Trick Tips: Split Grip Ayesha (Part 2)

So last week, we went over the fundamentals for a split grip Ayesha by revisiting a lot of the principles of stacking and engagement that are critical in succeeding as you progress.

Now, we’re going to work on getting more comfortable in that D. Because you need to know how to keep yourself stable, and in a stacked and healthy position, before you let yourself throw all that alignment to crap (in a controlled way) in your extended butterfly.

Start by evaluating your ankle-pole-ankle sandwich and exploring how much your ankles are pressing into the pole to keep you stable. You want to be so square, and so supported by your bottom pushing arm that you feel like maybe your arms are doing all the support work, and your ankles are really only there for decoration. When you first start, you will be using your ankles to really keep you in balance but you want to reduce how much you rely on them. You can work that when you are just static, just holding the D, and totally just hanging out. Feel the weight shift into your hands. PUSH through that shoulder on the bottom. ALIGN! STACK! Just because things aren’t moving doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a ton of work! Make sure you are getting into the position, and actually breathing.

Then, when you really feel like your D is solid, then start to slowly, slowly, slowly, gently, slide your ankles together up and down the pole, like you’re giving the pole an ankle job. I’m not talking huge movements at first- keep them really small. But you will feel a slight weight shift in your body, because: geometry. So, as you slide your ankles down the pole towards the floor, your hips will lean slightly further away from the pole. But, you want to do this without just sitting your butt back or arching your back- you want your entire upper body to lean out in a solid, engaged chunk, without losing the stack through your lower arm. You want to stay pushing through that bottom arm no matter what and you want to stay super square to the pole keeping your downward dog shape the entire time. While you are doing this, you’re focused on relying on your ankles as little as possible. Your upper body should be rock solid, super strong, and supporting your legs to move however they need/want.

Then, work on reversing that. Activate your top arm and shoulder and use your top arm and lats and shoulder to pull yourself towards the pole, letting your ankles slide slowly up toward the ceiling. Make sure to look up the pole, and really focus on keeping that pushing form stacked through the bottom arm the entire time as you work. This is going to be hard! And the looser your ankles are, the more easily you will be able to slide them up and down but also the more you will have to rely on your upper body. Drill that movement a couple times, getting used to letting your hips pull away from the pole with control and bringing them back in with control by activating through your upper arm and really letting it work. The intent of this movement is to teach you to start to rely more on your arms, and also to learn how to control your body’s relationship to the pole while understanding what is required to stabilize throughout the entire movement.

See how as my hips come in closer, my entire “downward dog” angles change? My hips and back and shoulder stays in a solid line, and it’s not just my butt that sags out and tucks back in. My entire upper body is a plank and the angle of my downward dog is happen at the bend in my hips.

When you first start this, you will want to keep your top arm straight, and you may find that your hooked ankles are helping to pull your hips in. But, as you get stronger and more confident, try to really activate and initiate the movement by pulling with the top arm and bending at the elbow, and then releasing back to a straight top arm as you lower your hips away. Take a look at the photo below:

Now- you’re ready to work on the extended butterfly.

Let’s use another analogy. We talked about downward dog already—but are you also familiar with a downward dog split? There’s two ways to do this. The first, is keeping your hips square to the floor and to one another:

And the second, is letting your hips move out of square to achieve a flatter split:

In order to get the split flat, unless you’re a superhero with crazy oversplit hip flexors, you will need to let your hips go out of square and arch your back slightly which helps to access the front hamstring flexibility. You will also find that you aren’t using your arms in the same way- you are actually using them to counterbalance rather than to actively push into the ground, because as you move out of square the weight distribution changes and you are sinking your weight more deeply into the grounded foot. But, you will want to keep your weight even between your two hands, right? Which will keep your chest relatively square to the floor still. You don’t want to open your entire body and face the wall, do you? That’s a side plank! That’s not even the same thing!!

It’s the same idea on the pole.

You want to start in your rock-solid D. Reach your leg (same leg as bottom hand) away from the pole, using your arms to keep your weight steady against your supporting ankle. Stay square in hips and shoulders, and stacked over your bottom arm, and releasing the leg back only as far as you can maintain your upper body position. Because you want to create distance between your hips and the pole, to allow for as much extension as possible, you will want to straighten your top arm.

Then, as a more advanced variation, when you have reached the limit of your leg flexibility, slowly start to let your hips open and your ankle slide slightly lower on the pole so that you can get your hips even further away, keeping your chest facing the pole. Pull hard with that top arm to keep you in balance and start to use that hooked foot more deeply to support your weight, the same way you would on the ground in a standing split. Arch slightly through your back and if desired, look down at the ground. The higher that ankle hook, the more you will be in your back hip flexor and back flexibility; the lower the ankle hook, the more you will be able to access hamstring flexibility. The more you arch your upper back and look down, the more you will break the stack in your lower shoulder and the more strength you need to access that position safely.

Now to come out of it, practice going back into the stacked extended butterfly position: pull your hips back into square using that top arm, and find the pushing position through your upper body and shoulder as you feel the weight come back into your bottom hand. Finally, bring your free leg all the way back to the pole to end in your D.

The goal in this movement series is to start stacked, and to manipulate all the large segments of your body to be able to bring your hips in and out of square with the pole confidently, use that top arm in a pulling and releasing motion to control your body’s distance, and get more and more comfortable with moving through multiple positions and weight shifts with your hands acting as primary contact points.

If you are comfortable with all of the above, then you are ready to start working on your Ayesha!

From your D position, with top arm slightly bent, start to slide your ankles down the pole gently but while maintaining your body position and NOT falling away from the pole. Once you get to a point where you can’t slide your ankles any further, slowly start to release the pole from your ankles and separate them so that they are just barely hovering away from the pole. Work to maintain your balance in this position, making sure to breathe. If this feels okay, then start to spread your ankles slightly, and slowly, with your knees straight, bring your toes down towards the floor while opening your legs wider. And then- magically- you are in your Ayesha.

That progression, and all the elements we’ve discussed here, are in this video. If you’re reading this from email, it won’t be embedded below so check it out directly here. Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or tips that helped you!!