Hip Openers for Achieving Full Splits
If you’re on the journey to achieving hanumanasana, or splits pose, there are certain poses you can practice to help you along the way. The splits require deep hip flexibility, particularly in the front of the hip (anterior) and the back of the hip (posterior). Think the psoas, quadriceps (rectus femorus specifically), and hamstrings.
But yoga is a holistic practice, and even though we like to break up the body into separate parts, in reality it is all one connected entity, which means we cannot only practice working the front and back of the hip. We need to take into account all quadrants of the hips to have a balanced yoga practice and healthy splits.
So I’ve formulated this little sequence for you which will target each part of the hip joint. It’s very simple and minimal which is nice if you are pressed for time, but I do recommend adding extra movements if you can. For example, I highly recommend you warm up with Sun Salutations A and B before moving on to the hip stretches.
Depending on the day, you can take this as deep or soft as you feel necessary. You’re always welcome to take the simplest version of each pose. As the body opens up, you may feel inclined to take the deeper options, but there is absolutely no rush or expectation to do so.
Remember to breathe! Full, deep, and calm breathing will help the body soften and open up. Focus on controlling your breath as you practice these poses. Try to stay in each pose for a *very minimum* of seven breaths.
I’ve written this in an order that you can practice as a sequence. It’s your choice how you practice it: static stretches, doing both left and right sides before moving on to the next pose, or you can do a more “flow like” practice by flowing from one pose to the next on the right side, and then going back and doing it all on the left side. I personally like to do it more as a flow, so I wrote the cues as such (although the photos may switch between sides... I chose them based on best visibility for each pose!). Ultimately, it’s your practice, your call.
The psoas is the primary hip flexor and also, consequently, tends to be one of the tightest muscles in most people these days (all those desk jobs!). This pose gets straight to the point.
-Starting in Downward Facing Dog, step your right foot forward and drop your left knee down onto the ground.
-Activate your hips and legs: think about energetically drawing the front heel and the back knee in toward your midline and up through your spine, while keeping the hips evenly squared and sinking deep. You’ll feel the legs light up with awareness and your low lunge will take on a whole new fire - you will feel the body working!
-Option one is to stay right here either with the hands on the ground or take the arms up above you and breathe into the hips, allowing the body to soften into the pose a little more with every exhale.
-Option two is to take the pose a little deeper by walking the right foot a little further over to the right and coming down onto your forearms on the inside of that foot.
-Option three is to bend your back knee and grab your left foot with your right hand. Keep the hips sinking low as you gently draw that back heel toward your booty. You can do this one on the forearms OR the hands. If the hamstring cramps up, back off.
-Option four is to float that back knee for a little extra fire!
-Come back to that traditional low lunge, and straighten into your front leg. Let your hips go back toward your left heel as you fold the torso over the straightened front leg. This pose stretches the hamstring, the back of the hip. It’s a great counter stretch for the low lunge, and it’s the perfect warm up pose for full splits!
-Keep the heart drawing forward toward the toes and the shoulders back and down.
-Draw the tailbone back behind you while you press the back of the knee down toward the ground. Engaging the quadricep by lifting the kneecap up on the thigh will allow the hamstring to lengthen even more.
-Bending back into your right (front) knee, lift your left (back) knee up and stay high on the ball of the back foot.
-Just like with the low lunge, activate the legs and hips. Pull the body up and into the midline. Engage your lower abdominals. Draw the tailbone toward the ground. Sink the hips low, working the front thigh parallel to the ground and that knee at a 90 degree angle.
-Option one is to stay right here and breathe, activating the muscles in the hips and legs and building that heat from the inside out.
-Option two, to add a little challenge, on your exhale, bend your back knee and lower it onto the ground. Inhale, straighten the leg back to your traditional high lunge. Repeat this for 5-10 cycles of breath.
-From your high lunge, straighten into your front leg and fold over the leg, keeping the hips and shoulders square.
-Option to keep the back heel off the ground or spin it flat for a deeper hip stretch.
-Option to step your feet closer together for a shorter stance.
-From downward facing dog, step your right foot between your hands, lower your back knee to the ground. Walk the right foot over to the left side of your mat and let the shin, knee, and hips come down to the floor. If the hips don’t touch the ground, you can place a block or blanket underneath the sit bone to ground the body and settle into the stretch. This will target the outer hip of that front leg.
-Option one is to sit upright with the hands either on the ground for support or raising the arms up overhead.
-Option two is to fold forward over your front shin.
-Option three is to bend your back knee, grab onto the foot/ankle with your left hand and start to draw that foot toward your armpit. This will deepen the stretch in your anterior (front) hip of the back leg.
**If doing the practice as a flow, take a vinyasa and repeat all poses on left side before continuing on***
-Come to a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Begin separating the knees further and further apart as you sink your hips down toward the ground. This will target the inner hip, the adductors. Maybe you can come down onto your forearms from here.
-Do your best to keep your hips and knees aligned. If the hips are too far forward or too far back, the stretch will be compromised.
-Option one is to keep the feet close together.
-Option two, for a more intense hip stretch, is to take the feet wider, in line with your knees.
FULL SPLITS POSE.
-From Downward Facing Dog, step your right foot between the hands and bring the back knee down into your low lunge position.
-From here, have your hands on the ground on either side of your body. If you cannot touch the ground, use blocks under the hands.
-Deepen into your splits. Slide that right (front) foot forward and your left (back) knee back behind you, sinking the hips down.
-Think about the hip of the front leg drawing back and the hip of the back leg coming forward and down, so the hips are evenly squared.
-Option to take a vinyasa or any counter movements that feel good after your splits, and then repeat on the other side.
You may want to close your practice with a child’s pose, a twist, maybe even a shoulder stand. Take a moment to allow the body to cool and calm down again, and take some introspective rest before going back out into the world.
Remember, yoga takes time. Continue to come to your mat, do your best, have faith and have fun. Transformation is coming.