I am able to do a no-handed splits on aerial silks because I have developed this pose in a healthy, holistic way. I have developed strength in the position at the same rate as flexibility, so that I can be stable here. Balance is important too! Brad captured this moment of intense focus this summer in Santa Cruz CA.
Splits is a fundamental and signature skill in so many athletic disciplines and movement arts. This pose is also a popular flexibility goal for those who don't specifically need it in their movement practices. But splits is more than a visual delight and expression of physical prowess; training splits can help us to attune to the body, correct imbalances, and support nervous system regulation.
Note: you do not have to achieve splits to receive the following benefits. You just have to train them. If your hips are very tight, you will benefit primarily from the intention you bring to your practice and your preparatory poses.
It is totally okay not to be able to do the splits.
Splits as a personal-cultural counterbalance
Therapeutic benefit: training splits corrects strength/weakness imbalances in the hips and legs and addresses muscular tension.
Tight and weak hip flexors, glutes, and hamstrings are hallmarks of a sitting society. Our legs begin to freeze up into our sitting positions, resulting in weakness and tightness, and therefore injuries and chronic pain. Splits can be a great practice for addressing some of these imbalances and health risk factors in our world today.
How we practice matters so much. Only practicing forward/back hip opening postures will result in further imbalances in the body. Only stretching passively (relaxing in the pose) will result in instability, increasing risk of injury. Addressing the hips holistically in flexibility training, meaning involving their full range of motion and incorporating strength, supports steady and healthy progress in the splits. It allows you to have a highly functional splits, as in the no-handed splits in aerial silks.
Splits for nervous system training
Therapeutic benefit: training splits while observing the nervous system helps us to learn whether our nervous systems are accurate, underreporting, or overreacting. This allows us to enhance body awareness through careful study, and begin to notice when this is happening in other situations. This is huge for anxiety management!
In splits we approach muscle groups that are typically out of balance, and the process of developing strength and flexibility can feel very intense. The nervous system will detect this intensity and is liable to flag an injury threat. When this happens, pay careful attention to every sensation to make sure there is no risk of injury. At the same time, critically examine the nervous system's signals. Is the nervous system sending an important message, or overreacting to strong sensation? The opposite can happen too, when the nervous system signals are dull or unclear, and you end up pushing too far as a result. Watch, listen, feel. What's taking place?
The beauty of flexibility training is that nobody outside of you can tell you if what you feel is safe or not. You have to learn to understand the body's signals, distinguishing valid warnings from any anxiety that comes from the intensity. Always err on the side of caution, but take care to examine whether that line of caution has been drawn in the right place. If the nervous system is overreacting, slow down the breath and soften the face. If it has a valid point, ease out of the stretch a bit. Learning the difference is incredibly rewarding and accelerates the process of developing body awareness. Developing body awareness is a beautiful way to build confidence, but that's a whole nother blog post!
What's happening in splits?
Balancing poses: pigeon, butterfly (baddha konasana), twists
Here is a guide for leading up to, into, and out of splits. It must be preceded by a warmup to be practiced safely!
For additional guidance in holistic, healthy flexibility, have a look at the personalized flexibility program I offer. Send an inquiry through the contact form for a discount code.
What pose do you want to see broken down? Let me know!
Sara Kaiser is a certified, experienced yoga teacher. She brings a holistic approach to teaching yoga, aerial silks, meditation, and flexibility.