Exercise is the ultimate way to keep yourself healthy. Not only does it make you leaner but it also makes your body stronger, limber and more flexible. Because of this, you are more active, less prone to injury and less likely to experience stress and anxiety, which, if left unchecked, can lead to many health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
One of the most effective ways to fight off stress is Yoga – a 5000 year-old Hindu discipline that involves simple meditation, breath control and execution of various poses that help improve one’s bodily posture. The term yoga was derived from the Sanskrit word “yug,” which means “to unite or integrate.” This body of knowledge is all about creating harmony in your mind, body and breathing through meditation, breathing techniques and yoga postures.
For many years, yoga has been a part of society. It has become a way of life for many people, even famous celebrities, like Vanessa Hudgens, Charlize Theron, Demi Moore, Robert Downey Jr., Colin Farrell and Adam Levine, to name a few. Whether you work in an office or a professional builder, yoga works for everyone. In fact, many of us are subconsciously doing some of form of yoga in our day-to-day lives.
One of the many benefits of yoga is keeping the body strong and flexible. This is because every asana (yoga posture) is designed to reinforce the muscles around the spine, the central system from which all other organs operate. Because the core is working properly, it improves a person’s posture, which alleviates pains in the shoulder, back and neck.
How does yoga improve the quality of life?
- Fight stress and offer peace of mind
Because yoga involves both physical and mental disciplines, it helps people achieve balance and peacefulness of the body and mind. As a result, you are better able to manage stress and anxiety, which are a part of your daily existence, be it at work or at home.
Recent studies have proven how performing yogic movements can help reduce stress and anxiety. Aside from helping you become fitter and less prone to chronic conditions, it can improve your mood and overall sense of well-being. Hatha yoga, for example, can greatly help in stress management as it has a slower pace and easier poses or postures.
- Boost emotional health
Any form of exercise can help improve mental health, such as depression. A study conducted by the Duke University Medical Center shows that yoga is beneficial to those living with schizophrenia, depression and other psychiatric conditions. Furthermore, practicing yoga with a partner or group helps increase the production of oxytocin, which is believed to be the love and bonding hormone. It was also revealed that performing yogic poses and meditation can result in higher levels of serotonin or the happiness hormone.
- Loss of weight
As you practice yoga on a regular basis, you will be able to tone your muscles while increasing its strength. As a result, you’ll be more active and more willing to do physical activities that help in your weight loss efforts.
- Improve strength and flexibility
Yoga is mainly focused on increasing your core’s strength and improving your flexibility to ensure that your whole body is healthy from the inside out. This keeps you looking good and feeling better.
To prove that yoga does make a person more flexible, it is to be noted that practitioners of this discipline are able to execute various types of splits. If you are new to yoga and would want to improve your splits, there are ways to do just that.
How to do the splits faster and easier?
The only way to do perfect splits is to stretch your muscles. Here are a few hacks to help you make your splits a lot easier, and with as little pain as possible.
Hack #1 – Take a hot shower
Yes, this tip might sound weird but showering with hot water causes your muscles to warm up, thus making them more flexible. So, when you stretch your limbs after taking a shower, you’ll notice that it’s so much easier to get down farther.
Hack #2 – Warm things up
Warm-ups are very important when doing any form of exercise. This is to ensure that your muscles are ready for any strenuous activity, thus preventing you from getting hurt. So, do some light stretches to warm up your muscles, focusing especially on your inner thighs and hamstrings. Keep in mind that the warmer your muscles are, the easier you’ll be able to get farther down in a split position.
Here are some stretching exercises you can do before executing a split:
- Standing forward bend
Stand straight up, keep your feet together and arms by your side. Raise your hands overhead into a prayer position. While in this position, swan-dive your arms and chest down toward the floor letting your palms fall to the side of your feet. Then, slowly bring your chest closer to your knees. If you’re having a hard timed doing this, bend your knees a little. For the maximum stretch, continuously press your chin and chest against your knees and thighs.
- Lizard pose
Go into a low lunge position bending your front knee and keeping it aligned with your ankle. Extend your back leg behind you and let it gently rest on the floor, but make sure it does not touch the ground. While in this position, bring both hands to your front foot’s inner side. Then, slowly come to your forearms with your chest moving closer to the floor. Continue to reach your head and back heel to the opposite direction. This posture stretches your groin, abdomen, neck, hamstrings, thighs and shoulders. Plus, it improves your breathing.
- Straddle pose
Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you. Put your hands behind you and spread your legs as wide as you can. From this position, bring your hands to the open space between your legs. Stretch your hands to as far as you can go. Once you reach this point, lower your head and chest as low to the ground as possible.
You should also stretch each leg while in a straddle pose. Bring your left arm overhead and extend it over toward your right foot. If you can, try to touch your toes with your fingers. Hold this position for about eight breaths. Then, do the same to the opposite side.
- Quad stretch
This is one of the easiest stretching techniques that anyone can do. To do this, stand with your feet together and arms on the sides. Lift one leg backwards and hold with one hand, while your free arm is stretched in front of you. Hold for a few breaths. Do the same with the opposite leg and arm.
Hack #3 – Find a workout buddy
It’s always easier, not to mention more fun when you’re working out with a partner. It’s almost magical to mastering the split when you have someone to help you stretch your legs.
To do this with a buddy, lie on your back with one leg pressed against the floor and other lifted above you while ensuring your hips are squared. Your partner should stand on their knees over your leg that is on the floor. Ask them to hold up your raised leg. While in this position, push your raised leg as hard as you can. Your friend’s job is to prevent you from doing so. Hold this position for 15 seconds, and then repeat pushing your leg farther back and closer to your head. Repeat the routine on the other leg. After that, try doing a split on the floor.
Hack #4 – Time yourself
Whenever you are stretching, you should hold your position for 30 to 60 seconds. You need a stopwatch to be able to accurately time all your routines.
Hack #5 – Press against a wall
While you are still working on your splits, spread your legs and press yourself against a wall. By doing so, you’ll be able to hold your stretch without hurting yourself.
Hack #6 – Overextend
Here’s one more easy trick to perfecting your split faster. Overextend your legs. You’ll need a yoga mat to do this. First, place your foot on the mat before you slide into the split position and hold it for 30 seconds. Then, try to do a normal split with your hips squared while stretching. You should feel the difference in your split.
Hack #7 – Watch TV
So weird, right? But this trick can actually help you when you’re working on your splits. How? Well, you’ll be distracted from the pain, and likely to not get bored, while stretching your legs. You can even hold your split longer if you’re not focused on the throbbing in your legs.
Hack #8 – Get your heart pumping
Any physical activity that gets your heart pumping will loosen our muscles, preventing you from getting injured while trying a split. You can run around your house, dance or do jumping jacks. These will surely warm up your muscles, making your stretch more effective without the pain.
Hack #9 – Take your stretches to the next level
Stretching your groin and hamstrings are not enough. You should include your lower back, calves, hips and buttocks. Also, make small changes to your stretches by adjusting your position. When stretching your hamstrings, for example, turn your toes inward and outward. You can also twist your hips from side to side to target different areas of the same muscles. This should make you more flexible.
Hack #10 – Do static stretching long enough
Static stretching is when you stretch your muscles in various ways while the body is at rest. This gradually extends the muscles to an elongated position. Instead of doing it for only 30 seconds, though, hold your stretch longer for one to two minutes. Make sure to find a position that only causes light tension in your muscles.
Hack #11 – Try dynamic stretching
Dynamic stretching is when you are “stretching as you are moving.” This warms up your whole body, which is perfect as a pre-split exercise. To do this, use a soft bounce or swinging motion to move your muscles to its limit. But make sure the bounce or swing is increased gradually, not suddenly or rapidly, as this can cause injury.
Hack #12 – Do the tipover tuck.
This is one of the stretches that’s actually relaxing and is a great way to warm up both hamstrings while increasing your lower back’s flexibility.
Start by standing with your feet apart. Place your arms behind you while interlacing your fingers below the back of your pelvis. Press your palms’ heels to do a double fist, if you can. Pull your hands away from your shoulders to stretch your chest a bit. From this position, lean forward and raise your hands overhead as you slowly fold your torso toward your thighs while keeping both legs straight. Move the top of your head toward the floor to ensure you are lengthening your spine. Hold this position for five breaths. Then, slowly lift your torso back up to come to a standing position.
Hack #13 – Do your stretching at night
When you wake up in the morning, do you notice how stiff and un-flexible your muscles feel? This is because your body stays in the same position while you sleep. This means that it’s best to practice your splits at night, as you can be sure that your muscles are still loose and ready for some strenuous activity.
Hack #14 – Do it more
If you want to perfect your split faster, it’s better to practice more than once a week. That way your muscles will get used to stretching, making them more flexible as the days go by. This is especially true if your muscles feel sore the day after you had your first try. Besides, body pains mean you’re making progress.
Hack #15 – Put on a pair of socks
What does this mean? Do you ever notice how the floor seems slipperier when you’re wearing socks? This means that it will be easier for you to do the split if you’re wearing socks. This is because your feet will slide out farther with socks on.
Hack #16 – Execute a standing split
If you’re still practicing, this is a great preparation for a horizontal split. This targets your hamstring while stretching your hips.
Start with a standing forward bend. Then, inhale while shifting weight into your right foot and your palms. While in this position, raise your left leg as high as possible. Tuck your chin and bring your torso toward your right leg while deeply breathing and relaxing your shoulders. Hold for five breaths. Then, replace your left leg to the floor. Stay in this position for a complete breath. Repeat this technique with the other foot on the floor.
Hack #17 – Get a support
Once you’ve stretched your muscles pretty well, you can try doing a full split with a block or any hard object to do a supported split. You will need to sit on a mat and get into a lizard pose. Sit up straight and shift your weight back while your left knee is bended and your right leg is stretched out. Put a block or another object under your right hamstring. Slowly move your left foot away from you to get into a split allowing your weight to be supported by the object you placed under it. If it still hurts, use a bigger support. Stay in this position for five breaths before doing the stretch on the other side.
Hack #18 – Take breaks once in a while
If you’re too sore and want to take a week off, then do it. You need to take a break every so often. Don’t work your body too hard as it can lead to injury. After a short break and are feeling better, work on your splits again. But be sure to warm up properly before stretching out your legs to avoid hurting yourself. Keep in mind, though, that breaks should be done once in a while, not every other week.
Hack #19 – Do an over-split
Even if you’re struggling, try an over-split. It would hurt, but it’s a great way to get down your split further. Elevate your leg on top of several books stacked on the floor and then go into a split. After that, try doing your regular split. You’ll be amazed at how much easier you can get down.
Hack #20 – Make sure your body is well prepared for the split
You can take your splits further down only if your flexors and hamstrings are extremely flexible and strong. You will know when your body is fully ready when doing the front split becomes easier. To prepare for this though, you need to do squats and lunges. You should also stretch your quadriceps by pointing a bent knee to the floor and holding the free foot behind you. To get down further, push your body to the point of discomfort. But never push to the point of pain, causing you to injure yourself.
Hack #21 – Work on your breathing
You might be unconsciously holding your breath when stretching. This can cause muscle tension, making it difficult for you to further your stretch. To avoid injury, you should breathe slowly and deeply whether you’re stretching or doing a split. This relaxes your muscles while ensuring blood flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.
Splits are important parts of various physical activities, including sports and yoga. If you’re into yoga, these hacks should be extremely useful in helping you get into the proper postures.