Strength vrs Flexibility

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Yoga classes generally have an imbalance when it comes to hamstrings. We stretch, stretch, stretch them, which is very needed (especially with my tight running hamstrings) and often a cause of lower back problems. However stretching weak muscles can lead to injury so its important to build hamstring strength work into our practice. A few simple adjustments or a slight change in mindset means we can strengthen as well as stretch them. Below is too exercises you could try if you feel you have weak, or over flexible, hamstrings…

Here I am doing leg raises to engage and work the hamstring. All our bodies are beautifully different so you may not look like this when you try it. Go on feeling not what you think the pose should look like, you want to feel the hamstrings (back of the legs) working. Stabilise through the shoulders and abdominal muscle and try not to let there be too much of a dip in the lower back. You don’t need to lift the leg too high. Imagine you are pressing the sole of the foot towards the ceiling. You will feel the glute muscles kick in as well which is an added bonus!
Start by taking you foot in your hand, then engage the hamstring muscles and let go without the foot dropping too much, this is tough! Keep your foot flexed and allow the knee to come a little further back than the other and tilt the body very slightly forward so inline with that leg, not the standing leg. Hold your leg there and you will definitely feel those hamstrings!

To look at me now you may not think I couldn’t actually touch my toes for years when I first started practicing. I’m not a stretchy Yoga teacher, and at first I found this hard, as like most people, I thought Yoga was all about being flexible. In fact, if I got a pound every time someone has said to me ‘ I cant do Yoga as I’m not flexible’ I’d be rich! Even when I first started teacher training I was worried that I wasn’t as advanced as others, as to look at my poses, I felt I didn’t look as good ; my head wasn’t touching my knees in forward fold, my leg wasn’t vertical in standing splits, and my foot wasn’t up by my head in Extended Hand to Big Toe. However as the years have passed, and I’ve emotionally and physically developed, I no longer wish to be that perfect ‘Insta Yogi’ in full splits, and I couldn’t care less if my Yoga students are flexible or not. For me this simply isn’t what the practice is about. Physically in class, muscles are more of my focus, although we always have a good stretch. Weak long muscles are the most prone to injury so even if my students are naturally very flexible then I get them to not go so deep but instead engage muscle. I believe that building muscles protects the body from injury. But I also love to keep moving, fluid and active. Perhaps why I’m drawn towards, and generally teach, a more powerful Vinyasa Style of Yoga.