Working on Splits

As I’ve mentioned before, I can’t actually do a split. It’s a goal. I’ve tried a few things over the years but consistency is my biggest enemy. Nevertheless, I try when I can and there is some solid improvement when I do. It’s important to remember that it’s never really about the pose, its about what you learn on the way down, as said by Jigar Gor. I’ve definitely learned some things, mostly that I’m not a quitter and that intensely wanting to get a stretch completely counteracts the actual act of stretching. Working on splits have taught me way more about surrender than control.

If I’m doing a practice that gonna work on splits, I’ll start the way I do with almost all my practices. A few Sun A’s and then a standing sequence, and then to come into prone, I start it off the same way as with the Pigeon sequence. First Forward Fold, then half-way up, bend my knees and put my hands on the ground before stepping or jumping into plank, chatarunga, upward dog and then downward dog, roughly like this:

Depending on the rotation that I’m doing for which poses I’m focusing on, I’ll do a pigeon sequence before starting work on the splits. It was covered more in depth in the last post, but here is the mini-sequence I borrow for split days:

So that’s starting in downward dog from the set up, to plank, side plank, set up to wild thing, wild thing, pigeon, fold over pigeon and then back to downward dog before starting on the next side. Do both sides before getting into this split focused sequence. End at downward dog. Then lift one foot way up for a Three-Legged Dog. Sometimes, to intensify the core part of the sequence, I’ll bring the knee into the center and then each elbow a few times. Eventually, I’ll plant the foot and drop the other knee like this:

I started out with my hands on my knee and facing forward, but I’ve since begun bringing my hands up. It adds a little bit of pressure and balance to it. I’ll hold that for a little bit, making sure to put focus on the alignment of my hips and ribs. The stretch is much better when I remember to tuck them in toward each other. Obviously, there’s a little bit of a bend in my back, but my goal is to not have that. Then I’ll shift my weight back and straighten the front leg while bending the back one:

The setup for this is better when the arms are raised at some point and the bend at the hips happens with the arms straight, which also help to keep the back straight until the end. The very last thing I’ll do is let my back round as I’m leaning into that forward stretch on straight leg. I usually hold this one longer than the other poses or come back to it between them. From here, push forward again and bend front knee without bringing it forward of the ankle.

When I get back into the low lunge, I’ll grab the back foot with one hand and hold and then go back to center and try it with the other hand. As you can see, one is a twist, so be careful to go back to center rather than shift from one to the other. In both poses, lean into the stretch with the hips too.

Though there may seem like several ways to get into the split from here, I recommend coming all the way out of the low lunge and then attempting to step into it while coming out of downward dog like in the beginning. Personally, I still need blocks sometimes when attempting a split. I’ve had periods when I didn’t, but even then, it was a slow process from blocks down to ever receding stacks of books. Here I am with blocks:

It’s not my best split, but that’s what I got. I’ve heard that it’s important to keep the back as straight as possible, and I have felt the different it makes in the actual stretch, so I do. It get into it really gingerly, getting into downward dog and stepping through before sliding the front leg forward and adjusting the back leg if I need to. It’s important to keep the back foot with the toes down until you’re fully adjusted because it’s exponentially harder to adjust afterward. I try to hold the pose for as long as is bearable, which is changes depending on the consistency with which I’ve been able to practice. I’ve gotten up to a minute for a while but that was a really good point when I didn’t even need the blocks. It is what it is though.

At this point in the sequence, my left hip is really feeling it so the next thing is to give it a break and bring it a bit of a counter. I’ll gingerly pull the front foot back and find my way to downward dog, then drop the knees and shift the hips to my heels for a child’s pose:

Child’s Pose

I’m the kind of person who prefers my knees out and toes touching for a child’s pose, especially at the end of this sequence. Some sequences help with digestion by putting different kinds of pressure on the stomach, so I’ll keep the knees together on those. Here I’m giving my hip a break and getting in a good upper body stretch after all that leg work. Afterward, it’s back to downward dog and starting the sequence on the other side.

This is usually the end of my split focus sequence, but I have that yoga hammock and I want to add in some stuff with that when I’m comfortable with it. We’ll see what happens.

I asked a friend a while back how she’s so good at splits and her answer was disappointing. She was a gymnast for seven years before I met her. She said she still does it sometimes so she doesn’t lose it but that many people do. She also said she was impressed that I could get that far at my age, having only ever started working on it in my thirties. It gives me a little hope that I’m already further than maybe I should be. It’s a little disappointing that maybe I’ll never get there. Either way, I know this for sure. I’ll never get it without practicing toward it.

Maybe that’s the real lesson anyway. Practice will never make perfect, but it will certainly make progress. It may be slow, but it happens. It means to not give up on the things we practice.

If you wanna try it in a flow, try this:

  • start at downward dog and inhale while lifting the left leg
  • exhale and bring it forward and plant the foot
  • inhale the right knee down and the arms up
  • exhale and bend the right leg while straightening the left folding over it
  • inhale and bend the left leg and straighten the right
  • exhale while twisting and grab right foot with the left hand
  • inhale back to center
  • exhale while reaching around the left side for the right foot
  • inhale back to center
  • exhale and bring the arms down, push up to downward dog
  • switch sides

When it’s time to go in to the full split it’ll depend on your ability to just step right through. I’m not there yet, but it would be starting in downward dog and inhaling to lift the leg, exhale to step it through, inhale and lift the arms. Exhale to bring the hands back down, inhale and bring the leg back through and up, exhale and bring the foot down back into downward dog.

How do you work on splits?

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