While deep stretches are incredible and the feeling of freeing the body can totally revitalize a person, it can be overdone. You notice your body is changing as you practice yoga right? Properly practiced Yoga is a balancing act to bring opposite aspects into harmony for sustained and enhanced perception. As you change from your practice, your practice should also probably change eventually. And not necessarily just to get deeper into poses.
As your bodies open up from your stretching there will come a point that you may be unhealthily de-stabilizing and injuring the tissues around your joints if you aren't doing the corresponding conditioning.
How many yogis do you know who have injured there hamstring? How many of you have knee pain or feel the knee joint as become loose. Maybe that knee cap jumps around and makes an audible click or snap as it jumps in and out of place.
Many of the common self-inflicted injuries from Hatha Yoga practice occur because a lack of strengthening and stabilizing exercises for the joints and connective tissues or because stretching exercises were just done too aggressively or excessively.
The majority of hatha yoga practitioners come from a mostly sedentary lifestyle with low level conditioning of the body. This means the tensile strength of connective tissues is already less than optimum. To go your deepest in stretches you may even need to do building of muscle and connective tissue first. A strong and thicker cord can stretch further without breaking.
This is somewhat addressed in open systems of yoga that encourage a wide variety of techniques and also by appropriate teaching that informs students of the sentiment of balanced practice and not over emphasizing enhanced RoM(range of motion) or any other singular attainment, besides the only which can be singular which is self - realization. However, two common injuries, which were mentioned above, tears of the hamstrings insertion on the ischial tuberosity(sit bone), and de-stabilized knee joints, are sometimes best addressed with exercises that are not "classical Hatha Yoga".
Activating the Hamstring
Classical Hatha Yoga really lacks in exercises that strengthen the hamstrings in dynamic motion of their main action, to flex the knee. What can you do to strengthen your hamstrings and avoid this common yoga injury or recuperate from it? The most direct approach is to use the leg curl machine at the gym.
What can you do more conveniently in your yoga space or with friends? One solution to work your hamstring harder is to perform the bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana) but with your feet on the block and placed much further away from your buttocks than usually done. This will move a lot of the effort to lift your pelvis coming from your hamstrings.
The image above is starting at a moderate distance. You can use about this distance as a warm up or if there is prior injury. Then continue to move the blocks further and further away to emphasize hamstring action.
You can also place something stable and thick between your heels and glutes and squeeze it or have a friend to create resistance, 99% stopping you from squeezing your heel to your glute. All exercises should be pain free. When the hamstring is more developed and healthy stronger exercises like the image above, right, can be done with a friend holding your ankles down. From a push up position, dynamically explode upwards to about midway and then use your hamstrings to stand upright completely. The stronger your hamstrings are the less explosion and distance upwards you will need for your hamstrings to pull your body back to upright.
Now what about the knee? Running, mindful squats, and simple contraction of the quadriceps femoris while the leg is straight all help to stabilize the knee. Running and squats also work the hamstrings, bonus. Running is especially good because of how it repetitively triggers the myotatic reflex. That is when a stretch in a muscle, usually from impact or contact with something, triggers muscular engagement. Imagine when running how when your foot contacts the ground there is a reaction in your leg to stabilize yourself from crumpling down or falling forward. The strengthens the knee. If you already have a knee injury full out running may not be a good idea but you could try a slow pace or just simply do small hops in place. Again, there should be no pain. Also, start very modestly and see how you feel the following day. It takes awhile for injury or aggravation of the knee joint to become apparent. In worst case injuries even these exercises will not be safe. If you don't have any knee pain, but you do recognize the knee is becoming unstable it may be time to go for a run a few times a week and hold of on some of your deeper hip rotation and quadricep stretches or just add in 3 sets of dynamic hops into your regular practice. Playing around with the range of how high you jump, and how deep you bend into your knees on the landing.
George is the founder of Sajeeva Yoga School, and a practitioner and teacher on the journey of exploring life, truth, purpose, and
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