Straddle Split or Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana) requires open hips, an anterior rotation of the pelvis, and hamstring flexibility. While this posture can seem intimidating, Straddle Split can be conquered with time and proper preparation. Help prepare your body and release the tension that lives in your thigh muscles with these eight hip-opening yoga poses.
Before focusing on any single body part or specific stretch, it’s always good to do a general warm-up. Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) or any series of dynamic movements can help increase heat and circulation in the body. Breathe deeply in a posture of your choice, and then practice a few rounds of Surya Namaskar A and B. For yogis with more limited flexibility, please utilize blocks and blankets to assist you in the asana below.
Start with standing postures to give you a sense of grounding. These poses safely open up the body to ease pressure on the spine and legs.
Sanskrit: Prasarita Padottanasana
Step by step: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms extended out to the sides. Step your feet wide apart—around four to five feet depending on your height. Make sure your feet are parallel and pointing forward, with the little toe and heel aligned. If your foundation is crooked, the rest of your body will follow. Inhale and lengthen your torso toward the sky. Exhale and fold forward, bending at the hips. Place your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders, and align the fingertips with the toes. If touching the floor is not an obtainable option, place your hands on blocks instead. Inhale and feel the spine lengthen as the pelvis tilts forward in anterior rotation. As your hamstrings lengthen, notice your quads engage. Keep your breath flowing and ground down through the outer edges of the heels. With every exhale, fold deeper but avoid hunching the back. Pay close attention to the knees making sure they are not hyperextended.
Stay here for seven to 10 breaths. Notice the difference in sensation with each breath.
Step by step: Begin in Wide-Legged Forward Bend with your hands on your mat. Turn your toes out to the sides and allow the knees to follow. Keep your hands on the ground inside of your knees and breathe here for a moment. Bend your right knee and lengthen your left leg. Then move to the other side by bending your left knee and lengthening your right leg. Now start moving side-to-side—finding full extension of one leg and then the other.
Find a nice rhythm at first and then stay on each side for five breaths. Ensure the feet and quads are active to maintain alignment and safety.
Step by step: Bring your feet to about hip-distance apart and turn your toes out to the sides of your mat. Inhale and lift from the waist. Exhale and slowly drop your pelvis down toward the mat in a deep squat. The heels should be grounded. If you can’t obtain that yet, either put a blanket or a folded yoga mat under your heels for more support. Inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and press your elbows into the inner knees. Press your hands together to create resistance. This allows the spine to move away from the pelvis, finding traction and slowly opening the hips.
Stay here for five to 10 slow breaths. To exit, place your hands on the floor for support. Press through the feet and lift your tailbone, as you release into a forward bend.
Sanskrit: Ardha Chandrasana
Step by step: Now that our legs are strong and the blood is flowing, it’s time to find extension in our adductors or groin muscles. Practice this pose against a wall to facilitate balance and deepen the hip stretch. Place your right foot forward and parallel to the wall. Then bend your right knee and place your right fingertips on the floor, about 12 inches in front of your toes. As you straighten your right leg, lift your left leg up. (If necessary, place your hand on a block to keep the standing leg straight.) Reach your left arm toward the sky and open your torso. Extend your left leg behind you and stack the hips on top of one another. Push through your standing leg to deepen the stretch in your groin and adductor muscles.
Stay in the pose for several breaths to open the pelvis. To exit, exhale and bring your back foot to the floor. Repeat on the opposite side.
Sanskrit: Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana
Step by step: To begin, come into tabletop (hands and knees) position. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart, pointing forward with your wrist crease parallel to the front of the mat. Press down through your hands. Lift your hips and back upward, creating an inverted “V” shape with your body. Place your feet hip-distance apart. Lift your left leg and foot while keeping the others grounded. Bend your left knee. Reach long toward the opposite shoulder to open the hip of the top leg. Keep the shoulders and arms as even as possible, while the top leg keeps moving up and over. All the muscles of the leg should remain active to reach the maximum stretch.
Stay in the pose for seven to 10 breaths and repeat on the opposite side. To exit, exhale as you lower the extended foot to the mat and place it next to the other.
Sanskrit: Baddha Konasana
Step by step: In a seated position, lengthen the spine and grown down into your sitting bones. Draw the soles of your feet together, bringing your heels in toward your pelvis. Allow the knees to relax to the sides. If needed, place a blanket under your sitting bones to keep the spine erect. Place your fingers around your toes on an inhalation. Exhale and lengthen the spine forward, keeping pressure on the outside edges of your feet. Allow your breath to flow freely into the belly. Inhale and allow your spine to lengthen by lifting out of your torso and drawing your shoulder blades down the back. Exhale, draw the abdominals in, and slowly bring yourself further forward. Draw your chest toward your toes.
Hold this pose for 10 slow breaths. To exit, inhale and lengthen the spine to return to an upright position. Exhale and release the toes, feeling free to extend the knees if needed.
Step by step: Begin in a seated position and extend your legs in front of you. Again if needed, use a blanket under the sit bones. Place your hands on the mat beside your hips. Bring the legs together from inner ankles to inner thighs. Press down through your hands and flex your feet. Take a deep breath to lengthen the spine while grounding down through your sit bones. As you exhale, begin to fold forward reaching the heart toward the toes. If you can, hold your feet while keeping your gaze forward to maintain spinal length and traction. Make sure the legs are engaged as you move forward. Press the upper thighs and hamstrings into the earth. Keep the back of the legs long and point your toes to the sky. On each inhale, lift and lengthen the torso. On each exhale, release the torso and fold further in the pose. As you keep folding forward, draw the navel inward to make space and find more length.
Hold this pose for 10 to 15 breaths to get a greater and safer release in the hamstrings.
Sanskrit: Upavistha Konasana
Step by step: Now that the hips are warmed up, it’s time to move into your peak pose! This variation of Straddle Split is practiced by a wall. Begin in a seated position, facing the wall, and widen your legs out to the sides, forming a “V” shape with your pelvis in the center. Open the legs so your toes point upward and your inner heels touch the wall. Keep your legs straight and engaged as you slide your pelvis forward. Inhale and lift through your torso to lengthen the spine. Reach your arms toward the wall and stay here for five to 10 breaths.
To practice the forward bend, turn around so you are facing away from the wall. Rest the back of your pelvis against the wall and widen your legs again. Inhale and lengthen your upper body. Then exhale and engage your thighs to begin folding forward at the hips—not the waist. Press down through your heels and sitting bones, as you begin to walk your hands forward and lower your torso. Inhale and lengthen the spine again. Then exhale and reach your arms further forward, drawing the abdominals inward. Make sure the thighs and toes are pointing upward, while the spine moved forward and down. The legs can keep moving further away from each other at each breath, eventually reaching a full straddle split.
Breathe into your legs and hold this pose for five to 10 breaths. To exit, inhale and lengthen the spine while returning to an upright position. Exhale and draw the legs back to the midline.
Listening to your body and its limitations will help you improve as you move deeper into your practice. Yoga is a healing practice meant to keep our bodies and minds healthy. Make sure you breathe and let the hard work pay off with a few minutes of Savasana after your practice is done.