You’re only borrowing this body.
I’ve been going to yoga regularly for 2 months now which means I’m 1/6 of the way through my 1 year yoga challenge. Regularly means 5-6 times each week and trying to get into a variety of classes from alignment to detox, hatha and deep stretching. I know this has become a habit because when I take a day off to rest my body, it takes more effort to stay away from the studio than to go. But rest has it’s place too.
About three weeks ago I overstretched one of my hamstrings doing an intense parsvottanasana followed shortly by a tricky balancing pose on the same leg. In short, the hamstring got overworked and for the past few weeks, has been giving me all sorts of trouble. I lost about 80% of my flexibility on that leg and even the most basic poses have been difficult for me. For the past three weeks, I’ve been resting that leg, taking the time to stretch the muscle before and after class and before I go to bed, and really focusing on my alignment.
A Gradual Healing Process
A weak hamstring can quickly lead to a weak knee and travel down to a weak ankle. I didn’t want to damage any of my joints and I’m in this for the long run so taking my time and taking things easy on that muscle has been important to me. So I did some research on hamstring anatomy, asked all of my yoga instructors what I could do and did everything they told me. Here’s what I learned:
1. The hamstrings are made up of three muscles on the back of the thigh: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femurs. I had injured the semimembranosus which feels like it starts in the middle of the back of the thigh and ends on the inner side of the knee.
2. There are different types of muscle injuries. Strains, pulls, over stretching and muscle knots. Pulling a muscle tends to happen to cold muscles that aren’t warmed up correctly. Strains tend to happen to warm muscles that are pushed too far too fast. A muscle knot is when a muscle contracts but doesn’t completely relax after. And over stretching happens when you well, over stretch.
3. Because the muscle runs from the pelvis to the knee, you can rehabilitate it in stages, by stretching specific parts of the muscle. Pigeon pose to stretch the are of the muscle near the sacrum. A bent knee uttanasana to stretch the middle of the muscle through to the sacrum. A seated jaru sirsasana to stretch the middle to lower part of the muscle. Stretch after a hot shower and hold each pose for 30 seconds.
4. Stand facing away from a wall, with your heels about 6-9″ from the wall. Lean back and rest your butt against the wall, then relax and fold over your legs. Don’t force the stretch, just relax and feel the stretch in your hamstrings. This is a very relaxing way to stretch them and takes pressure off your knees. Breathe slowly and hold for a minute.
5. Any time I did an uttanasana in class, I keep my torso against my thighs and my knees bent. This brings the stretch to the hamstring and takes all the pressure off the knee joints. It’s also the correct way to move into an uttanasana.
If you want more information regarding strengthening weak hamstrings, Bandha Yoga was an awesome resource for me and has anatomic references so you can see the muscles in action. And after 3 weeks of that everyday and resting whenever it felt like too much, it finally paid off.
My hamstring is 95% better. I can do almost the same stretches on both legs, but I can feel it more intensely in one leg than the other. I’m okay with this. I know it’ll just keep healing and I have learned to be a little more gentle with my body and very much more aware of my alignment.
After 2 months of yoga, I’ve learned about patience and really focusing internally during my practice. I’ve learned to listen to my body. And in the wise words of Will, one of my instructors, I’ve learned that I really am only “borrowing this body” to help me practice yoga, balance, meditation. This body is not the end result, it is only the medium with which I can reach the end result. And there’s something really beautiful about that.