Every once in a while it’s nice to set a goal for yourself. You know, like cooking more than mac and cheese in the house. Or getting the number of shows you’re actively watching under ten. Or, hey, why not go big: Let’s learn to do the splits.
Now maybe the splits were something you had in you when you were a kid, or maybe you’ve always looked at gymnasts like another species. Either way, there’s no reason you can’t start working your way toward this intense hip opener.
Before you test your mettle and end up pulling a muscle, remember that it’s more about consistency with stretching than going big all at once. It doesn’t hurt to get your blood circulating a little before you dive into these stretches either. Warming up before stretches? Yep, we said it.
Work with these five stretches and you’ll start noticing a difference in the depth of your splits.
1. Standing forward bend
Standing straight up, feet together, arms by your side, reach your hands up and overhead into a prayer position and then swan-dive your arms and chest down toward the ground. Let your fingertips or palms fall to either side of your feet and slowly start to bring your chest in towards your knees. If you have a hard time reaching your toes, put a little more bend in your knees until your hands are on the floor. Keep pressing your chin and chest in towards your knees and thighs for the maximum stretch. Remember to never lock your knees and always keep a slight bend in them to avoid injury.
Stretches hamstrings and back, alleviates anxiety, relieves headaches, improves digestion and quiets the mind.
2. Pyramid pose
Starting in Tadasana, or Mountain pose (standing straight up, feet together, arms by your side), gently step one foot about 3 to 4 feet behind the other, allowing the toes to turn out slightly to the side and aligning your back heel with your front heel. Note: It’s important that your feet should not be directly in line with one another. Instead, your back foot should be a few inches to the side to balance more effectively. Once your legs are in place, bring your hands to either side of your front foot and lower your chest and chin in towards the top of your thigh. Continue reaching your fingers and hands behind the front leg for more of a stretch.
Stretches the spine, shoulders, wrists, hips, hamstrings and strengthens the legs. Improves posture and balance and calms the brain.
3. Lizard pose
Coming into a low lunge position with your front knee bent, knee aligned with ankle, and your back leg extended behind you. Keep your back knee off the ground or lowered to the ground, allowing it to gently rest on the floor; then bring both hands to the inner side of your front foot.
From here, begin to work your way to the ground by coming onto your forearms and allowing your chest to move closer to the ground, continuing to reach your head and back heel in opposite directions. You can modify this pose by using a block to support your forearms.
Stretches the thighs, hamstrings, groin, abdomen, shoulders and neck. Opens up the chest and lungs.
4. Pigeon pose
From down dog position, bring your right knee in toward your chest, moving your body into a one-legged Plank pose. Next, bring your right knee toward your right wrist and your ankle toward your left wrist, trying to get your shin as parallel to the front of your mat as possible.
Lower your hips and body to the ground, stretching your left leg back behind you. If this causes too much pain/discomfort, pull your right ankle in closer to your body to relieve some of the strain.
Once you feel comfortable, walk your fingertips out in front of your leg and lower your chest to the floor.
Stretches the thigh, groin, abdomen, chest, shoulders and neck. Stimulates abdominal organs. Opens the shoulders and chest.
5. Straddle pose
Sit with your legs extended straight out in front of you, place your hands behind you and allow your legs to open as far as they will go. From here, bring your hands to the empty space between your legs and begin to walk them out in front of you until you feel like you can’t reach further.
Once you hit this point, try to lower your head and chest closer to the ground.
It’s also beneficial to stretch each leg individually while in Straddle pose. To do this, bring your left arm overhead and stretch over toward your right foot, trying to grab your toes with your fingers. Hold here for about eight breaths.
Next, turn your head and chest so that your body is now facing your right leg and begin to lower your nose to your knee. Again, hold for around eight breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Stretches the spine and insides and backs of legs. Stimulates abdominal organs. Releases groins.
So there you have it, yogis, my secret poses to mastering the splits. Keep stretching those limits (and ligaments), and I promise you’ll be splitting in no time! And remember — the more flexible you are, the less life will bend you out of shape. Until next time, namaste.
A version of this article was originally posted in October 2013.