For the past three years I’ve been dealing off and on with hamstring issues.  One side would resolve and then the other would act up.  It has resulted in fairly long stretches of having to rely on deep water running and StairMaster to stay in shape.  During this time, I’ve been limited to 1,200 to 1,300 miles of running per year – not enough to be in top racing shape. At various times I’ve done PT, massage, and dry-needling to work through these bouts.  Eventually, I’d get to the point where I can train and race but in time the hamstrings start talking.  It’s getting old!  My PTs regularly advised me tight hamstrings were a likely culprit though I’ve consistently stretched before and after runs and felt I was reasonably flexible, at least for a runner.   

I belong to the local Y and they have free 60-minute yoga classes for members. I’ve known of yoga for many years and had seen plenty of pictures of those deep into the practice, twisted like pretzels.  I wasn’t interested.  I just wanted to be flexible enough to run.  But having noticed an increasing stiffness in my gait along with these hamstring issues, I figured I’d give yoga a try.

The classes allow for 15 people and space is at a premium – the signup window closes quickly.  For my first class I showed up about three minutes early.  But these folks are eager and the only place open was right in front of the instructor – the last place I wanted to be!  We started off lying face up focused on our breathing.  I was antsy!  Then we moved into some light stretches with the Child’s Pose and Upward Facing Dog Pose, then the Cobra Pose.  Pretty easy!  But then we did a Downward-Facing Dog Pose, easy if the legs are bent but when I tried to straighten mine my hamstrings said “no!”  We did some Spinal Twists, which were easy if you didn’t rotate all the way to the floor, which I did not.  Things got interesting with the Forward Fold, which is essentially a touch-your-toes pose.  I looked around and saw most everyone’s hands on the floor – I went just to the top of my ankles!  I noticed we had been at it for only 25 minutes but I was ready to stop!  That’s when things started to hit the fan.  First, we moved into a variety of Warrior poses that really tested balance – I failed!  Then on to Eagle poses where you entwine both your hands and feet followed by a squat.  You could not call my squat a descent – I barely moved. My hamstrings were crying for relief.  After taking a pretty poor shot at a few more poses, we gratefully ended with about five minutes of relaxed breathing. 

The second class went about the same way, though I arrived 15 minutes early to secure a spot in the corner away from the instructor.  But she was on to me, and walked around and corrected my form throughout.  (Well, more accurately she suggested how I might correct my form, which did not help that much.)  This instructor did some more advanced poses involving leg lifts, moving legs in and out of each other (Threading the Needle), single-legged lunges, and something called the Wild Thing Pose, requiring strength, balance, and range of motion I simply didn’t have.  Then she instructed the class to lift their bodies, supported by their shoulders and arms, legs held high.  I was so glad to be in the corner for this one!  Suffice it to say by then, I was flat out, barely hanging on. I was relieved when once again, the last few minutes were easy breathing.   

I have a book Yoga for Athletes I’ve been going through.  I see doing some of these poses on my own and continuing with these weekly classes, hopefully improving over time.  For sure, I have a greater appreciation for yoga.  At least I now know my supposed flexibility is a sham – I am literally stiff as a board.  I’ve got work to do. And presumably my hamstrings will respond by eventually stopping their constant chatter!   

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