Hamstrings play a major part in your yoga practice. Your hamstrings are the muscles located at the back of your thighs and the ones that allow you to bend forwards (or not) from your hip (joint) and bend your lower leg (backwards).
We talk about hamstrings, plural, because there are three muscles:
- Biceps Femoris
So why do your hamstrings play such a big role in your forward bends, while they are muscles of the leg? Because of the place where they are attached to your skeleton. All three muscles have their attachment (origin) on your sitting bones (ischial tuberosity). Your Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus attach on your tibia (shinbone); the biggest bone in your lower leg. Your Biceps Femoris attaches on your fibula; the thin bone (and most lateral) one of your lower leg. (See: main bones of the human skeletal system.) When you bend forward, your pelvis have to tilt. To do so, your hamstrings have to lengthen, because they are actually pulling your pelvis straight. If they are tight, they won’t let your pelvis tilt forward very far and they will restrict your forward bend.
Pulling you up straight out of a forward bend, is only one of the functions you hamstrings perform. Although they are just assisting in this. Your gluteal muscles do most of the work in this movement. The others functions are:
- flexion of your knee joint (bending your knee)
- extension of your upper leg (moving it backwards)
- lower leg rotation
If you want to move into bow pose (laying on your belly) you have to bend your knees to be able to grab them with your hands. Your hamstrings are the muscles that will bend your knees. If you want to lift up your leg, laying flat on your belly as well, for locust or in AcroYoga in front bird your hamstrings are helping your gluteal muscles to do the trick.
Your biceps femoris rotates your lower leg outwards, when your knee is bend, whereas your semimembranosus and semitendinosus are rotating your lower leg inwards (when your knee is bend). You turn your foot inward in a pose like Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose). You turn your feet outwards in Goddess pose.
The muscles that perform (most of the) opposite actions are your Quadriceps and your Iliopsoas. More about them in another blog. Muscles that ‘work together’ with your hamstrings are your gluteus maximus, sartorius, gracilis and gastrocnemius. More about them in another blog as well. I just like to mention them here, so you get familiar with their names.
Hamstrings in yoga
We already looked at how your hamstrings can restrict you in your yoga practice. Let’s take a look at how we can ‘put them to work’. In Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog) you are stretching your Bicep Femoris. In Supta Padangusthasana B your are stretching your Semimenbranosus and Semitendinosus. If you bend your knee you engage your hamstrings, like you do in Bakasana.
I hope this gives you a little bit more clarity about the roll your hamstrings play in your practice. If you have any questions, just put them in the comments below.
Have fun, be safe!
If you like this stuff, keep an eye on this website. We have an online yoga anatomy course for beginners coming up.
If there is too much anatomical language in this blog for you, take a look at the blog about anatomical language I wrote before. All terms are explained in there.