In a yoga class I attended tonight, someone asked about hamstrings. Why are they called that? they wanted to know. Here’s a bit of trivia: It used to be that ham, when it was done being pig, was hung by the tendons in the back of the knee. The tendons looked like thick strings hanging there on the hook, hence the name hamstrings.
I was the only one in the class who knew that story. Here’s another one- Did you know that the word muscle comes from a Greek word meaning mouse? It is said that muscles were so named because they look like little mice crawling under the skin when they move. (eww, was my thought when I first heard that) .
There’s more irrelevant trivia like that floating around in my brain. Probably an occupational hazard that comes back to haunt old anatomy teachers. I’ve forgotten quite a bit of what I used to teach, but I remember these things….?
At any rate, hamstrings were the focus of yoga class tonight. I have naturally short hamstrings. When I first began doing yoga, oh bunches of years ago, I was in a class sitting in staff pose, and the teacher instructed us to fold forward at the hips into a forward fold. I did, but oddly enough, my forward fold and my staff pose looked identical. My hamstrings did not lengthen in the least.
Since then, my flexibility has increased significantly, but it remains true for me that to get any real length in the backs of my legs, I need to work with them on a regular basis.
I recently ran across a relatively new blog called the Daily Bandha that has wonderful posts about anatomy and physiology in the context of yoga. Definitely worth checking out if you want to understand the more scientific side of asana.
I mention it here because they recently had a great post on how to lengthen your hamstrings using a technique called PNF, short for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. Don’t let the big long name scare you off. This is a relatively simple technique that can be powerfully effective. I won’t describe it here, because they have done such a fabulous job of it there.
So go ahead, give the blog a read. And don’t just read, try it out! See if you get a bit more length in your hamstrings.
Just remember: be gentle with yourself, and never force it. Flexibility will come, but it never comes all at once. Remember ahimsa (non violence) is a practice applied to your body as well as in the rest of your life. Ease in to your edge; don’t push into pain. Use your breath, trust your instinct.
“Do your practice and all is coming.” ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois