A pulled hamstring is one of the worst injuries a yogi can endure — especially because it means having to stay away from the studio to rest and recover. Here are ways to prevent this common (and painful) injury.
- Warm up: Just as you shouldn't stretch cold muscles before a run, don't do yoga before warming up either. While some types of yoga are done in a heated room to warm up the body, don't solely rely on room temperature to properly prepare the body for intense poses. Many teachers lead students through Sun Salutations to get the blood flowing and muscles working, or they may use some other sequence of moderate poses. If they don't, running or biking to class is also an effective warmup and a great way to get in some cardio.
- Don't push it: Patty Pretzel is casually sticking her leg behind her head, and you decide to give it a try. It's easy to be inspired by more limber yogis, but doing poses you're not ready for is a surefire way to strain a hamstring. Don't allow your ego to take over; you may wind up with an injury that prevents a yoga practice for months. A little discomfort when trying new poses can be normal, but never push yourself to the point of pain.
- One leg at a time: Sometimes it's better to focus on the hamstrings individually, especially if one is more flexible than the other. If a teacher has you in Seated Forward Bend, it's tough to open them both effectively. Do a variation such as Head to Knee (shown below) so you can focus on stretching one hamstring at a time.
See more tips on preventing hamstring injuries after the break!
- Modify: We weren't all born being able to do full splits. If you know you suffer from tight hamstrings, modify poses either by keeping a slight bend in the knee, or as shown in the top photo, use a block for support.
- Don't rush: Remember to follow your breath, and breathe deeply. Move into challenging poses slowly, hold them for five breaths or more (don't bounce!), and come out of them slowly. Yoga should be like a well-controlled choreographed dance that leaves you feeling calm, relaxed, and open.
- Speak up: If the instructor in your yoga class is all about adjustments, don't be shy about telling them to stop if a too-deep assist causes pain in the backs of your legs (or anywhere for that matter).