Splits pose: many of us would like to achieve it, but can't dream of a way in which it would ever be possible! It is easy to assume you have to be naturally very flexible or start very young in order to attain this pose. However it is more than possible with practice to achieve splits, and Yin Yoga is an excellent and very effective method for getting you there. Yin Yoga is gentle and passive but at the same time delivers beautiful and impressive results in flexibility. I have detailed below a series of Yin Yoga poses that work to increase flexibility in all of the areas needed to perform splits. Before we start though, let's take a closer look at what Yin Yoga is!
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is a style of yoga that specifically targets connective tissues in the body rather than muscles. It is a passive style of stretching where the muscles are intentionally kept relaxed in order for the stretch to go directly into these connective tissues.
Yin Yoga poses need to be held for at least 2 minutes in order to access connective tissues, but more typically are held for around 3-5 minutes each, and up to as much as 20 minutes for advanced practitioners.
There are two critical components to practicing Yin Yoga:
1. Keep your muscles relaxed
2. Hold the pose for at least 2 minutes.
Because Yin Yoga requires the practitioner to stretch in a completely relaxed way and to hold each pose for minutes rather than seconds, it is excellent at cultivating flexibility on the physical level, but it is also perfect for cultivating kindness to the body and patience and endurance on a mental and emotional level.
What are Connective Tissues?
Connective tissues are made up of the fascia that connect and encase muscles, the ligaments that attach bones to bones, the tendons that attach muscles to bones, the cartilage found in joints and the capsules that surround joints.
Connective tissues are everywhere in the body. You can see some connective tissue fibres in white in the side graphic and how ubiquitous they are!
Most of the tightness in the body is actually due to restrictions in the connective tissues rather than muscles. Because connective tissues surround and encase muscles, if they are too restricted they will prevent muscles from reaching their full length and stretching capabilities.
Yin Yoga offers a form of stretching unlike any other; it targets specifically those connective tissues and gently and effectively stretches them out, freeing muscles up to reach their full and desired length.
~Yin Yoga Splits Class~
Now that we understand a little bit about Yin Yoga and connective tissues, lets get to work on a fun class that will allow you to target and stretch all of the areas needed to prepare for and (hopefully with practice!!) achieve your splits. I've included stretches for both front and middle splits. The more often you stretch, the more results you will see, so practice often! Please remember to breathe and to keep your muscles relaxed in the poses. Enjoy! :)
1. Caterpillar Pose
Caterpillar pose targets the hamstrings. It is an excellent warm-up pose for front splits and stretches both legs at the same time.
To do caterpillar pose, sit with both legs out straight in front of you. Lean forward as much as possible over your legs and hold whatever part of your legs you are able to reach. You do not have to reach your head to your knees, only do this if it is comfortable for you. Instead of pulling yourself down, use the weight of your body to bring your upper body as close to your legs as possible. If you can't reach all of the way, use props like a pillow on your lap to support you.
Suggested length of time in pose: 5 minutes. Remember to stay relaxed, keep breathing and don't push. You should go as far as you can and stop when you reach the point of mild discomfort. As the 5 minutes progresses, if more space opens up, feel free to go deeper into the pose. If you feel pain though, you have gone too far and should come out of the pose a bit.
2. Swan Pose
Swan pose (also called pigeon pose) targets the hip flexors, which also need to be open and flexible in order to do front splits.
This pose can either be done upright (as shown), or with the upper body leaning over the front leg and onto the floor. Start with your front foot bent in closely towards your body. If this is easy for you and you would like a bigger challenge, move the front foot further out away from the body at a perpendicular angle. This will deepen the stretch and also increase the stretch in the glutes.
Suggested length of time in pose: 3 minutes. You can alternate between sitting upright and folding your upper body over your front leg. If you want an even greater challenge, after the 3 minutes is up grab your back foot with one hand, bend it in towards your body and hold there for 1 extra minute. Repeat the same variations and length of time on the opposite leg. If this pose bothers your knees, please do not do it.
3. Dragon Pose
Dragon pose (lunge) also targets the hip flexors. It is an excellent warm-up pose as well for front splits.
When you do this pose, start out with your hands on the floor on either side of your front leg and hold there. Use the weight of your body to bring your hip as close to the floor as possible. As you feel ready, proceed to the upright variation with your hands up on your front knee, or place your hands on yoga blocks on either side of your front leg if this is easier. Make sure your back knee is cushioned by a yoga mat, knee pad, blanket or rug. Do not place your back knee directly onto a hard floor.
Suggested length of time in pose: 3 minutes. Remember to keep the muscles relaxed and to breathe! Repeat the same variations for the same length of time on the opposite leg.
4. Runner's Stretch
This is a preparatory pose for your hamstrings before sliding into splits.
After your dragon pose, put your hands on the floor and move your body back so that your back leg is bent at a 90 degree angle. Straighten out your front leg and begin to lean over it.
If you feel like you can go deeper, using the weight of your body continue to bend your upper body over your front leg until your head reaches your knee. Hold there, keep relaxed and of course remember to breathe!
Suggested length of time in the pose: 3 minutes. Repeat with the opposite leg for the same length of time.
5. Splits Pose!
Once you are done with your preparatory pose, it is time to slide further towards your splits!
To do this pose, keep both hands on the floor and slide your front leg forward until you have reached your maximum. Keep your hips square and hold at your maximum (where you feel discomfort but not pain) for the duration of the stretch. As the minutes progress, if more space opens up, use the weight of your body to bring yourself closer to the floor. Of course, you do not have to get all the way to the floor or anywhere near it; achieving splits takes time and practice!
Suggested length of time in pose: 2 minutes. This will be challenging and will definitely be uncomfortable! Repeat this pose on the opposite leg for the same length of time. Do not be discouraged if you are far away from the floor. It is more than possible to improve significantly with regular stretching!
Butterfly targets the adductors, which are the muscles and tissues in the groin and inside of the leg that need to be flexible in order to do middle splits.
To do this pose, bring the soles of your feet together in front of you, hold your feet with your hands and bend your upper body forward over your legs as much as possible. Place your elbows on top of your knees and use the weight of your body to bring your knees closer to the floor.
If you need support, you can put cushions or a yoga block underneath each knee or a pillow or bolster for your upper body in front of you. Again if your knees bother you, please add support or come out of the pose.
Suggested length of time in pose: 3-5 minutes.
7. Half Butterfly
Half butterfly is another great warm-up for middle splits and also targets the adductors.
To do this pose, keep one leg folded in towards your body and extend the opposite leg out to the side. You do not have to open all of the way, just go to the point where you feel discomfort but not pain.
To deepen the stretch, arch your upper body to the side over the outstretched leg and hold. For the next variation, bring your hands or elbows to the floor in front of you and move into a centre forward bend as far as possible. This will deepen the stretch even further in the adductors.
Suggested length of time in pose: 3 minutes. Repeat the same sequence of variations and length of time on the opposite leg.
8. Dragonfly (Middle Splits)
Now it is time to unfold your leg and open up into middle splits!
You can sit in this pose upright at first. When you feel ready, put your hands on the floor directly in front of you, walk them out as far as possible and use the weight of your body to begin folding towards the ground. This will deepen the stretch in your adductors. Use pillows or blocks when bending forward into the centre for support if you need to. Your goal eventually is to get your entire upper body and abdomen flat onto the floor!
Suggested length of time in the pose: 5 minutes. Do not be discouraged when first going into the pose. As the minutes pass, you will be able to open your legs a bit wider and get your upper body a bit closer to the floor too. It is definitely worth it to stay in the pose for the full 5 minutes if possible. This will allow plenty of time for you to see your body open up and become more flexible!
I hope you enjoyed this Yin Yoga class for front and middle splits! Remember, in order for the stretches to be "yin," it is important that the muscles are kept relaxed while stretching. If you push, pull or engage the muscles that are being stretched, it is no longer a yin exercise that targets connective tissue.
If you would like a greater challenge, feel free to stay in the poses for longer than the suggested time (but no longer than 20 minutes). Likewise, if the suggested times are too long, reduce the amount of time in each pose to 2 minutes.
Try this relaxed and gentle Yin Yoga approach to achieving splits, and I think you will be surprised at the results. It is completely safe and healthy to practice every day. In fact, our tissues are designed to be "stressed" and stimulated daily, and this daily stimulation keeps them healthy, mobile and young. So practice daily and do enjoy yourself. It is a great idea to keep a photo or video diary too so you can track your progress. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below. Have fun and happy stretching! :)
*For more information on Yin Yoga or for Yin Yoga Teacher Trainings near you, please see With-YinYoga.com for details.