Updated: Nov 25, 2019
Oh, standing splits. Such a challenging and beneficial pose. I’ve been working on mine for over a year and still I am only at about 65% to the full pose itself.
Standing splits are a great inversion pose, and like all inversions it’s great for relieving stress and anxiety, increasing oxygenated blood flow to the brain and rejuvenating the entire body. See this post for more on inversions.
Additionally, the standing split will stretch the entire back-side of the body including the lower back, hamstrings, and calves - also the groin. I have found that this pose is also an incredible balance and strength builder.
It’s a great challenge to work towards but guys… this pose is sooooo challenging. One of the wonderful things about yoga is finding joy in where you are and embracing the current moment. This pose is a great challenge and reminder to maintain this mindset with your practice which can flow to your whole life and outlook! You cannot judge your practice on how far you can stretch or how well you can execute certain postures. It’s important to not judge yourself while maintaining something to work towards.
Here is a detailed how-to for this pose with tips while you work towards achieving this pose.
Step 1: Begin in mountain pose and fold forward. Focus on your breath and center yourself for concentration.
Step 2: Place your hands on the mat. Press into your hands and standing leg as you lift one leg behind you as high as you feasibly can. Keep your hips aligned forward. This will challenge your muscles and balance.
Step 3: Hold the pose for as long as you are comfortable (start with 3 - 5 breaths). When ready, lower the lifted leg and come to child’s pose.
Always work within your abilities. If you try to push yourself too hard you can easily get injured with this pose by either falling over or straining your muscles. If it feels wrong or like you’ve pushed too far, just stop.
Be sure to stretch out your hamstrings prior to trying this pose. Downward facing dog and intense side stretch are great poses for this warm-up.
It helps to keep a slight “micro bend” in the standing knee, i.e. - don’t lock your knee in this pose.
You can typically lift your back leg higher if you open your hips in this pose, but try not to do that because you won’t be achieving the stretch that is intended for this pose that way.
It’s tempting to hold your gaze on your mat or your foot while in this pose because it helps with your balance, but if you tuck your chin you will be able to lift your back leg higher. Do what feels comfortable for you.
If you focus on pulling your torso into your standing leg as in a forward fold, you will find that your back leg naturally lifts higher.
The full pose includes bringing your hands close to your foot or even holding the calf of your standing leg, but for more balance support, you can place your hands away from your standing leg on the mat. You can also place your hands on yoga blocks.
I find it’s easier to keep my balance when using a very thin yoga mat or going directly on a hardwood floor surface.
To gradually deepen the pose, bend at the knee of the standing leg to lift the lifted leg even higher. Then, while holding the new position try to straighten the standing leg a little more (without locking the knee).
This pose can be done with the lifted leg resting against a wall to help deepen the stretch.
Try not to worry too much about how high the back leg is lifted and focus more on the stretch. Alignment is more important and if you try too hard to force the back leg up you could get hurt. The leg will raise naturally as your flexibility and strength increase.
This is an intense inversion, so you need to avoid going straight to an upright standing position directly afterward. That’s why I recommend going to child’s pose directly after completing this pose. I tend to get very dizzy in yoga, but if you have a higher tolerance to changes in blood circulation than me, you might be able to forward fold, inhale to rise halfway up for a moment before returning to mountain pose.
Standing split is a great pose that will provide an intense challenge in your practice. My heart is pounding after holding this pose! Take it slow, enjoy the challenge, the journey and the process, and in time, you will see improvement.
I forgot to share with you one of my favorite exercises for practicing your standing splits! It involves taking your three-legged dog pose and slowly transitioning it into a full standing split.
Step 1: Begin in downard facing dog. Lift one leg behind you for three-legged dog, keeping your hips squared forward toward the top of the mat (i.e., do not roll open).
Step 2: Bring the raised leg down and, without bending at the knee, slightly step in front of the planted foot and then raise the opposite leg behind you for three-legged dog again on the reverse side.
Step 3: Repeat and continue to walk your three legged dog up closer to where your hands are at the top of the mat. You will find it easier to raise the lifted leg higher behind you and this will give you more confidence to approach your standing split!
Always be sure to stretch out well before attempting these poses! This week, I'll be sharing a 10-minute full-body yoga flow that will provide a nice stretch to prepare for this pose, along with a challenging full-body strength-building sequence.