When was the last time you did the splits? High school? Never? No worries. If you're seeking increased flexibility, working toward the splits can actually be an enjoyable process and not an exercise in torture! We asked yoga instructor Rina Jakubowicz to show us some stretches that will help improve your flexibility and move you closer to the splits. Remember to approach these stretches gently and to never push your body too far.
Begin by warming up with a hamstring stretch, also called half Hanumanasana in Sanskrit. Place your right leg straight in front of you, toes lifted up. Place the knee of your left leg on the ground, toes curled under. Distribute your weight evenly on both hands, placed on either side of your outstretched leg. If your hands don't reach the ground, use a yoga block or towel under each hand. Lean forward slowly, hips moving back towards your left heel, until you feel a stretch along your right hamstring and calf. When you feel enough stretch, stop and hold the pose for five deep breaths. Next, switch sides and repeat this stretch with your left leg. Be gentle with yourself, and avoid this stretch if you have a hamstring injury or experience any pain.
The next stretch is called horse stance or goddess pose, and is an extremely effective hip opener. Stand with your feet wide apart, toes turned out slightly, and bend your knees so that your ankles are directly under your knees and in the same line as your hips. You're creating a rectangle with your legs and the floor. Bring your hands to prayer position with your shoulders pulled back and torso directly above your hips. Breathe in and out deeply for five breaths.
Now you're ready to try a basic lizard pose. Stretch your right leg behind you and place the ball of that foot on the floor, with your knee resting comfortably on the ground. Bend your left knee at a 90 degree angle, and place both hands flat on the ground in front of you with straight arms. Breathe deeply for five breaths and enjoy the therapeutic opening of this deep hip stretch.
Want more? If you're looking for a deeper stretch, you may want to try an advanced lizard stretch. Bring your elbows and forearms to the ground and lift your back knee off the ground, staying on the ball of your foot. Again, inhale and exhale deeply five times, letting your body settle into the pose. Next, repeat this sequence with your other leg.
Remember that "getting your splits" is not something that happens overnight. It may take weeks, months or years to attain this ultimate expression of flexibility. Practice moving deeper into your splits by returning to the hamstring stretch (shown above), and moving the heel of your forward foot off the mat and gradually sliding your leg forward. Putting a towel under your heel will help it slide more easily. You may want to place a yoga block or folded towel under your front leg to help bring the ground closer to you. Hold here for five to ten breaths, then switch legs and repeat. Remember not to push your body past the point where you feel comfortable. If you feel any pain or discomfort, back off right away.
Practice these stretches regularly, and enjoy increased flexibility and strength on your journey toward reaching the full splits, or Hanumanasana, demonstrated here by Rina.
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