Monday, February 04, 2008

Happy Hamstrings

That backbending post sparked some really interesting conversation and comments! Below is an abridged version of email correspondence between me and Laura of Yogachi. She is very knowledgeable about anamtomy and movement, intimidatingly so! You can learn more about her at her blogs - for yogis, and also one specially for teachers. Thanks for all the awesome advice, Laura!

This does get a little long winded, but it is really worth the read I promise!

Nadine, did you try the dandasana on a block pose? We need to chat -- one hamstring injury to another!

Ooh, tell me more....
Does dandasana on a block help build stability? My main problem is that my hips have become so flexible in the forward direction, that my sitbones tend to flick up and my lower back overarch, unless I am really concentrating on my alignment, and of course, I am not always, especially when demonstrating! I just want people to get the gist quickly, so bad. So the injury heals, it flares up, heals flares up. I will take any and all advice! It works best for me so far to do a lot of work on strength and stability in the hips - esp the hamstrings, loose bastards, so I do a lot of locust etc.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts Laura!



Interestingly, our problems are similar, yet not. I have hamstrings
that are very tight (yogically speaking, that is. I went to a doctor
about my pull and he brought my leg easily to 90 degrees and
proclaimed me healed. He walked out before I even had a chance to say,
“uuhhh....”). The reason I ask is we can exchange notes. I can share what I have learned for my self and I would love to hear what you do.

Here is a list of what I do:

1. I learned how to hold the attachment of my hamstring. I contract
at the tendon right at the sit bone. I do that while lengthening
the rest of the hamstring. If you stand in Tadasana and
isometrically push one leg back, you can feel the necessary
contraction. (Sometimes I put a strap a the top of my thigh to
remind myself to contract.)
2. I do the dandasana I shared on my blog. REALLY helpful for
learning how to ground through the errant sit bone. Yes, I think
it does help build stability. As I mentioned in the post, you
feel the bones so you can tap into keeping them aligned. It
isn’t about the soft tissue anymore. You won’t flick the
sitbones either if you are in the bones.
3. I do seated forward fold with the extended leg heal up on a
block (and sitbones on a blanket). I can’t explain it, it just
4. I also ground well when I forward fold in seated positions to
not do what you mentioned doing in your email – flick those
babies up. Teaching is tricky. Not only do I do moves quickly, I
often exaggerate the movement so students can really see what I
am doing.
5. I also do LOTS of strengthening. I love bridge, too for
strengthening “that” area.

Okay, any ideas for me? Thanks for sharing!!

Have a spectacular evening.


Hey Laura!

You have pretty much covered all bases, I think. This is just about what
I do: I can elaborate a bit, but there is nothing you aren't doing, that
I know about! I really appreciate the reminder to be present even when
teaching, since this is my problemo...

The reason that propping your foot up on a block helps, is that it
'locks' the femur into the pelvis and prevents over-rotation. I didn't
figure this out for myself, read about it in Yoga for Wellness by Gary
Kraftsow! Funny, most of the time we are trying to get people to move
their pelvis around the thighbone more, not less.
As to strength: I also love bridge, moving dynamically in and out of it,
then holding the pose. I do the same with baby locust, lifting chest,
arms, head and alternate legs, in and out with the breath, then both
legs together.
I have found that getting stronger in my core - lower back and belly -
has helped a lot with the 'floppiness' so I also practice urdvha
prasarita padasana (leg lifts) every day.
Since I am tight in the front of my hips, I have found also that regular
and assiduous stretching of the hip flexors and quads helps balance the
hips - basically mine are overstretched and weak at the back and the
opposite at the front. My favourites for this are warrior 1, warrior 3
(also really good for contracting the hamstrings) and some pigeon
variations. Moving in and out of pigeon forward fold is another good
back strengthener, I find.

My last thing is this: it seems that the injury shows up in the
hamstring but sometimes comes from over stretching the entire hip area -
including aggressive hip openers, and if you do less of this, it helps.
I have found this for people whose knees trouble them too, actually!

I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that most yogis spend too much
time on flexibility and not enough on strength...

Thanks for all the help!


Hi, Nadine.

Fabulous! Thanks for explaining why foot on a block works. I love knowing why I am doing something — especially the physiology behind it. Thank you for that info. (I was going to call it a “tidbit” but it is so much more for me.)

I was thinking about your comment about getting our students to move their pelvis around the thighbones more, not less. You know, as I understand it, the injury occurs over time because the femur is not rotating tight within the socket, being “locked” in, but protruding out ever so slightly to be out of alignment. Apparently, many Iyengar practitioners are suffering from hip joint problems. I think it has to do with exaggerating the movement and the femur coming out a bit. (Hence what you telling me makes perfect sense.) It was part of my problem too. I thought the pain was from stretching the scar tissue in my hamstring, but it was pain in my joint from using it incorrectly for years.

As for your hip flexor, also add releasing the psoas. Are you familiar with Liz Brock’s book, The Psoas Book? She also had an article in Yoga Journal a few years back that is available on the YJ website. The psoas needs releasing first before stretching and it can drastically shift your hip flexor tension. Strengthening it will also transform your Urdhva Prasarita Padasana. (Everyday? You are amazing!! And I am inspired...) I have a YJ article written by Richard Rosen on that pose in which he talks about the psoas too. It was written in 1995 so I would guess it didn’t make it to the website but you can check. It is excellent for describing how to use the psoas and not the abdominals for the lifts.

Do you move in and out of pigeon forward fold with your arms overhead? Or just with out using your arms? I am curious how to do it to use it for strengthening the back. I do Salabhasana (locust) with arms overhead. Wow is that one amazing! It really helps get into the lower trapezius.

Ooohh...I am just moving through your entire email and responding as I go and just got to the part about too many hip openers. That is what I was talking about with the hip injury! Another recommendation to help “bring in” the femur is to do a practice with a strap running through your mid hip — just across the top of the femurs — the greater trochanter. Use the strap to draw the femurs in (it is subtle. It is easy to contract in the buttocks, but the action is lower, at the top of the thighs.) This action is especially important for seated forward folds and standing poses like Parsvottanasana and Parivrtta Trikonasana. And, yes, the issue affects the knee as well.

Peace and miracles of the hip joint...


And to finish, this comment which Kathy of KnittingSutra (great name huh?) left on the original post:

Due to injuries I wasn't able to do forward bends for over a year. I feel your pain. In the beginning it really bugged me, but then you learn how to be real creative with your practice. You then begin to realize that yoga is real flexible, but I was the one with the rigid mind.

Food for thought!


Everyday Yogini said...

What a great discussion!! Thank you so much for sharing it here...

By the way, Paola and I will be meeting up next week! We live fairly close to one another... :)

Margaret said...

Hi. I am an ashtanga teacher and practitioner from MPLS,MN. I have been struggling with pain in my sits-bones since I can remember. As of late -- I am not only struggling with pain but increasing limited mobility in all of my forward bends (standing or seated). I happen to run across your discussion regarding hamstring injuries and was interested in any and all advice you may have. I have a daily practice and have modified my practice for the past several years to accomodate the pain. Nothing I do seems to permanently help. Any ideas? I feel a little bit desperate. Thanks so much for your help. Margaret

Nadine Fawell said...

Hi Margaret!

Thanks for visiting. Your profile doesn't show an email address, so I am replying here, hope you get this. I think the first thing you should do is stop your practice - rest the injury. Then find a good physiotherapist who has worked with yoga injuries before. I can't believe you have been in pain for years! Crazy lady! I think you may have to modify your practice more, and permanently, too - continuing to bend forward with hamstring injuries tends to make things worse and worse - second series would be preferable, but you may find that you need to move entirely away from Ashtanga for a little while. If you are lucky, you might find a yoga therapist to work with too, or failing that, consult Gary Kraftsow's book, Yoga for Wellness, and Susi Hately Aldous'book, Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries. Both will help you figure out what is going on and hopefully heal it up.

Hope this helps, email me on nadinedotfawellatyahoodotcodotuk if you want to chat more.