Splits. Even the very word can strike fear into the most seasoned yoga practitioner. While for complete beginners it can seem impossible. However, like all advanced poses getting into splits doesn’t just happen one day. It takes drills and flows and time to open the right parts of the body. Which means anyone can achieve splits. Yup, even you!
In the second part of our monthly instalment we break down the elements required to achieve full splits. As well as providing some flow options that will help. Stick with it and we promise you’ll be dropping into humanasana every chance you get.
First up, let’s remember that splits are challenging for most of us. However, if you’re a runner, cyclist, or a gym goer it can seem impossible. It falls into the hip opener category, and stretches the hamstrings in the back leg as well as the hip flexors in the front.
What are hip openers?
Hip openers fall into the family of poses that definitely bring up a whole host of emotions. They are the most requested poses in a yoga class and are known for releasing stress, tension and anxiety. Both physically and emotionally. The psoas (one of the hip flexor muscles) is linked with the fight or flight response. Which means that when this muscle is tight the fight or flight response is constantly being triggered. Leaving you feeling stressed, anxious and exhausted. When it is stretched it stimulates the opposite reaction; the rest, restore and digest response. Which is why you feel calmer and happier after a hip opening class.
Hip openers were essentially created to prepare the body for extended seated meditation. We may not be sitting in meditation for long periods of time, but we are sitting for an average of ten hours a day. Yoga helps counteract tight hips and stagnation of the hip joints. Movement becomes more fluid, and brings with it more mobility for everyday activities.
What other poses can splits help with?
Splits also help you with your transition into handstand. Handstands are all about getting your hips stacked over your shoulders so the more open your hamstrings, the higher you can lift your top leg and the easier it is to hop up into handstand. Easier. Not easy!
Splits challenge your ego and teach you. sometimes the hard way, to listen to your body. It also teaches you to respect your limitations. The hamstrings and hip flexors are big muscles and need time to release. Move slowly and take extra time in the prep poses, breathe deeply and let the muscle dictate when it is time to progress.
Enjoy the freedom you feel in your hips after your practice. Remember stability is key for challenging poses like splits. Flexibility comes with practice, patience and even if your hips are miles away from the ground, you are still getting all the benefits of the pose.
How to come into splits
- From low lunge with your left knee on the ground, place your hands on bricks, or the ground, either side of your hips.
- Straighten your right leg, slide your heel forward along the ground.
- At the same time slide your left leg back, reach the top of the foot back along the ground.
- Keep your hips level and squared as you dip your hips down, working towards your pelvis sitting on the ground.
- Hug your inner thighs to the midline. Right toes pointing up, left heel in line with your left hip joint.
- Lengthen through the spine. If your hips are grounded reach your arms up high, gaze forward.
- If your hips are quite high up place a bolster, or some cushions, under your pelvis to help you release into the pose. Likewise, if your pelvis doesn’t reach the bolster place the bolster further down your right leg, under your lower thigh.
- If your hips are beginning to ease a little more towards the ground use a brick or a rolled up blanket under your pelvis for support.
- Place your hands on bricks, or piles of books, either side of your hips to help you keep your hips squared to the front on your mat. Focus on keeping the hips level rather than getting your hips to the ground.
- Press your hands into your bricks and lift your pelvis up slightly on and inhale, and release back down on an exhale. Repeat three times and see do you notice an opening in your hip muscles as you ease down a little further.
Go with the flow
Ruth Delahunty is a 200hr Yoga Alliance certified teacher and founder of Yogaru.ie, a yoga lifestyle website that promotes a yoga way of living both on and off the mat. For more information visit yogaru.ie. You can also see Ruth teaching at WellFest 2018