through seven.
  9. Loosen the strap when you’re ready to come out of the posture. Gently lower your left foot to the ground with your knee bent. Bring your right foot alongside your left. Both knees are now bent. Roll to your side and press into a seated position.
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