When I would complain about having to wait for something as a young child; my mom would say, “This is an opportunity to strengthen your patience muscles.” I’m sure it’s an expression I will use with my daughter, too. And, when she asks me to show her where in her body her patience muscles are, I’ll likely point to the back of her legs.
Most of us spend much of the day sitting. When we do make time for exercise it is typically with a walk, run, swim or bike ride. All of these activities contribute to tension in the back of the legs.
All of that built-up tension means working to lengthen the hamstrings and calves is an opportunity to strengthen your patience muscles. While it takes time and commitment to see results, our efforts to lengthen the muscles at the back of the legs are critical to our overall health and well-being.
When the calves and hamstrings are tight, the effects ripple throughout the body. Tight muscles at the back of the legs pull the pelvis into a position that compromises our pelvic floor health and flattens the lumbar curve needed for a healthy low back. They also limit the ability of the hips to appropriately flex when bending forward, causing a strain on the muscles of the low back.
We lengthen the calves and hamstrings with forward bends, poses best practiced with a slow but steady determination. So, bring your patience to the mat and enjoy these poses as you undo the chronic tension at the back of your legs.
In both of these traditional poses, we will focus on the inward rotation of the thighs, an action necessary in all forward bends, by using a block (or a small pillow).
Adho Mukha Svanasana
The journey toward happier, longer hamstrings and calves can begin relatively simply with one of yoga’s most famous (or some might say infamous) poses – Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog pose).
After you have practiced this a few times with the block, experiment with finding the same internal rotation of the thighs, without the use of a prop.
I love using Uttanasana (standing forward bend) to lengthen the back of the legs both on the mat and off. If you sit at a desk all day, stand up and practice this pose several times throughout your day. It’s also a great rest stop pose for any long drives that may await you this summer!
Again, after you have practiced this a few times with the block, experiment with finding the same internal rotation of the thighs, without the use of a prop. If you need a deeper stretch, practice this pose by releasing the hands to the mat instead of the chair.
A full yoga class focused lengthening the calves and hamstrings is available at the Every Breath I Take Virtual Yoga Studio. You can view this class on your computer or mobile device as many times as you like from May 17 – August 15, 2012, when you register here.
What is your favorite forward bend? Could you feel your patience muscles strengthening as you lengthened your calves and hamstrings? I’d love to hear!