Advanced Basics Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 5

Hamstrings in Forward Folds

30 min - Practice


The hamstrings provide strong, controlled support in our forward folds. We pull together what we have learned about the core, ribs, pelvis, and now hamstrings into our explorations of Pyramid, Standing Splits, and Krounchasana (Heron Pose). You will feel supple and elongated.
What You'll Need: Mat, Block (2)

About This Video


Read Full Transcript

Hello and welcome back to the yoga mat. Great to be here with you. In this lesson we're going to be focused on forward bends and we're going to merge together some of the ideas and concepts from the previous lessons. Those being taming the ribs and the core strength and pelvic setting, pelvic position. And we're going to add some strength of the hamstrings to these poses. I've got two blocks with me for some poses coming up. They might be a good idea for you as well if you happen to have them, but I'll offer some modifications as well. We're going to start lying down with knees bent and let's just take a minute here to relax, take a few breaths, bring your attention into your body. We're going to start with a familiar movement from previous lessons to bring the attention to the core muscles and the movement of the pelvis. Let's start with the pelvic tucks by pushing the waistband down into the yoga mat. And I do want to make that distinction with this action. We pelvic tuck, press the waistband into the floor and release. If I just say pelvic tucks, it tends to grip your buttocks, grip the glutes and press the legs. But if I say push your waistband down, I think you'll find it'll bring more attention to the deep abdominal muscles. So let's do a few rounds of that together. Press the waistband into the floor and release, waistband into the floor and release. To help you get an even better feel, if you grab onto the sides of your mat and push your arms towards your feet, now try that pressure of the waistband down. You might even feel more connected to those muscles. Let's try about three more. Waistband presses the floor, relax, two and one more. Then you can let go of the mat. We'll draw the left leg into the chest and wrap the hands around the knee. Press your right foot into the floor so that your bottom comes up off the mat and you create a round back and let it go. Same thing, same side. Push your right foot into the floor, lift your hips off the mat. In this action, we'll keep doing these together. In this action, what I'm hoping to do is bring your attention to the work of the back of your right leg, the hamstrings, the hip muscles, the glutes. We're going to be using those muscles in the forward bends today. One more and then let's change sides. Right knee comes into the chest, wrap your hands around the knee, use your left leg to press the hips up off the floor and let it back down. We're curling the lower back up to the middle back and release back down. Left hamstring, the glute muscles activating and releasing. One more please. And then let it go. We'll come back to the left leg. This time, wrap your hands around the back of the hamstring, interlace your fingers and the right leg will set down to the floor. Here, we're going to press the left leg as close to straight as possible right up to the ceiling and bend again. Press the leg up to the ceiling and you might end up here. That's perfectly fine.

And again, all the way up to your level and back down. Let's do one more and hold it at your limit and we'll add something to it. With a breath in and a breath out, lift your head towards your knee, curl in, press your left leg toward the floor. How high can you come up? Can you come all the way up to sitting? Let's try a few and see how it goes. Bend the knee to sit back down. We're going to curl our way back down. Two more. Press your leg all the way up, curl your head towards your knee and you press. It's the hamstrings and the curling of your trunk, hamstring strength, curling of the trunk. You come up to your height and if you don't come all the way up today, tomorrow's another day. We'll keep building that strength and mobility and we'll try one more. Press up to your level, head up to the knee and then the hamstrings pushing against the hands. Really strong press, strong press, strong press. Come up to your level and then roll it back down and release the leg. We'll switch legs. Grab behind the right leg, interlock your fingers, left leg down to the floor. Press your right leg up to your limit and bend again. All of this warming up the hip joints, getting the hamstrings, the glutes alive and awake. A couple more presses and then we'll hold at your limit. Bring the head up toward the knee and now we're going to push the right leg into the hands. Press hard, press hard, press hard. Come up to your height and then come back down. Now if you need to, just because you want to get all the way up, you haven't made it up yet, you can use a little momentum, a little rocking and push to come up. You can use that as well. Let's do one more together. Push to your height, a breath in, breath out, lift your head up to your knee and press, press, press, press and roll back down. Good. From there, both knees into the chest, cross your shins and give yourself a little hug. Let your bottom lift and we're going to roll to sitting and a cross-legged forward fold. Let's keep warming up the hips. Now if you find that your pose is somewhere around here, you could use a block right underneath your hands. Make a little stack here for your head. If you can go further, take it a little further.

Walk the hands back, we'll switch the legs, other leg in front and come forward to your capacity. And the trick with yoga sometimes is realizing that your body doesn't have to look like any other body here in the poses. You see my body come down this far doesn't mean your body has to or perhaps you can go even further here than where I can. The trick is to bring the attention inside and learn to feel and work inside your body. And then walk the hands back to you. We'll come over the legs into a downward-facing dog, the first dog of the day. Curl under your toes, raise your knees. Let's take a minute to pedal out the legs. While you're pushing one heel down, bend the other knee. And I always like to bring a little attention to the arms so that the bones of the arms are lifted up to help support the shoulder joint and to help open up the chest. A couple more pedals and let's hold the dog pose for just a moment. Come down to your knees, walk the hands back if you need to. Let's just do a couple cat and cow. Mobilize the spine. Exhale, spine goes up toward the ceiling. Inhale, spine drops down toward the floor. Two more. Exhale, spine goes up. Inhale, spine drops down. Roll under your toes. Let's come back into a dog pose. Shoulder bones, arm bones lifting. Walk your feet together. Raise your heels and now right leg up to the ceiling. In this pose, I want to bring attention to the hamstrings here. The right hamstring is what is lifting the leg. The left hamstring, we use it to hold the left buttock bone toward the heel a little. There's an energetic connection there from your sitz bone to the back of the heel. Touch the right foot down. Drop the heels a moment. Lift the heels again and let's go to the second leg. Left leg up.

All the while, arm bones still lifted. We feel the strength of the left hamstring helping to raise the leg and that slight connection, contraction of the right hamstring holding the sitz bone to the heel. If I don't do that, my back will dip and I'll overstretch the hip. Touch the left foot back down. Drop the knees. Easy child's pose. You can fold the arms to rest the head. Take a few restorative breaths here and let's meet once again in a downward facing dog. Tuck under the toes, lift the hips. Arm bones supporting all the way up to the shoulders. Walk your feet together. Lift the heels and step your right foot between the hands. Then let's set up that hamstring connection in this pose. To do that, we'll do a slight pelvic tuck. Notice I use the word slight. Otherwise, if we do a super duper tuck, I end up all crunched up here and we don't want that. Just a little tuck. Roll the waistband back until you feel that sitting bone is being held by the hamstring toward the back of the knee. Then we're going to push the right leg towards straightness. You might make it a little bit. You might make it all the way to straight. Bend the knee again. Slight tuck of the pelvis connected to the hamstring and push back. Aiming at straightness. You might make it there. You might not.

Don't worry. It's more about getting connected to this experience of the hamstring than it is about making the leg go straight. It's this connection in the hamstring. Do one more push with me. It's this connection in the hamstring that keeps everything safe. The knee joint, the hip, the low back. It helps us build tremendous strength in the legs. Step back to a plank. A little tuck of the pelvis to connect to your abdominal strength. Let's come all the way down to the floor. Point your toes. Easy baby cobra. This is just for a little restorative breath here.

Release the cobra. Tuck your toes. Let's go to dog pose. Arm bones supporting upwardly. Feet come together. Raise your heels. Left foot between the hands. The same work here. Slightest of pelvic tucks until you feel the connection of the hamstring and hip muscles underneath the left leg. Then press back towards a straight leg. Bend the knee again. Slight tuck to reconnect to the hamstring. Press back. Bend again. We'll do two more.

Press and bend. One more. Press and bend. Bend. Plank pose. Slight tuck of the pelvis. Connect to your abdominals and come all the way down. Point your toes. And easy baby cobra. Release. We'll go to a downward facing dog. Soften your head. Soften your neck. Arm bones lifting.

And then lift the heels. Let's walk to the front of the mat. Coming up into mountain pose. And the same work we've been doing in downward dog and even the lunges we can do in tadasana where we gently tuck the waistband back. And I want to use those words specifically the waistband back versus if I say tuck your butt or tuck your tail tuck your pelvis we go right to the glutes. Instead the waistband gently back until the feeling you're looking for is you feel some musculature some muscularity here the hamstrings start to engage with that action in place hold that and raise your arms what we're looking for is a cycle of energy where the front of the body is lifting and the back of the body is grounding down and then release your hands step the feet a little apart waistband back a little just a little bit so we feel the hamstrings are there for us we're going to come into half uttanasana shins hands on shins and practice this with me for just a moment if you let go of the hamstrings and push your waistband toward the floor you'll feel such a sort of an aggressive pull on the hamstrings it just doesn't feel right and often we associate that with I'm stretching but what I think is happening for a lot of us is we're overstretching so instead waistband just a little bit up towards the ceiling now I feel my hamstrings have got me I feel the strength there the control and it helps me lift and open the low back just a little bit and come back up to tadasana a little rest we'll do that one more time fold into half uttanasana half forward bend gently tucked down with the sitz bones and now if you've got the blocks with you we'll set the blocks out for parsvottanasana we'll have the right foot forward and the left leg back blocks alongside the right ankle let's use the same ideas here waistband a little up engagement in the hamstrings from sitz bone to the right heel hold there and then you can bend the elbows and take the trunk down I've always got that connection from the back of the leg to the heel front of the body the taming of the ribs we can allow the ribs to go toward the hips and making just the slightest circle up and in if you'd like to take your hands all the way to the floor if that's good for you please do and then inhale to lift out of the pose a little hands can come to blocks and step forward right leg back parsvottanasana two straight legs gently tip the waistband up towards the ceiling feel the connection from left sitting bone to heel keep that connection as you begin to bend the elbows and come to your level hands to the floor if it's okay with you or on the blocks is perfectly fine as well to complete the pose front ribs gently rolling in back of the body can round take a few breaths and inhale to lift up a little hands on the blocks and let's bend the left knee for just a moment you can take the blocks out from underneath and we're going to turn to the long edge of the mat for prasarita paratanasana in this pose we use the same ideas gently lift your waistband a little now both sides both hamstrings reaching towards their respective heels keep that energy alive as we bend the elbows and take the top of the head down so every inch that I go down I feel I want to feel that engagement that support system if it works for you to take the crown and the head down please do holding there to continue to experience that connection from sits bones to heel on each leg feel the strength that that provides and then lift up walk your hands forward to come out of this pose we're going to bring heel toe heel toe heel toe heel toe and use the hamstrings to pull all the way up to tadasana join the legs together we'll take a completely different type of pose now but use the same technology here and that is half bound lotus take the left leg out to the side draw the leg up and capture the left foot tuck it into your right hip then for me my preference is to hold underneath the foot I just feel like I get a better lock there let's do what we know waistband gently back right hamstring connecting from sits bone to heel and then with that action you can see it doing working here this knee is pumped down front of the pelvis up that gives me the strength to hold this pose and it helps this hip to open and then release we'll do the second side but I'm going to turn to the side so you can see how the mechanics work from a different perspective right leg up catch the leg and with the left hand bring the foot in against your left hip allow the right leg to drop down and then we'll do the work again waistband gently back then I feel the hip muscles working the hamstring is now alive and here's that action I'll make it a little bit more pronounced so you can see it here it comes one more time waistband hip muscles opens the leg and then release we'll step to the front of the mat and work our way back into dog pose arms up up full forward bend let's take a moment here connected the hamstrings you can touch the calves and draw yourself in with an exhale hands to the mat plank pose with abdominal support exhale halfway down we're going to go chaturanga dandasana upward facing dog lift the waistband curl over to down dog and then lift the heels we'll take another step forward into tadasana come up for just a minute and we'll take a challenge pose with everything we've been learning today stretch the arms up over your head fold forward you can here take your hands to blocks if it works for you if you'd like a little extra support or hands to the floor is also great we're going to step the right foot back just a little bit onto the tippy toes then tip the body forward as you raise the right leg up in this work we're still going to keep the connection from the left hamstring all the way down to the heel the right hand captures the back of your left leg take the trunk into the leg not down to the floor but into the leg and release we'll do the second side left tippy toes back connect the hamstring to the heel on the right leg and begin to tip forward as you raise the left leg it's this resistance here at the hamstring that allows the power of the pose to complete the pose move your chest into the leg not down to the floor and then release we'll go straight back into a plank chaturanga up dog waistband back and down dog and lower the knees and this is a great opportunity to use a block to help protect the knees i can't sit all the way flat on the floor on my knees i need a block so i'm going to bring that into play we'll sit on top of the block and tuck back the right leg you can see here now my knee is happy because i've got a little extra space use it if you need it for crown chasana start with me in this position with the right leg tuck back and the left knee in in this pose we're going to start to let the pelvis roll backward a little so that we're on more of the sacrum and the back of the sitting bones then we bring the left leg up off the floor you can hold on behind the knee you can hold on at the shin you can hold on all the way to the foot and our challenge is to bring the leg as close to straight as the body will allow again my pelvis is tipped back so that i can bring the leg up without a terrible aggressive feeling in the hamstring and we can still get very deep into the pose take a breath in bring the chest toward the leg and the leg toward the chest chest toward the leg leg toward the chest and gently release lean to the left take the right leg out we'll do the second side left leg tucks back and the right leg drawn in first move if you hang on to the knee it'll give you an opportunity to roll back a little bit like we've been doing waistband back i'm more on the sacrum now more on the back of the buttock bones take the right leg up hold where you feel you need to hold showing some options here all the way to the foot is also another option a breath in gentle waistband tuck a couple more breaths it's okay to sit back on the pelvis here it's okay if you're right on the tip of the sitting bone you're gonna feel a really really strong over pull in the hamstring and hip chest toward the leg leg toward the chest and then we'll release again we'll take the left leg out time to get rid of the block and we'll do one more forward bend together two legs extend it out we're going to gently draw back the skin underneath your bottom and here's our position to work from as we've done before i'm going to start with just the very gentlest of waistband tucks you can see me doing that here then coming forward you can hold on to the calves you could hold on to the thighs you could hold on to the feet take a breath in exhale move the chest toward the legs the more you pull forward the more you get that aggressive feel in the hamstrings find a perfect balance for you and then draw the body down on remember at the terminal end of the pose where you're really working in the ribs have to gently tuck and the top of the chest has to come toward the legs and that's going to give the back a rounded look front of the body is well contracted back of the body is open elongated there's space there for blood to move through the body through the muscles and refresh those areas and then release hands on the floor we're going to tuck the legs and lie down on the mat take a minute on your back to recover you can wobble your legs a little left and right arms can relax on the floor a few more times swaying your legs a little left and little right nice way to release the back if there's any tension there coming to center we're going to do a counter pose known as the bridge we've done this one before we'll start with a gentle press of the waistband into the mat I love holding on to the mat gives me a little extra strength and then raise your hips let's make this one nice and easy and just working on the cycle of energy that means waistband a little back allows me to feel that my body is opening toward the chest in the front engaging on the back side toward the knees and then come back down we'll do one more waistband back lift the hips and this time we'll tuck the shoulders just a little bit under to give a bit more height to the pose and I'll press my shins in a headward direction to add a little bit more lift to the pose and then release down release the shoulders knees to chest for a brief moment give yourself a hug and we'll set the legs down before you take the legs down flat gently tuck the shoulders a little let your arms relax to the floor take one leg down nice and softly set it down second leg down slowly relax the legs to their respective sides relax the legs completely so there's no more work happening there hands are completely soft shoulders soft tummy soft throat soft and eyes closed let your attention flow down to rest right in the center of your body so stay as long as you like and your shavasana and enjoy that quiet stillness if you're ready to come out of your pose you can wiggle your hands wiggle your toes bend your knees one at a time and turn softly onto your right side stay there for just a brief second and then use your hands to push yourself up to sitting thank you very much for joining me in this forward bend adventure learning how to use the hamstrings to support the poses keep all the joints happy and safe i look forward to seeing you in our next lesson together have a wonderful day


Christel B
3 people like this.
Appreciating what the hamstring beltline connection does and will try to remember to apply it consistently. Thank you for all of your insightful teaching.
Gilberto V
4 people like this.
I am really enjoying deepening my practice with this much needed series. As always , learning from Nathan is a pleasure. I hope there are many more episodes to come.
3 people like this.
funny how such a small cue can have such an impact on the underlying strength of a pose. thanks. :)
Nathan Briner
Matthew, isn’t it cool!? Once that strength and connection to the ground is felt it’s like the whole pose can open and unfold 🙏😊
Nathan Briner
Thank you very much Gilberto V!!
Nathan Briner
Christel B, I’d love to hear what you’re discovering with the hamstrings and the ideas in the lessons. 
David G-
1 person likes this.
I agree with all these comments. Felt renewed after shavasana, and practiced a few times already on a rainy day in NJ. My teachers Lydia Zamorano and Lyndsey Williams introduced me to the concept of tensegrity, practicing interoception through a geodesic lens. Or we build these poses step by step and then we become more three dimensional. I have just a basic understanding of this, but you probably know it better. 
Nathan Briner
(Edited by Moderator - Brittany Potter on October 3, 2022)
David G- it sounds like you are very much on the right path! Every time you step on the mat, more is learned. It’s really the nervous system learning itself through the mirror of an introspective practice 😇

You need to be a subscriber to post a comment.

Please Log In or Create an Account to start your free trial.

Footer Yoga Anytime Logo

Just Show Up

Over 2,900 yoga and meditation practices to bring you Home.

15-Day Free Trial