Hamstrings & Stressed-Out Teens

I have this feeling that I’ve already posted a similar, though not identical, asana sequence somewhere on this blog. But a recent conversation with G at Running While Fat prompted me to share this one, which I’ve been playing with for the past few weeks.

I was feeling ungrounded, negotiating wedding details plus out-of-town-visiting-family details plus I-still-have-to-plan-lessons-and-grade details. (Note: Coordinating any amount of time with my mother is stress-inducing, and she had Ideas about how my partner’s and my wedding should go.) My students were also feeling stressed, having reached the midterm portion of their semester. I also wanted something that was conceptually simple enough to be grasped (think lots of repetition to create a rhythm) and physically adaptable enough to meet a wider variety of needs.

This is what I came up with. I don’t promise that it will meet everyone’s hamstring or stress relief needs, but I like it.

Me in low lunge, with right knee on the floor.

  1. Reclining Hamstring Stretch — I start here, in the “inhale” spot for apanasana, on my back with my knees bent vertically over my hips. When I exhale, instead of bringing my knees in toward my chest, I straighten my legs vertically over my hips as best as I’m able. I do this as an vinyasa for 5 breaths. Then, on the final repetition, I hold the extended legs for 5 breaths. I like this as a prop free option, though if I had straps for all my students, we’d probably start with reclining big toe pose in the same flow-to-hold fashion.
  2. Bicycles — I realize that bicycle crunches are not Real Yoga. And in fact, I have mixed reactions to using them in practice myself: I like a few rounds, done slower, to start to “wake up” my core. I am not fond of lots of fast repetitions (which for me is an invitation to lose stability) done fast to create any sort of ab “burn.” In this case, I do 5 rounds with breath — exhaling on the twist to each side and inhaling back to center — building to a 5 breath hold on each side. (This “5 repetitions to 5 breath hold,” by the way, is going to be a recurring theme for this practice. I like the predictability, both for teaching purposes and for stress relief.)
  3. Sun Salute — One full round, nothing added. Since I’m generally still taking this as a warm up, I modify as is appropriate for me.
  4. Sun Salute with Low Lunge to Half Pyramid Vinyasa — Again with the 5 repetition flow (just from low lunge to half pyramid and back) to a 5 breath hold (5 breaths in half pyramid, 5 breaths in low lunge). I repeat until I’ve done the vinyasa-to-hold twice on each leg… which for me is one full sun salute, but YMMV.
  5. Sun Salute with High Lunge to Pyramid Vinyasa — Again, done in the same vinyasa to hold pattern as above. Option: On the high lunge hold, move into crescent lunge if it looks like it would be a good idea for you today.
  6. Half Locust and Locust — I do the vinyasa-to-hold pattern 3 times: once with just the legs lifting (then rest), once with just the upper body lifting (then rest), once with both ends lifting together (then rest). For whatever reason, I feel the leg end of locust almost entirely in my hamstrings, not in my glutes or lower back.
  7. Upavistha Konasana — For 10 breaths or more, gradually easing into the fullest expression I am going toward on that day.
  8. Windshield Wipers — I’m not sure of a good picture link for this one, but it’s basically a gentle reclined twist. Lie on the back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor and a little wider than hip distance apart. Gently drop the knees to one side on an exhale, bring them back to center on the inhale, and drop them to the opposite side on the next exhale. If you want, you can turn the upper body to the opposite side, either during the flow or on the 5 breath hold. I usually don’t. To be honest, I usually skip the holds on this one. By this point in the practice, I generally prefer to keep the gentle movement going a bit longer.
  9. Savasana.

The practice usually runs me about 35-40 minutes.

For modifications, I recommend that people use props (especially blocks during the lunge-based vinyasas) wherever they see fit. Additionally, if the high lunge to pyramid vinyasa is just not happening, it’s cool to repeat the knee down version.

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