What your tight hamstrings are trying to tell you
Join the club.
It could be caused by your low back—if your low back is tight it will pull on your hamstrings, shortening them.
But you knew I wasn't going to stop there.
Our body is connected to our mind. It's not super woo to say that anymore, as more and more scientists, doctors and other smarty pants study the mind-body connection.
I believe (as many of those smarty pants do) that often when we feel tension in our bodies, there's something happening deeper—we're holding something energetically or emotionally that has manifested physically.
So what are we holding onto in our hammies?
There are a couple of possibilities.
1. You need to let go
If you've experience some kind of trauma (who hasn't?) your body likely reacted with either fight or flight. When you are threatened physically, emotionally or psychologically, your body responds on an unconscious level. The earlier this threat happened in our life, the more likely it is to be woven into our cellular structure, and often it's woven into the back of your body—neck, buttocks, hamstrings, calves, feet.
If your tension is specifically in the hamstrings and buttocks, you might be a flight-er. (Me too!) This means in moments of stress you are nonconfrontational and look for the best way out and fast. It really goes down to issues with the first chakra—basic needs for survival.
If any of this resonates with you, here's what your hamstrings are trying to tell you—let go. Ground yourself so you'll feel safe and then let go, allowing your feelings to take up space. You have to let go of some control and allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Ways to practice letting go
- Try practicing yoga blindfolded
- Dance unapologetically
- Confront whoever hurt you
2. You are not alone anymore
Tight hamstrings can also be formed in infancy. Neglect, abandonment or a loveless home environment can cause loneliness in a child—and love is what we need most when we're so young.
Loneliness feels cold. In response, infants contract muscles in the pelvic girdle and in the upper thighs. This contraction can stay with you into adulthood. I'm not a psychologist, but I am a yoga teacher, and I don't think any amount of yoga will help you open those hamstrings as much as diving into those deep-seeded issues.
Yoga has taught me to be curious. It is the study of the self, and only by understanding why our bodies are carrying tension can we begin the work of releasing it. It's hard work—yoga isn't easy (especially off the mat)—but know that committing to doing the work is half the battle.
Now that you know a little bit of the magic of hamstrings, instead of pushing your way through a painful forward fold or worse—forcing yourself into an unsafe splits—try listening to your hamstrings. They might just have some powerful things to share.
If you're looking for a physical practice to work into the hamstrings, try this 21-minute flow.