The Heron Pose (Krounchasana) is one of the most-intense hamstring stretches you can do. It takes some practice, but it is also one of the most beneficial poses for your legs.
(Pronounced as "crown-CHAHS-anna")
Krouncha is Sanskrit for "heron." In this posture, your lifted leg represents the elongated neck of a graceful heron.
Stretch both your legs straight out in front of you while sitting on your yoga mat. Bend your right knee, grab your right ankle and fold your right leg down as it would be in Virasana. Here the entire top of your right foot presses into the mat, and the inside of your right heel should brush against the outside edge of your right hip. Keep your left leg straight on the floor and move your right knee slightly over to touch your left knee. Now your right leg is in the proper position. Keep it here as you proceed.
Take a breath. As you exhale, bend your left knee and hold your left foot with both of your hands. If you are very flexible, then grab your left heel between your hands. If you are less flexible, then grasp your left toes in between your hands, holding both sides of your foot with one hand on each side. After clasping your foot firmly with your hands, keep a tight grip on it while straightening your left leg. Your arms stay straight. Lift your chest slightly up and keep your back straight. The goal is to hold your raised leg at a 45-degree angle from the floor, but if you cannot, then simply hold it up as high as you can and stay there.
Stay in this posture for 20 to 30 seconds. Release your raised leg on an exhalation. Unbend your right leg from Virasana and straighten it again on the floor in front of you. Now repeat the pose for the same length of time on the other side.
In the beginning, it is often challenging to straighten the raised leg and keep lifting the chest at the same time. You can use a yoga belt to help you. Place the yoga belt around the sole of your foot while you bend the knee, holding one end of the belt in each of your hands. Then you can hold the belt wherever you need to in order to keep the raised leg straight without collapsing your chest as you sit up.
When you are comfortable enough with this pose that you can hold your heel with your hands while straightening your leg, then start pulling your left leg toward your torso so that you can eventually touch your knee with your chin. Pull the leg in on a long exhalation.
You can increase the challenge by adding a slight twist to this pose. After you have raised your leg up to the maximum height, readjust your hands. Switch the hand holding the inside of your raised foot so that it grabs the outside of your raised foot instead. Place your other hand down on the mat next to the outside of the hip as you rotate your torso slightly toward the same side as your raised foot.
Ask a partner to sit in front of you on the mat while you come into the pose. Then have them hold your raised foot for you with their hands. Put your hands on the mat on either side of you to help you keep your back straight. Ask your partner to lift your raised leg up gradually higher while you straighten the leg. Have them stop lifting right before the stretch becomes a little painful. Do not force yourself to stretch beyond your capacity.
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