Build Up to Splits

The splits. Otherwise known as the arch-nemesis of those of us who are quite tall, are not naturally very bendy, or find the forks to be very intimidating.

This pose is a great way to increase your flexibility, especially in your hips and legs. In honor of the New Year and facing scary things, let’s look at some of the best ways to work up to the splits.

Warm up Your Whole Body

Warm-ups are always a good idea. Warming up your muscles will make all stretches more comfortable, easier to do, safer, and more effective. Start with a power yoga flow or some cardio to get your blood flowing. This is especially important for those large muscles in your legs, which can feel as if they are immovable at times.

Exercise Your Hamstrings

Try to add some dynamic movement into the poses by ‘walking’ your down dog or gently moving your hands and chest from one foot to the other in a Wide-Legged Forward Fold. You can add some movement to your poses by ‘walking your down dog’ or moving your hands from one foot to another in a legged Forward Fold.

Slow, controlled movements can keep your muscles warm and help you go deeper into the poses.

Work on Those Hips

Two of the most important stretches to prepare for splits are Lizard Pose and Runner’s Stretch, also called Ardha Hanumanasana.

Lizard Pose

Place your hands in the instep on your front foot. Make sure that your knee is over your ankle and does not extend past it. Your back leg’s top kneecap should be resting on the floor. The weight shouldn’t be on the actual joint but only on the hard top cap of your knee.

You can rest your back knee on a towel if it is uncomfortable. You can either stay on your hands or lower yourself onto your elbows. (You may need to use your blocks for assistance here to avoid rounded backs.) You should feel the hip flexor in your back leg stretch deeply.

You want to make sure that both hip bones are facing forward. This will allow you to get the most stretch. In this pose, it’s easy to let your back hip splay to the side. But by keeping your hipbones aligned, you can target the hip areas that need the most attention!

Ardha Hanumanasana (a.k.a. Runner’s Stretch Pose / Half Splits Pose

From the Lizard Pose, transition into Ardha Hanumanasana (or Half splits pose). As you bring your front leg straighter and your chest nearer to your knee, hinge your hips and pull your tailbone back straight. Support your back by placing your hands on the blocks.

You want your hips to be aligned evenly with each other so that you can maximize the stretch on the back of the front leg. Inhale and pull forward with your chest as you transition from runner’s time to Lizard pose. Then, exhale back into the runner’s lunge.

You can repeat the sequence several times with your breath and try to increase your flexibility with each repetition.

Pyramid Pose

From a high lunge position, reduce your stance to about one foot. Place your back heel on the mat and bring your back foot at a 45-degree angle with your forward heel. Place your hands on the hips, and align your hipbones with the front of your mat.

Engage your core to achieve a straight, strong back by keeping your hips aligned both horizontally as well as vertically. Keep that long spine line and hinge your hips. Lower your chest over the front leg.

Stop as soon as you feel the spine curve! You can place your hands anywhere you want, such as on the blocks, your shin, or even the floor, so long as you maintain a flat, straight spine and a straight leg. Find out more about this posture by clicking here.

Pigeon Pose

End your hip flexibility with an outer hip stretch, centered and grounded in the Pigeon position. This stretch is all about relaxing your mind and preparing for the splits.

The block that we experience in our bodies is often a mental one. If we are holding on to any anxiety in our lower back and outer hips, we are likely holding it there. Pigeons can help us calm down, center ourselves, and find comfort in a deep stretch. This is similar to the mindset we need for our splits.

Assisted Splits

Try an assisted version as you work towards achieving your full splittings. This will allow you to track your progress. You can use large books or blocks to hold onto. With a blanket or block to support your back foot, slowly move from the high Lizard position into assisted splits. Walk your front toes forward while your back toes are pointing back.

Keep your hips in the same plane in both directions. Continue to breathe deeply here for at least five breaths. Pull your shoulders down and away from your ear, aim to have a straight spine, and lead with your chest.

Let us know your progress after incorporating these moves into your daily routine. Have these stretches helped you achieve the splits? Or are there others you find especially helpful? Tell us in the comments or share your breaks with us on Instagram by tagging us @doyouyoga.

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