Softening into Splits: A Tutorial

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The journey with hanumanasana (aka splits pose) has been a long and bumpy one. In the beginning, a split was the cool girl at school that I hated because she was so pretty and never talked to me. Then my split was the boyfriend my parents couldn’t stand but I insisted I loved. Now hanuman is the sweet old friend I’ve made peace with. Sometimes we bicker. But every time we get lunch, we say we’ll stay in better touch.

 


So you want the SPLITS?

Full splits or hanumanasana – a beautiful, opening posture. Splits are possible in every body, but this pose takes time, consistency, and softness – it cannot be forced! I have injured myself many times forcing splits before my hamstrings were open and warm so stretch with caution and use common sense – your body has loud stopping points – respect them.

Of course splits require very open hamstrings but don’t mistake, there is a lot more going on here! Commonly overlooked in a splits practice, the HIP FLEXORS and psoas muscle  must be open here as well in order to keep the hips closed and squared forward. For many of us, this opening is more challenging as many of us sit all day, keeping the hip flexors tight. So, even if you have a lot of space in the hamstrings, you may need a lot of hip flexor work before your body is ready for a split.


Here are my favorite stretches to get into splits.

Back: clasp your fingers behind your thigh and with your breath, bend and extend your leg. Inhale to extend, flex your foot. Exhale to re-bend your leg. Continue this movement, warming up the hamstring. Don’t force the leg straight. Just slowly flow between the two.

Low Lunge: maybe place blocks under your hands to lengthen your spine. Your weight is in your front heel. DO NOT allow your heel to lift off the mat throughout this movement. Inhale to pull your heart forward, exhale as you extend your leg, shift your weight back pull the toes towards your face. Keep the hips over your back knee at that 90 degree angle – don’t sit on the back heel. Continue at your breath.

Forward Fold: hang here, opening the backs of the legs. Maybe place a block behind your heels and pull your chest towards your legs. LET THE HEAD GO – like the crown of your head will touch the mat. Place the block under your hand, bend one knee so you can get the opposite leg stick straight. Extend your arm (same side as the straight leg) up and open, stacking the shoulders to open the IT band, down the side of your leg. Repeat on opposite side.

Pyramid: Keep the spine long, maybe place blocks under your hands. Keep your front leg straight, bend into the back knee and shift your weight back just slightly. Bounce between the two.

Hero-Pigeon: Set your front leg up for hero’s pose and your back leg up for pigeon pose. Your front seat should come to the mat with your heel out to the side, don’t sit on the heel. Have your back leg straight behind you. Bring blocks underneath your hands at a high level, trying to stack your shoulders over your hips. Stay for a few breaths. This will open the opposite hip flexor. If this is uncomfortable or feeling crunchy on your low back, walk the blocks forward more and lean forward at an angle instead of directly upright. Gradually work your way back as you practice.

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Flying Split: Come to a half split shape. With blocks beneath your hands, walk the front leg forward and back knee back until you find a challenging place. Then, tuck your back toes and lift the back knee off of the mat. Try to keep your back leg straight. Isometrically try to pull your front heel to your back toes and your back toes to your front heel, scissoring the inner thighs together. Keep the core tight. Stay for a few breaths, continuing to walk to blocks back, trying to stack your shoulders over your hips.

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Supported Split: Prepare for splits, place a block to catch your front seat. Stay for a few breaths, staying upright, maybe even extend your arms up and overhead and lift your gaze. Continue squaring your hips to the top of your mat. Keep the core tight, careful not to dump your belly and arch your low back.

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Full Splits! Try these stretches every day for a few days, moving slowly and intentionally. Then, you’re ready to try out your full split, move slowly, listening for your body’s stopping points. 

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Enjoy the hanumanasana journey! 🙂


Overstretched the hamstrings?

If your hamstrings are feeling sore, tight, or even bruised after a splits practice, you may have overstretched your hamstring. To reduce pain and initiate the healing process, move in opposition. If the hamstrings are lengthened too far, it helps to shorten the muscle. We can do this by contracting the hamstring. Do some hamstring shortening exercise and rest the hamstrings for a couple of days before returning to the splits practice. Don’t stretch if you are still feeling pain. Oops, careful next time 🙂


Have an advanced posture you really want to work into?

Let me know what pose(s) you’d like a tutorial for next 🙂


Practice these movements + more!

Practice with me around the Bay Area – find me teaching near you!

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