Visual Yoga Blog: The Cheater’s Guide to Doing the Splits.

Via Ricardo das Neves
on Apr 4, 2013
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If sitting in lotus position announces to the world that you, too, practice yoga, then doing the splits announces that you, too, have the flexibility of the yoga-practicing elite.

As we all know (ahem!), yoga is not about doing poses. It’s the feeling of connection to your body while doing the poses. This means that some yogis’ fixation with doing amazing things is just ego stuff.

That being said, while I still have an ego and, I’m guessing, you do too, let me show you how to do the splits, in case it’s useful.

First of all, not everybody should be trying to do the splits. If you have osteoporosis, arthritis, or need knee or hip replacement surgery, please do me a favor and choose walking or swimming instead. Ditto if you have any other garden-variety muscle, nerve or skeletal issues that even a five-year-old would go, “I don’t think you should be trying this, grandma.”


1. Before you get on your mat, be sure it has plenty of cushion for your knees. Though the pictures here do not illustrate this, you could either double up on your mat or put your mat on a carpet or similar soft surface.

2. Get into a lunge position as illustrated: right foot forward and directly between your hands. Left knee on the floor. If you have difficulty reaching the floor with the hands, use yoga blocks…or if you don’t have any, rest each hand on a thick, long-winded religious treatise.

3. Breathe. This pose actually starts in your mind. You are not acquiring flexibility, you are returning your legs to their natural state of flexibility. Someone pointed out to me that when you’re unconscious—when you are on an operating table—doctors can move your legs any which way they need, including putting you into the full splits. So there’s nothing physically structured into your body that makes for tightness—just residual muscular tension. Put differently, you’re not tight; you just have a consciousness of tightness, and that’s what we can breathe away.

4. After three slow breaths, straighten your front knee and raise the ball of the foot off the floor, as pictured. I call this the “pre-splits.” Stay for five slow breaths.

5. Now begin to slide your right heel forward, as pictured. If necessary, support yourself on your blocks/books, or hey, even add to them. After all, how long has it been since you put to good use The Complete Works of William Shakespeare?

6. Now is the time to stretch intelligently. As usual for any position, pain is your counselor. It tells you where you should stop. If you feel pain, or if you’re holding your breath, or if the intensity is so great that you’re dying to come out of the pose, then back off, either by coming higher up on the base of your fingers or adding the large-print edition of War and Peace under one hand and Gone with The Wind under the other. No leaning forward; instead, keep your back upright. And keep your left knee pointed down, as illustrated.

7. Now here’s the secret to the pose: forget about trying to stretch further. Instead try to relax more. Breathe slow, rhythmic breaths into your pelvic floor, your right hamstring and your left quadriceps. Remember: you don’t return your legs to their natural state of flexibility by brute-forcing your way through, but rather by relaxing into the pose. Stay for 10 to 20 long breaths.

8. Repeat each of these steps on the other side.

Benefits: A more relaxed lower back, especially if your hamstrings are habitually tight. Better range of motion in your hips, your hamstrings and your quadriceps. Bragging rights to your spouse, your children, and your organic-produce person at the farmer’s market (who listens politely but couldn’t care less).

Avoid if: For any of the reasons laid out at the beginning, or if anything else hurts while in the pose, skip this. Differentiate between discomfort and pain: if you’ve never stretched like this, you’re bound to encounter discomfort; but if you’re in the grin-and-bear it camp, or you’re shallow-breathing to get through the pain, then, seriously, back off or do something else.

Final thoughts: For many people, this is the knee-jerk questions after test-driving this pose (also known in yoga as hanumanasana, incidentally): “How long till I can do the full splits?”

I don’t know what the answer is for you. All I know is that I’d been trying to do the splits for years and never sinking anywhere near the floor, until I took that workshop with the guy who said, “You’re already flexible; you’re just returning to your natural flexibility, and if you don’t believe me, look at what doctors can make your body do when you’re passed out on an operating table.”

After hearing that, I was in the full splits the following week.

I’m just sayin’.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Ricardo das Neves

Ricardo das Neves is the author of Unenlightened: Confessions of an Irreverent Yoga Teacher, and is occasionally known to tweet (@spirithumor). See more VISUAL YOGA BLOGS here. When he’s not trying to be funny, he acts very serious teaching yoga classes in and around Seattle. Subscribe to future VISUAL YOGA BLOGS here. Connect with him on Google+


13 Responses to “Visual Yoga Blog: The Cheater’s Guide to Doing the Splits.”

  1. Rogelio Nunez says:

    Unless you are already very flexible, WARNING to the rest….there are many prep poses one needs to do before you attempt what this writer has suggested….
    looking at picture #5 his back leg is not aligned properly, which may put strain in the knee, his left hip is way back, creating an unwanted twist to the lower back, for this demo the practitioner should be using props to get good safe alignment..that should be the primary goal, and not getting to the floor….
    I am surprised that elephant is allowing articles like this without any kind of review!!!

  2. It is not true that doctors can easily stretch muscles into splits while a patient is sedated. In a procedure called Manipulation Under Anesthesia (an osteopathic technique) two physicians working together can stretch the body and adjust joints more than the person could be adjusted while awake. But this takes tremendous force by two doctors holding and moving the patient. The patient is in pain for days and possibly weeks post-procedure, and needs much follow-up care. The author also fails to mention vital warm-ups and preparatory poses that must precede hananasana. He does a disservice to those wishing to work toward this pose, when he parrots a teacher who himself was disseminating false information, and when he makes light of what is needed to respectfully and sensibly attain such a challenging pose. People following his advice won’t find it quite so witty when they sustain a hamstring origin tear that will take months or longer to heal. Can we teachers please stop spreading mis-information and teach properly, with an eye to ahimsa (non-harming), intelligent sequencing, and injury prevention?

  3. margeaux Suberi says:

    I agree with the two posts prior to mine…… Warm up is essential for a split……..

  4. Danielle says:

    The stretches he gave to prep into this pose are great. I have been working on this for a while (about 6 mo) and I am almost able to go into it completely on one side…I'm sure others can get into it quicker! The props he suggests is what my teacher did. I find this to be very challenging. Hard to remember to breath lol.

  5. RAS says:

    I agree. As Erich Schiffmann says in his excellent book 'Yoga – The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness':

    "The Splits Pose [Hanumasana] is an advanced stretch, so please be careful with it.[…] It requires extreme flexibility in the quadriceps muscles of the rear leg and the hamstring muscles of the front leg. Be sure to stay well within your comfort zone at all times."

    Plus, as a basic , it is is helpful to have the forward heel on the floor and off the sticky mat. On a sticky mat, as shown here, the heel is reluctant to slide forward, gets stuck and needs inappropriate and unnecessary effort to move it forward.

  6. leilra says:

    This came at the perfect time because I've been trying to do the splits forever. I've actually been doing these stretches for a while, but haven't seen any progress. Maybe this mindset of "I'm already flexible" will be just what I need (:

  7. Rogelio, Rogelio, Rogelio… I know your role on yoga articles on here is to be the bah-humbug naysayer, but still, you gotta read the text, my impetuous friend, not just look at the pretty pictures and lambast away. 🙂

    Direct your yogic curiosity to the text that describes how pain is your guide… and how if you're experiencing pain, you stop and back off till that's no longer the case. That way, there is never a possibility of over-stretching or forcing or pulling a hamstring or going beyond what your body is ready to do now… nor the other issues that you alluded to or meant to allude to.

    Also, note the disclaimer that this position should be skipped by the people who have the listed body issues. I never say "read this article, try this and by the end, you'll be in the splits"; rather, I encourage exploration and intelligent stretching, which includes using pain as a barometer for where to stop.

    By the same token, I'm not parroting here the traditional, accepted line that "you must be very flexible to do the splits." No; if you have no issues other than tightness in your hips and hamstrings, then the article is about how to start to find your way into the splits, and how with the right technique and mindset it might be more doable than people think.

    As far as your observation about how the position looks from the rear, I agree 100% that the knee needs to be pointing down (as described in the text); and yes, the model should've done a better job of showing that. However, whether the left hip drawn back is the awful thing you make it out to be or not, is a matter of personal experience and shouldn't hold anyone back from trying the position, with the mentioned props if necessary

    The model for this pose reports not having hip, knee, lower back or any other issues arising from the pose. Then again, the model is someone who remembers to release his mula bandha after yoga class… I just mention that here in case you find any resonance with that concept. 😉

    So, my dear Rogelio, if you happen to put your experience to use and write articles for Elephant, I will be delighted to read them. In case I can think of improvements or areas of concern, I will voice them (as constructive criticism, not belittling the author of the article or the venue where the article is published), but bear in mind that while I respect what Mr. Iyengar has given the world and his commitment to exploration and adaptation, his is not the end-all and be-all when it comes to understanding or practicing a yoga pose. You might be surprised to find out that there are other ways of doing things that don't agree with him or your experience but do actually work…

  8. Good points, RAS. And I agree with Erich and make a point of saying to be careful with it. Staying well within your comfort zone at all times is an excellent way of saying the same thing as I do–to use pain as an indicator of where to back off from, so there is no pain.

    Good point about starting the pose with the forward heel off the mat. Thank you.

  9. Charlotte, thanks for your input. I may be guilty of parroting someone else, as I myself haven't been under general anesthesia, been adjusted, and came back to report on it. That being said, the teacher in question had a Master's in physiology from a reputable institution and we weren't discussing osteopathic joint adjustment. Just the fact that unconscious, a body has a greater range of motion than typically so while conscious. And if people are indeed following my advice (all of my advice) then they'll read the part about using pain as the point at which you stop and back off. There's no hamstring tear that happens under those circumstances, and that I can vouch for.

  10. drlaurel says:

    Love your article and love thinking that I might be doing the splits soon! I have been talked through this position in the past and also noticed that I was ever so much closer to the splits. Thanks for illustrating this! But, as a surgeon, I have to address your operating table factoid…it is the second time I heard this statement, the first time being in yoga teacher training. It is, unfortunately, a false statement that I hope will begin to permeate the yoga community. I cannot get patients to do the splits under general anesthesia….they are more flexible but not "splits" flexible. And further the statement, any good doctor would not even enter that territory as there is no procedure where we need to see a patient in the splits and a ruptured hamstring or adductor muscle would be followed with a nice healthy law suit. Although I believe in you'll see it when you believe it, encouraging people to achieve something they believe is possible under general anesthesia may result in some injuries.

  11. Thank you very much for your comment and weighing on this. As you'll see in the comment section, others have also questioned the validity of my statement, which admittedly I didn't research. I was all along in my head thinking "more flexible" as well under anesthesia, and took it on faith that more was possible. Thank you so much for setting the record straight.

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  13. Melanie says:

    I have extremely stiff right hip actually hurts a bit just to sit cross legged! Not sure if it's the start of arthtiis since I'm only 34 and have never been diagnosed, but I'm wondering if this is preventing me from doing a full split!…I've been practicing for almost 6 months now and not seeing much improvment!