Whether your hamstrings are chronically tight or you're sore from a hard workout the day before, we've all experienced tight hamstrings. Many yoga poses place a stretch not only on the hamstrings but the whole posterior side (back side) of the body including the tissues around the spine, the glutes, the calves and the bottoms of the feet. If these areas of the body are tight, the typical yoga class might feel like a tug-of-war with your body. But don't worry! You don't have to be able to touch your toes to practice yoga and lucky for you, yoga asana can really help with opening all the tissues along the back of the body.
Here are a few ways you can modify your yoga practice to help with tight hamstrings:
Bend your knees - Bending your knees while forward folding or flexing at the hip in any way will alleviate the pull on the hamstrings and allow the tissues of the back, glutes and lower leg to lengthen a bit more. Just make sure that you don't allow the knee to turn out, bends the knees as much as is needed to keep the knee and front hip point pointing the in the same direction.
Engage your quadriceps - While the hamstring is being stretched, engage your quad. This tells the nervous system to relax the hamstrings a little more. Even when knees are bent, it's important to keep the quads engaged so there's still energy reaching out from the lower leg.
Use the props - Blocks, blankets and straps can all help with modifying asana for tight hamstrings. Whether you're seated, standing, supine or prone, there's always a way to use props to ensure you get the most out of the pose. Blocks, for example, bring the floor closer to you. Straps extend your arms. Sitting up on a block, blanket or a combination of many props can relieve the strain on the hamstrings while seated and allow you to sit with a neutral pelvis. Props are the best way to get the most out of each pose!
Prioritize hip flexion over knee extension while forward folding - in any forward fold, keep the knees bent while flexing at the hips. When you cannot flex the hips forward anymore then you can work on lengthening the back of the legs by reaching the sit bones and the heels away from each other. This will ensure that the whole posterior side of the body is getting an even stretch.
Address tightness along the entire posterior chain - The bottoms of the feet (including the toes), the achilles tendon, the calves, the glutes and the tissues that run along the entire length of the spine may also feel tight if your hamstrings are tight. Even if they don't, warming up and opening up all of these muscles will help the hamstrings.