Being able to do the splits will not help you to reach enlightenment, it will not help you to feel more relaxed and actually it is unlikely to bring any benefits to the body that you cannot get in safer, less extreme poses.
I do not teach the splits in my yoga classes, in fact I cannot do the splits myself. I am close, but not all the way there and I have no real desire to change this. Perhaps this seems controversial, but I do not see it as a safe pose for the majority of my students and I certainly don’t see it as an essential yoga pose.
Just because I don’t teach the splits doesn’t mean my students all have stiff hamstrings and tight hips flexors. In fact, I teach many other poses that have the same benefits as splits but are less invasive on the hip joint. In this post I have demonstrated 5 of my favourite alternative poses to the splits which will stretch your hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps.
But why can the splits be dangerous? The reason that splits has the potential to be dangerous, and the reason I don’t teach it is because of the structure of the hip joint. The hip is a ball and socket joint which means that the head of the femur (thigh bone) is cupped by a ‘socket’ in the pelvis. This socket is shaped very nicely to support the thigh bone but also allow a wide range of motion for walking, sitting, stepping sideways into a car and most of our daily activities. However, we have not exactly be casually hanging out in the splits since we were cave men so most people’s hip socket does not naturally facilitate this extreme movement. Inside the socket is a lining of cartilage. The cartilage stops bone from rubbing on bone, but it is less resilient than bone, so over time it can be worn away, torn and damaged. This wearing away is usually caused by repetitive and excessive motion and/or by exceeding our functional range of motion. This is because the femur head begins to exert more pressure on the cartilage at the far reaches of the hip movement. So when we perform the splits, most of us are applying excess stress on the cartilage. The splits, a yoga pose that is meant to be stretching and good for us, especially when performed frequently over a long period of time, has the potential to damage our hip joint, and this damage can lead to pain, inflammation and in extreme cases surgery.
Everyone is different and some people practice the splits frequently and seem to experience no side effects. But for me, especially because as a yoga teacher my job involves being given responsibility of other people’s bodies, people who have put their faith in me to look after them, I prefer not to teach the splits.