How to Do Standing Split in Yoga
Standing Split is an intermediate yoga pose that stretches your legs and hips while challenging your balance. This pose is also a common preparatory position for the front-to-back split pose done on the floor, which is known as Monkey Pose (called "Hanumanasana" in Sanskrit).
The Sanskrit name for this pose, "Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana" (OORD-vah prah-suh-REE-tuh EK-uh pahd-AHS-uh-nuh), comes from five words:
- "Urdhva" — meaning "upward"
- "Prasarita" — meaning "spread" or "expanded"
- "Eka" — meaning "one"
- "Pada" — meaning "foot" or "leg"
- "Asana" — meaning "pose"
This essentially translates to "One Foot Expanding Upward Pose." However, it is most commonly referred to simply as "Standing Split."
It's important to warm up your hamstrings before practicing this pose. Sun Salutations A, B, and C are all great sequences to begin to prepare your legs for Standing Split (see Tips, below, for more pose suggestions!).
Benefits of Standing Split
Standing Split stretches the whole back side of the body, particularly the hamstrings and calves. It strengthens the thighs, knees, and ankles, and also stretches the groin muscles. Supporting your body's weight on one leg, while upside-down, will greatly challenge and improve your balance.
One of the wonderful things about yoga is it is designed to meet you where you are.
Since your heart is above your head in this pose, it is considered a mild inversion (less intense than other inversions, like Headstand). It holds the benefits of other inversions, including relief from headaches, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, and mild depression. The increased flow of blood to the brain calms the nervous system. This helps to improve memory and concentration, and relieve stress.
Do not practice Standing Split if you have a recent or chronic ankle, knee, or low back injury. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your arms at your sides. Let your breath become steady and rhythmic. Draw your awareness inward and focus on the present moment.
- Inhale as you reach your arms overhead. Exhale and bend at the hips, coming into Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana). Bring both hands to the floor and straighten your legs. Do not lock your knees.
- Shift your weight onto your right foot and equally across both hands. Then, raise your left leg up as high as you can behind you.
- Walk your hands back (in the direction of your standing heel) to deepen the stretch, and draw your torso closer to your right leg. Breathe deeply and relax your shoulders. Tuck your chin.
- Internally rotate your left thigh, and square your hips toward the floor (doing so may require you to lower your left leg a bit).
- Keep the knee and foot of your standing leg facing directly forward.
- Hold for five breaths. Then, slowly lower your left leg to the floor, coming back into Uttanasana. Repeat the pose on the other side, for the same amount of time.
Modifications & Variations
Standing Split is a powerful stretch when practiced correctly. If your hamstrings are tight, this pose may seem like an impossible dream! But with practice and patience, your hamstrings will become more flexible. Remember to take it slowly and never force the pose. Try these simple changes to find a variation of the pose that works for you:
- If your hands don't rest easily on the floor, place each hand on a yoga block.
- More flexible students can clasp the outer ankle of the standing leg with the opposite-side hand.
- To gradually deepen the pose, bend your standing leg. Then lift your raised leg slightly higher. Keep the raised leg at that height, then straighten the front leg again.
- To support the lifted leg as you gain strength and flexibility, rest your raised foot along the top edge of a chair, table, or ballet barre. You can also press the raised foot against a wall.
To help prepare the body for full splits (Hanumanasana), practice the pose against a wall:
- Begin in Uttanasana with a wall about one foot behind you.
- With your hands on the floor in front of you, extend your left leg up, resting the top of your foot on the wall. Gradually, the front of your raised leg will be able to rest along the wall.
- As you hold the pose and gain flexibility, press firmly through your standing foot to extend your raised leg even further up the wall.
Standing Split will challenge your balance and your legs! Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana) provides the foundation for this pose, so it's important to learn the correct alignment for Uttanasana before moving into Standing Split. Thoroughly review the iSport guide, How to Do Standing Forward Fold in Yoga, before practicing this pose.
- Be sure to warm up your hamstrings well before practicing this pose! Some good poses include Sun Salutation C (Surya Namaskara C), Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana), Triangle Pose (Trikonasana), and Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana).
- As in all forward folds, make sure the front of your torso stays long and extended. Do not allow your spine to overly round.
- Focus on the stretch, not on the lift! It doesn't matter how high your leg goes if you don't have correct alignment. Work toward maintaining an equal balance of energy and effort in both legs.
Split Your Time
Standing Split will challenge your muscles and your mind! It is a powerful leg-strengthener that will add variety and spark to your regular practice. Remember to take it slowly and never force the pose. With practice, you'll be lifting your leg sky-high!