Reclining Leg Stretch is a tremendous way to stretch, strengthen and tone all the muscles of your legs including the calves, hamstrings, quads and glute muscles. It is an appropriate pose for all levels of yoga practitioners even those who are brand new to yoga. This pose is especially beneficial to anyone who tends to suffer from hamstring injuries. The hamstrings are a group of muscles that run from the sitting bone of the pelvis to the back of the knee. Their function is extension and flexion in the knee and the hip. When your hamstrings are tight, your hip and leg movements are more limited and this can make you more prone to strain or injury. The practice of yoga can lengthen and strengthen the hamstrings, preventing injury and creating more space and length in your body which is particularly beneficial to those in sports.
It is especially important to stretch the hamstrings before and after a workout, but a basic hamstring stretch such as this one, practiced every day can also be helpful in relieving tension in the lower back, calf muscles and ankles.
In this particular pose, I personally love to close my eyes and really allow myself to bring a deep awareness into all the muscles of my legs. Placing your focus and awareness into your own leg in this manner will deepen and develop your own personal practice with spectacular results. It is important to move slowly in and out of this pose and to keep your focus with your breath. If you practice in this manner, it is possible to find a place in this pose where you can actually feel your muscles lengthening in your legs without actually creating tension anywhere else in your body particularly in the shoulder area.
BENEFITS OF RECLINING LEG POSE:
- It is a supported posture therefore, suitable for all levels of yoga practitioners
- Brilliant leg stretch and brilliant for building strength in the leg muscles
- Opens hips and adductor muscles
- Strengthens the abdomen
- Relieves tension in the lower back
- Warm up’s leading up to this pose reduce fluid retention
- Warm up’s also stretches and strengthens the instep and ankles helping to reduce the risk of injury
- Tones all your legs and buttocks
HOW TO GET INTO THE POSE:
Lie down on your mat, face upwards. If you suffer from any type of lower back injury or if you have particularly tight hamstrings, I would suggest you bend your left knee and place the sole of the left foot firmly on the floor. (Illustration 1)
- Lift and straighten into your right leg keeping your foot a couple of inches off the floor. Then breathing comfortably flex your toes towards your head and then gently away. Repeat five times.
- Then imaging you have a paint brush between your toes and only moving your ankle make circles with your big toe, move slowly and with awareness. Repeat five times and then repeat in an anticlockwise motion.
- Keeping your leg elevated gently make large circular motions to the right side of your body using your entire leg from the hip down. You will begin to feel the quads working at this stage. Repeat five times before then going in an anticlockwise direction.
- Then gently on an “out” breath bring your knee close to your chest, interlocking your fingers and placing them on the back of your right thigh as support.
- Breathe “in” and gently straighten your leg towards the ceiling, extend into your ankle as you do so. What are you experiencing in your leg? Be aware of what is happening in your body and how you are feeling right now. Breathe “out”, bend your knee back down over your chest. Repeat five more times.
- Using a yoga strap (a belt, a man’s tie, or your dressing gown rope will also suffice) place the loop of the strap around the ball of your right foot.
- Walk your right hand up the strap until your arm is straight and your shoulder blades can comfortably rest on the floor. Breathe “in” and extend into your heel sending your foot towards the ceiling. (Illustrated in picture 2) Fill into the back of your knee as much as possible straightening your leg. As you exhale release your right hip down to the floor. Stay here for up to one minute working with the breath all the while.
NOTE: How high you take your leg at this stage will depend on your flexibility. It is more important that your leg is straight and lower towards the floor rather than higher up with your knee bent. You will lose some of the benefit of the stretch if you bend your knee, so try and keep your leg as straight as comfortably possible.
Your breath will also play a key part in this stretch so work with your breath. When you breathe” in” remember you are lengthening, so extend through your ankle. As you breathe “out”, remember you are letting go of tension, so RELAX, RELEASE AND LET GO!
Depending on your flexibility this maybe as far as you wish to go, but if you would like to challenge yourself a little further you can then:
- Take a breath in, as you exhale out release your right leg to the right side of your body creating an opening in the right hip. (Illustrated in picture 3) Ensure that your pelvis remains on the floor and that your left hip is still in contact with the floor. If you left hip is lifting at this stage you may be over extending, so gently draw your right leg back towards center until you feel your left hip come back into contact with the floor. Breathe “in” extend your heel away from your body and as you breathe out relax, release and let go of the muscle tension. Hold the posture for a minute or two but do NOT hold your breath, work with your breath. Breathe in and gently draw your leg back up to center as you breathe out. Straighten your leg once more towards the ceiling, extending into your heel as you do so.
- For the next part, I recommend you move extremely slowly and with huge awareness being placed into your leg. Move centimeter by centimeter to really get the effect and benefit of this amazing pose. Breathe “in” and as you slowly breathe “out” gently take your leg to the left crossing over your bodies center line. (Can you feel what is happening in the muscles of your legs, what sensations are you experiencing?) Keep extending through your heel as you breathe in and as you exhale continue to release any tension. Hold for a minute of two working with your breath.
- Breathe “in” and draw your leg back up to center on an exhalation. Extend your leg once more towards the ceiling and then leading once more with your ankle gently release your leg back to the floor and relax on an out breath.
Take a couple of relaxing breaths and notice the considerable difference between your two legs. To bring balance to your body repeat all of the above with your left leg. Om shanti.