You don’t have to have full splits to practice the pose, but you do have to practice the pose in order to have full splits! This guide will help you step by step to find many variations in order to work closer to full splits. The splits require a lot of hamstring flexibility, hip flexor flexibility, a large range of motion in the hip joint, and low back mobility. Try one, two, some, or all of the poses below!
1. Low Lunge
Make sure your knee is not going past your ankle. Find a slight tuck of your tailbone and feel a little more length and stretch across your quad.
What to work on: Shining your heart forward in between your arms, feeling a slight updog expression across the chest.
2. Half Splits
From your low lunge, start bending into your back knee and straightening out your front leg. This variation on the splits mimics the same stretch in the hamstring of the extended leg that occurs in the full splits variation.
What to work on: Make sure to keep a long, lengthened spine (using blocks when needed) as you fold over top of your front leg. This will help prepare your lower back for full splits.
3. Half Splits to Low Lunge Flow
To increase the range of motion in the hip joint, find a flow between low lunge and half splits - taking one or several breaths in each pose.
What to work on: Linking your movement with your breath to find a steady wave of motion between the two poses.
4. Half Splits Variation: Walking the Front Foot Forward
From your half splits, start to scootch your front foot forward towards the top of your mat. Take blocks under the hands right next to your hips so that you are working an upright spine extension as you begin inching your way towards full splits.
What to work on: Continue to keep the length in your spine as you stretch out the legs.
5. Half Splits Variation: Block Under the Leg(s)
From your stretched out half splits, slide a block or two under your thighs. With the support underneath, release the tension of holding yourself up and allow yourself to sink into the pose.
What to work on: contracting the quad of your front leg will deepen the stretch in the hamstring (opposite muscles work in opposition - when one contracts, the other will naturally release).
6. Three Legged Dog
From downward facing dog, lift up one leg towards the sky. This will help to stretch out the hamstring of the bottom leg.
What to work on: Keeping the hips square to mimic the alignment of the hips in the splits.
7. Standing Splits Variation: Pressing Into the Wall
Get into your downward facing dog with a wall behind you, and your heels touching the wall. Find your three legged dog with the extended leg touching the wall. Start to walk your hands back towards your bottom foot.
What to work on: Engaging the quad of the bottom leg to help stabilize you in this balancing pose, while also allowing the hamstring to release.
Pigeon pose will help to stretch out your hip flexors in the back leg - necessary for full extension in the splits.
What to work on: Make sure to leave space for your hips to open by taking your right knee slightly outside of your right wrist or shoulder.
In Sanskirt, the splits are known as Hanumasana, pose of Hanuman. Hanuman is known for his attempt to leap across the sea looking for his love - his leap so large that he stretched out into the splits. When you’re practicing the splits, working towards increasing your flexibility, keep in mind: what else are you stretching towards? What else are you trying to reach that is out of your grasp? Use the practice of splits to help cultivate the courage to extend towards something you desire.