August 2006 Yoga Teacher Training Newsletter
Yoga Instructor Training: Hamstrings
By Gopi Rao
During your yoga instructor certification course, you will learn about many muscles and body parts. However, the leg biceps area gets more attention in professional sports than in asana practice. The hamstrings, or more correctly, the hamstring muscles, are the posterior thigh muscles that begin at the hip and stretch down to the knee. This muscle group is primarily responsible for bending the knee and for extending the leg at the hip.
In people who are not physically active, muscle injuries in the back of the upper leg are rarely prohibitive, since these muscles actually do not figure too much in daily sedentary activities like sitting. However, a hamstring injury in an athlete can be devastating, even career-ending, because of how important this muscle group is for running and jumping.
Weak hamstrings, despite their importance to high impact or agility activities, are surprisingly common in individuals, even among athletes who lift weights. Some doctors attribute the under-developed muscles in the back of the upper leg to a focus on core and anterior muscle groups.
Since hamstring injuries in the relatively active can be extremely painful and chronic at best, those looking to rehabilitate or prevent injury often utilize yoga practice.
Yoga asana practice does two things related to hamstrings well. First, most pose series focus on stretching, strengthening and lengthening the muscle groups in balance with each other. The idea behind this practice is that the anterior thigh muscles would not get worked out without also working on the posterior thigh muscles. This ensures that the quadriceps are not over-developed and compensating for the weaker hamstring muscles, but that each muscle group of the leg is developed together, thereby preventing injuries.
Second, whereas weight lifters must perform certain isolated exercises to address hamstring development, yoga asanas naturally stretch this muscle group and strengthen them through body-weight practices.
There is a wide variety of poses that yogis can perform to strengthen their hamstrings. Yoga postures that stretch the back of the leg are an excellent start, including such basics as downward facing dog and triangle pose.
Yoga teachers can also utilize more active asanas like the warrior variations or the sun salutation series. These Yoga poses both stretch and strengthen the hamstring muscles as they require length and balance within the pose.
Even more relaxed Yoga exercises can work the hamstrings. Seated forward bends, for example, require a straight leg and a bend at the hip that exerts pressure on the posterior muscle group.
If a hamstring is too tight, a Yoga practitioner will have trouble touching the floor in certain asanas, and consistent yoga training can eventually enable the individual more flexibility and deeper, healthier stretches.
© Copyright 2006 – Paul Jerard / Aura Publications
Yoga: Three Reasons You Should Not do Locust
By Subodh Gupta
Locust – (Salabhasana)
When this pose is demonstrated, it resembles a locust (grasshopper) moving its rear ends up and down; hence the name.
Locust is one of the backward bend asanas usually performed in a sequence; first the Cobra is practiced, than the Locust followed by the Bow. Locust is a posture which turns the body out expanding the chest to face the world. It is a very stimulating, powerful and dynamic asana; one of the most demanding, but also, one of the most unnatural postures in Hatha yoga.
The Locust pose requires the muscles of the lower back, abdomen and legs to work with each other to achieve the lift in the lower body.
Before attempting the full Locust try to do the easier version (Half Locust), which involves lifting only one thigh at a time instead of both of them simultaneously.
As a beginner you may not have enough strength to make any movement of lifting the thighs up, but you will still benefit from the effort.
As an intermediate student, you will be able to lift your legs higher than the beginner student, but it will require more strength in the arms, forearms, and shoulders.
As an advanced student, you have to be careful not to hurt yourself by falling out of the posture or by trying to toss yourself up into the full pose before developing sufficient strength and control.
To maintain this asana, the intense whole-body muscular effort is needed.
Locust serves as a counter pose to Sitting Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), Plough (Halasana) and Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) which bends the spine forward. This asana greatly compliments the Cobra (Bhujangasana), lifting the lower part of the body rather then the upper, but it is more difficult pose because it is less natural and more strenuous to lift the lower extremities (legs) from a prone position (lying face downwards) than to lift the head and shoulders.
Locust brings a large supply of blood to the kidneys – cleansing and regenerating them. It strengthens the shoulders, arms, pelvic organs and lower back muscles. It tones the muscles of the abdomen, thighs and legs. It tones the sciatic nerves, providing relief for people with backache, mild sciatica, and slipped disc (as long as the condition is not serious).
However beneficial the Locust is, there are some health conditions in which the Locust should be avoided.
Three important reasons (out of many) not to do Locust:
Person with High Blood Pressure is better to avoid this pose.
As the asana puts lots of pressure on the abdomen, it is strongly advisable for pregnant women not to attempt this asana.
Anyone suffering from Peptic Ulcer, should not do this posture.
Issued in the interest of people practicing Hatha Yoga by Subodh Gupta, Yoga Expert based in London.
Mr. Subodh Gupta, a Corporate Yoga Trainer has conducted more than 500 workshops on Yoga and Stress Management. He has been interviewed by various TV channels in India and London.