Whether you're sporty or sedentary, your hamstrings can make trouble for you if you neglect them. Hamstrings get tight from certain types of exercise and from a lack of exercise. A strain can sideline you from your morning jog or make daily activities painful. Stretching is one way to injury-proof your hamstrings and performing yoga stretches with a slant board adds variety to your stretching routine.
The hamstrings are the three large muscles that run up the back of each thigh and allow you to lift your knee, push your leg back and stabilize your pelvis. When you sit all day, at school or in an office, those muscles tighten and shorten and eventually throw your back out of alignment. Your posture, flexibility and range of motion are compromised and you're at greater risk for injury. In addition, if your sport places stress on your quads, as running does, you build up the front of your thigh while leaving the hamstrings along the back weak and vulnerable. A pulled hamstring will have you hobbling, and strained lower-back muscles will make ordinary activities painful. Yoga stretching poses help to protect your hamstrings. Adding a slant board increases the dynamic or functional value of a stretch.
Modified Forward Bend
A slant board, made of foam or wood, rests at an angle on your sticky mat -- placing it on a mat prevents sliding. Warm up for five minutes or so to get blood flowing to your leg muscles. Then place your heels on the low end of the slant board, where the angle meets the floor. Stand far enough up so only the balls of your feet and your toes are on the mat. Squeeze a rolled-up towel between your knees to increase the stretch, reach up with your arms, hinge forward at the hips and place your palms flat on the floor, allowing your knees to bend. Lift your hips to feel the stretch along the hamstrings as your legs partly straighten. Hold for a few seconds, repeat the sequence at least five times, then place your toes on the board, heels and palms on the floor for a second stretch.
Seated at a Slant
Try a Seated Forward Bend with a little boost from gravity as you sit high on the slant board, feet at the low end. Press your heels into the board, sit tall, turn your thighs in slightly and keep them on the board as you hinge at the hips, bending forward and sliding your arms down the outside of your legs. Grasp your ankles if you can, or stay in the deepest stretch you can manage for one to three minutes, using your inhalation and exhalation to relax into the pose before coming up. As your hamstrings release, you will be able to sit farther down on the board, decreasing the helpful slant and increasing the stretch. Finish by swinging around, resting your hips and legs up the slant board with your torso supine on the mat, and relaxing in a mild inversion.
Benefits and Cautions
Varying the positions for hamstring stretches mimics the way you actually use the muscles. Hamstrings are functional, active muscles and using a slant board provides new ways to stretch them, and more challenges. But avoid moves like bouncing on the toe and heel lifts, or forcing a Forward Bend, to prevent a hamstring strain or tear. Skip the leg inversions on the board if you have high blood pressure, heart disease or glaucoma. Inversions slow your heartbeat, raise your blood pressure and increase pressure in your eyeballs. Instead, stretch your calves and hamstrings using the board and then relax in Savasana, flat on your yoga mat, post-stretching.
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