Working on the splits?

November 7, 2018

 

Missed out on our aerial splits workshop? Check out some of the things we learned to develop and maintain a sustainable splits practice! 

 

Hanumanasana splits, or the monkey stretch, are often seen as the pinnacle of flexibility. The splits are not only elegant, but also require intense body awareness and strength. Throughout my years of teaching, many of my students have yearned to achieve the splits pose. When practiced with correct alignment, the splits pose gives you a full body stretch and deep core workout. When practiced incorrectly, the splits can do more harm than good!

 

First, let’s breakdown the difference between a front split, and an open split.

 

True Front Split (yogic variation):

Hips and torso are squared towards the front leg. Back leg turned is down towards the floor.

 

True Open Split (dancer variation): 

Front hip is squared. Back hip is in internal rotation so the thigh and knee are turned out. Shoulders and torso turned open (in the same direction as the back hip).

 

 

The rest of this article will focus on the alignment necessary for a true front split that is practiced in yoga.

 

In my experience, most students focus on stretching out their hamstrings for the front leg, but fail to adequately prepare the back leg for external rotation. That makes the student look as though they are in a dancer variation (open split), but without the proper core strength that brings the back hip into external rotation the student sits backwards onto the butt of the front leg (this is also a common alignment mistake done in pigeon pose!). The splits require full body engagement and lengthening if it is to be done properly. Luckily enough for students, this means that they will need to stretch the body completely to adequately prepare for the splits stretch. Let’s dive into a little bit of the anatomy behind a true front split.

 

Front leg:

Extension of posterior leg muscles (muscles in the back of the leg). The focus is on 3 muscles that make up the hamstring (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris long & short head).

 

Back leg:

Extension of the anterior leg muscles (muscles in the front of the leg). The focus is on a few muscles that make up part of the hip flexors and quadriceps (Illospsoas, rector femoris, sacroiliac).

 

Torso:

Extension of the spinal erectors (muscles that run along the spine). Extension of the quadratus lumborum muscles (muscles on the back of the abdominal wall) on the side of the back leg. Engagement of the transverse abdominal muscles (deep abdominal muscles that help square the hips).

 

How to prepare for the splits stretch?

Slow and steady wins the race! Even for the most flexible of us, a warm is important to prepare the body for any time of deep stretch that you want to do. For the splits, we need to open the hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps, and the spine. 

 

Here’s a small sequence to get you started (it is always best to work with an experienced teacher to ensure you have correct alignment & stability in each posture):

 

 

Childs Pose + Side Stretch 10-12 breaths

Lengthens the quadratus lumborum and spinal erectors

 

Cat/Cows 5-10 times

Stretches the neck, shoulders, spine, and hips

 

Down Dog 5-7 breaths

Stretches lower back and hamstrings (among many other things!)

 

Low Lunge 5-8 breaths each side

Lengthens the hip flexors, quadriceps, & quadratus lumborum 

   

 

          

Runners Stretch 5-8 breathes each side

Stretches the hamstrings and spinal erectors

           

 

  

Rag Doll + Twist 5-8 breaths

Lengthens the quadratus lumborum, spinal erectors, & hamstrings

 

Mountain + Half Moon 4-6 breaths

Lengthens the quadratus lumborum & hips

 

Crescent Lunge 5-8 breaths

Lengthens the hip flexors, quadriceps, & quadratus lumborum 

 

Pyramid Pose 5-8 breaths

Stretches spine, hips, hamstrings & shoulders

 

Savasana 2-10 minutes

Activates the parasympathetic nervous system

 

 

 

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13610 North Scottsdale Road Suite 11

Scottsdale Arizona, 85254

(480) 534-5923

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