Avoid Hamstring Tendonitis “Yoga Butt”

YOGA STRETCH FOR HAMSTRINGS

HAMSTRING TENDONITIS:

AVOID HAMSTRING PAIN “YOGA BUTT”

HAMSTRINGS

A Different Approach To Stretching The Hamstrings

Stretching the hamstrings provides many benefits – including my personal favorite, low back relief! In the pursuit of flexibility, many of us accidentally go too far in our practice. It can be challenging to gauge where our limits are, and sometimes we reach them. Rather than feeling frustrated or ashamed about hurting yourself in yoga, just direct your attention to healing and maintaining health. In my early years as a yogi, I tore my hamstring attachment near the sit bone and with some diligence healed it up pretty quickly. However, I didn’t quite learn how to practice in a way that would maintain its integrity and as a result, I tore it once again. After my second tear I finally decided to find another way. In this video, I go over the techniques I use to maintain hamstring integrity at the sit bone attachment point (just under the gluteus Maximus, buttocks muscles). The idea is to become aware of the fact that most of us use gravity to stretch because quite simply it is easier to completely let go and not put in any effort. First I want to make the point that there is nothing wrong with passive stretching, and allowing gravity do the work for you. However, it is important to understand that the movement patterns in your body will only become stronger – whether they’re good or bad. Whenever you let your body do what it wants to do it will always default to patterns. Same is true with the mind, which is why meditation is such a powerful practice in re-wiring the patterns of our mind. Normally a thought arises and we react, neurons fire in a predetermined pattern, and this elicits a response in either a sequence of thoughts or actions. For example, someone in the middle of a city street raises their hand, your mind probably thinks “oh they are looking for a taxi.” This is how the mind holds patterns. The body holds patterns in the exact same way. If we simply stretch without activating muscles, we will perpetuate our patterns. If our patterns serve us then this is absolutely OK, but if they do not, then we could easily cause injury.

Facilitated Stretching For the Hamstrings

The approach I like for the majority of my practice is active engagement. This means finding the muscles that tend to be asleep and weak and activating them. This also includes something called facilitated stretching. This refers to the process of activating the muscle or muscle group that is stretching. So in the case of a forward fold where the hamstrings are stretching, a facilitated stretch would involve activating the hamstrings. This is not an easy task. Most of us are only familiar with activating a muscle in order to create movement, but what if we activate the muscles and do not move?  The benefit of this approach is that you do not have to sacrifice your flexibility while you re-pattern your body’s responses. Most people actually find a major increase of range of motion when using the facilitated stretch technique, because it “tricks” the muscle into a deep relaxation effect when you release the engagement – this is also known as PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). For most people, this method is safer and more effective. The one thing to be mindful of is the amount of muscle activation you use. I suggest 15-30% engagement of the muscle that is stretching. If you engage muscles too strongly in a lengthened position you could transmit too much force to the joints, or run the risk of injuring parts of the muscle. Rather than intellectualizing what a facilitated stretch is, try practicing along with this video. If you are interested in practicing in this way, I highly recommend the workshop “Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em” as it is packed with this approach to flexibility. For a more in-depth study, check out the 12 class package called “The Breakthrough“.

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Reciprocal Inhibition

When the muscle group on one side of the joint contracts, the opposing muscle group will relax. This happens naturally, but can be used as a technique for stretching.

 
beginner yoga hamstring stretch

Step 1 - Align Thigh Bones

Align the femur bones so they are vertical. There are many reasons for this. One reason is that the head of the femur (thigh bone) is most congruent in this position, meaning it has the most amount of space for the range of motion to occur. The other reason I do this is to put weight in the hands so that the leg muscles aren’t involuntarily engaging – kind of like starting from a blank canvas. Put more weight in your hands and you can bypass a lot of holding patterns that might exist. Lastly, by leaning forward two things will happen: you will lengthen the calf muscles, and later on when you place the hands on the ground, your calves will activate in order to stop you from falling forward. This becomes a facilitated stretch for the calves without you having to even think about it.

hamstring stretch with low back strength for chair yoga

Step 3: Lift Sit Bone

Lifting the sit bones requires two muscle groups to activate; hip flexors and low back muscles. The low back muscles (Q.L, the Erector group)  will arch the lumbar spine (low back) and pull the pelvis into anterior tilt (forward fold) which will lengthen the hamstrings upward away from where they attach at the back of the knees. The hip flexors will do the same with the added benefit of reciprocal inhibition (relaxing the hamstrings). This step, with hands on the chair, is what stretches the hamstrings without gravity. It is important to understand that you have a responsibility to observe the level of stretch sensation in the hamstrings while you do this. If your low back and hip flexors are strong you may overpower the hamstrings and cause an overstretch. For this reason, it is beneficial to only go about 60% of the way into the stretch sensation.

hamstring stretch with internal rotation of hips

Step 2: Internal Rotation

Pressing the backs of the legs apart will initiate internal rotation of the thigh bones. When moving into a forward fold, if the objective is to lengthen the hamstrings, it is incredibly helpful to rotate the thigh bones inward because it initiates the tip of the pelvis forward (anterior tilt). With this cue, the typical muscles that activate are the abductor group (gluteus medium, gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia lattae, aka T.F.L). Activating the T.F.L, in particular, is helpful because it is also a hip flexor and internal rotator. Activating the hip flexors and internal rotator reciprocally inhibits the external rotators of the buttocks. Reciprocal Inhibition simply means when you activate a muscle group, the opposing muscle group relaxes and lengthens – this is the opposite concept of facilitated stretching.

chair yoga hamstring stretch

Step 4: Facilitated Stretch

Lastly, to maintain the integrity of the hamstrings we will want to activate them. The ability to engage a muscle regardless of the depth of stretch or length of the muscle is one way to determine the health of the muscle. If you simply work on flexibility but the muscle loses its ability to contract along the way, you run the risk of acute injury or chronic pain. The body is a system, which means that a loss of hamstring integrity could show up as chronic pain in the sacrum, low back, or even neck. Quite often in modern yoga, there is an emphasis on lengthening the hamstrings, and not much on strengthening them, this approach supports both and is why I practice this way and why I teach this method to flexibility. The action I call for in step 4 is to isometrically tuck your tailbone. That means to try to press the sit bones down toward the heels in order to activate the muscles, but maintain the structural alignment of the pelvis (anterior tilt)

yoga backbend techniques: 12 classes [backbend technique to relieve back pain "bowing the spine']

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Many Methods

 

I personally have seen the massive benefits of facilitated stretching, as well as reciprocal inhibition in my practice and in my students over the last 10+ years. However, there are times where I find passive stretching or even holistic stretching (bouncing) to be more appropriate. Use this approach as one of many tools for yourself, learn it well, and observe the benefits and drawbacks, then you will be able to decide when it is appropriate for you and when it is best to go another way. If you have questions or something to share, please feel free to comment at the bottom of the page. Please share this post if you found it useful, and for a full practice using this approach, check out Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em

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Backbends and the Glutes

Backbends and the Glutes

Should I engage my glutes in a backbend?

Should I Engage my Buttocks in a Backbend?

In the yoga world, there are many opinions on alignment and what muscles “should” or “should not” be engaged. One of the common questions I get is, “Should I engage my buttocks in Wheel pose or bridge pose?” I decided it’s time to address this question with a video response to help clarify the anatomy behind the posture. 

In the video, I go over the anatomy of Full Wheel aka Upward Facing Bow or Urdva Danurasana. The action at the hip joint in this pose is called extension. This is when your thigh bones go back behind your pelvis; think of the back leg in a crescent lunge pose.   The muscles that create extension at the hip are the Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings, and Adductor Magnus. The Gluteus Maximus is the big buttock muscle that most of us see as “The Butt.”  To easily answer the question of whether one should engage their buttocks or not when going into Urdva Danurasana, I would say yes of course. To be more specific, if you are trying to go into extension at the hip it is incredibly useful to employ the muscles that create that action. 

“Wait, why have people told me to relax my butt??”  The origin of this cue was based on the fact that so many people splay out their knees, which is a result of external rotation at the hip. One of the muscles that create external rotation at the hip is the Gluteus Maximus…yes, it performs both actions. So by trying to relax that muscle, you may not externally rotate as much. The issue with that is that the over external rotation is mostly a problem if you are using the deep external rotators of the buttocks – this could throw off the sacrum and cause the pinch in your upper pelvis, hip, or low back. 

My personal suggestion is simply to turn on your internal rotators, which are your outer gluteus muscles (gluteus medius and minimus), TFL, and Adductors (inner thigh muscles). Don’t worry, you don’t need to know these muscles in order to internally rotate your thighs. All you need to do is focus on pressing down through your inner heels and big toe mound. By focusing on pressing into your inner feet, you will undoubtedly turn on your internal rotators without compromising the extension at the hip that is gained from the Gluteus Maximus engagement.

With my mentorship students, I break down the difference between what I call Balancing Action and Fundamental Action. Knowing the difference makes it so much easier to know what is appropriate for yourself in any given posture. A Fundamental Action is any action that is required for the posture to exist. In the case of Urdva Danurasana, the Fundamental Action at the hips is Extension. Without the action of extension, your hips wouldn’t leave the ground. A balancing action is any action that is the opposite of the fundamental action, or the opposite of what the tendency is when creating the fundamental action. In this case, when creating the fundamental action of extension at the hips, the tendency will be to let the knees splay out to the sides (external rotation at the hips). A balancing action, in this case, is Internal Rotation at the hips which would keep the knees straight forward. Just to clarify, the direction of your knees isn’t the direct concern, it’s more about what is happening in the hips and sacrum that is of importance. 

Can you do Urdva Danurasana with externally rotated legs? Yes of course! Will it be good for you? That’s a great question, and dependent upon so many factors in your body. My suggestion is until you have a deep relationship with your body and know what is a good sensation and what is not good, simply stick to the balancing action of internal rotation at the thighs by pressing the inner heels down. 

I recognize this conversation is quite technical. If this was challenging to follow, simply watch the video to gain the visual aid as well. Enjoy strengthening and engaging your buttocks! If you are interested in learning more about techniques and anatomy, let’s set up a call to see if the Mentorship Mastery Program is right for you!

Hip extension

In order to go into hip extension in poses like Urdva Danurasana (full wheel pose) you will need to recruit your hip extensor muscles, which are located in the buttocks. By relaxing these muscles you are relying on your back muscles to do the heavy lifting.

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3 Steps to Activate the Buttocks

Step 1 - form The Arch

Forming the arch first is recommended prior to placing more force and pressure on the spine and hips. If you don’t feel a sense of spaciousness while lying on the ground, you certainly won’t feel it when applying more pressure. Often the inability to activate the transverse abdominals correlates with a lack of spaciousness between the vertebrae of the spine. Transverse abdominals cause the vacuum effect in the abdomen and typically make it easier to lengthen the solar plexus away from the pubic bone which is indicated with the smaller arrow. The larger arrow is to call your attention to the evenness of the curve. Most people place their backbend in just the mobile parts of their spine and doing so will simply exacerbate your patterns. Try to put less effort into the mobile areas, and more in the stiff areas.

Step 2: extension at the Hip

When doing postures like bridge and full wheel, this action is crucial in that it is what creates the pose. Without activating the buttocks you will be relying on your back muscles alone to lift your hips up and as a result, you will likely cause too much compression in the spine. This doesn’t mean that activating the buttock will be a magic pill but it will help to disperse the pressure. In addition, the buttock muscles are super important to our posture when walking, standing, and even sitting. Maintaining strength and awareness of what they do in the body is crucial to health and longevity. To make step three easier, it is helpful to think of pressing down through the inner heels however, if that feels too challenging, simply press the outer heels down first and then work step 3 second.

Step 3: Balancing Action

Internally rotating the thigh bones will balance out the external rotation that happens when pressing down into the heels. When pressing down you are activating the hip extensors, and since the extensors of the hip are also external rotators, the thighs will tend to externally rotate. There is nothing inherently wrong with this however, it could cause over-activation of some of the deep external rotators causing unnecessary tension in the hips or sacrum. Some people will also experience sacral pressure as a result of the force placed on the S.I (sacral-iliac) joint from extension and external rotation. By activating the internal rotators you can balance out the hip extension and maintain neutral rotation and likely find more ease in the S.I joint.

Releasing the Buttocks

One of the issues people experience after activating their buttocks is gripping sensation. This often happens when the muscles are weak and trying to find any way to engage. This goes away as the muscles get stronger but the easiest way to release this is a posture like pigeon pose to stretch these muscles after backbends. Pigeon pose is also wonderful in that it doesn’t overly round the spine after backbending which could otherwise be dangerous on the intervertebral discs.

Read Pigeon Without Knee Pain

Gravity: Not All Backbends Are the Same

The action of activating the buttock muscles here is most important in bridge and wheel pose because of the relationship to gravity. If we were doing something like bow pose it may still be beneficial to activate the buttocks, but chances are it won’t have the same effect and might even cause more compression on the spine. In that pose, the quads are typically more important because your hands are connected to your feet. When grabbing your feet for this posture, you will have activated the hamstrings and buttock already and the work in this posture will be lengthening the arch and finding an even disbursement of extension in the spinal column. This doesn’t mean you should not engage the buttocks, but in this case, your hands holding your feet are the cause for hip extension. For now use the tips in this blog for postures like full wheel and bridge, as well as the one leg up variations.

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Get 2 full hours with Matt Giordano focusing on the techniques that increase the range of motion in your hips and provide long-lasting freedom. You will have immediate, unlimited access, and can enjoy the benefits today!

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