For some, the word “splits” belongs with two bananas and vanilla-flavoured Rice Dream—not a yoga mat. For others of us it conjures up flashbacks of cheerleading tryouts gone wrong or desperate attempts to survive Gymnastics 101. Or maybe you’re a born yogi and sitting cross-legged for an afternoon doesn’t require three friends to peel you off the floor. Kudos to you. But flexibility has never come easily to me, and I’ve always admired the grace in motion that some people appear to be blessed with—which is why Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana is a posture I’d never considered myself capable of. You can imagine the surge of self-confidence I enjoy while working my way incrementally closer to a respectful Standing Splits—sans the Rice Dream.
Just leave it to the yogis to take an already intimidating floor pose, yank it to a standing position, and flip it upside down. Aren’t yogis supposed to prefer simplicity?
As it turns out, the standing variation is easier than doing the splits on the floor, because the downward pull of gravity naturally draws your torso forward over the standing leg. But this is something you’ll just have to discover yourself . . .
You should always warm up with some sun salutations before moving into a deeper practice. Five to 10 rounds will get the blood flowing and take your joints through their full range of motion. Surya Namaskara B is the best option here, because Warrior A helps prepare your hip flexors for extension. Instead of holding Downward Dog for 5 breaths, keep moving through the vinyasas, like a moving meditation. Holding Dog Pose allows time for your body to cool down. In preparing for Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana, it’s better to stay warm and open.
Before stepping into Warrior A in your sun salutations, hold 3-legged dog for a few breaths. Keep your standing heel reaching towards the earth and try not to allow your lifted-leg hip to roll open (as you would in preparation for Pigeon Pose, for example).
Getting into the Pose
There are many different ways to enter Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana, but I find it easiest from 3-legged dog (which you can integrate into your sun salutations). With the right leg lifted, simply walk your hands back towards your standing leg. If you make it halfway, you’ve got Warrior C! You can hold here and build strength or keep going. Once you arrive at the back of your mat, folded over your standing leg, wrap your right arm around the calf muscle to draw your forehead closer to your shin. Stay here for 10 breaths, building strength in the standing leg, while deepening the stretch and flexibility in your lifted leg. Change sides.
If you’ve got a decent standing splits, challenge yourself by grasping the ankle with both hands. Tip: Look down at the floor for balance in this variation, and not towards the shin.
Strengthens the standing-leg gluteus medius and minimus while working the quads.
Stretches the gluteus maximus and hamstrings.
Stretches the standing-leg calf muscles.
Strengthens the raised-leg glutes.
Builds concentration and focus.
Remember, there’s no competition. You won’t be judged on form nor finesse, so have fun with it!