At Home in Hanumanasana (September 2017)
Looking to make some progress in your Hanumanasana (Ha-NOO-ma-NAH-sah-nah)? The yogic split is so-named for the half monkey, half god Hindu deity. It specifically alludes to the story of him jumping across the sea from mainland India to Sri Lanka in one great leap to help his dear friend Rama. The split is Hanuman’s great leap and a reference to his devotion: heart open, arms reaching high, no holds barred!
For many, the first thing that comes to mind when considering this pose are the hamstrings. Certainly, the hamstrings must be open or moving in that direction to bring the hips lower toward the floor. But, that’s only half the pose! Hanumanasana requires a deep opening in the hip flexor at the front of the hip for the leg pointing back. So, half of this posture is a very deep backbend! It’s a beautiful balance between the two.
Warming up after a few sun salutes (A and B), we want to focus on warming and opening the quadriceps, outer hips, hamstrings, hip flexors and generally working to deepen the hips on a neutral plane (squared forward), as that is where they’ll end up in the full pose. These warming poses below are essential to incorporate for all those reasons!
Follow these with additional postures which get deeper into the middle, inner, and outer hamstrings. Pay close attention to the activity in the back leg on these postures, the ones using the strength of the hamstrings and hip flexors to extend back. Gluts are necessary to stabilize the hip joint and help you orient the back leg to where it keeps the hips on that neutral plane. The last pose below, Anjaneyasana B (Low Lunge) is where we begin greeting the hip flexors–again on neutral plane. Super important to engage bandhas (energy of core drawing inward and up) and keep the frontal hip points drawing up toward the lower ribs, rather than allowing the hips to dump forward.
Finally, the deepest preps for Hanumanasana look most similar to the final posture or parts of it. Quadriceps must be open along with the hip flexors, and the IT band stretch below is a great way to access the outer hips. Sometimes tightness there and in the inner thighs is really what holds us back. It’s all about targeting different sections of the hamstring muscle group, and getting the hips open in every direction before we take them back to a neutral plane.
Hanumanasana is a great opportunity to notice where the challenge lies for your body: hamstrings or hip flexors? It could be both, of course. Work your way gently and use two blocks under your hands when you’re ready to start working the hips toward the floor, to stability and control the depth. Never go in too fast, too deep.
The legs must stay actively engaged–quads and hamstrings firing. As the feet draw further apart and the hips lower you must simultaneously draw energy from each heel IN toward your center, up through the spine to lengthen upwards rather than pressing down and out. Watch for the back hip sliding back too far and the front hip moving forward. This loses the “squared”-ness of the hips and takes away from true progress in the hip flexors and hamstrings (even though is takes the hips lower, faster). It’s an illusion, however, a shortcut to weak hamstrings, hip flexors and gluts in the pose.
Once you can maintain balance where you are, that isometric pulling inwards from the legs as you activate the legs, the full expression of the pose is to reach up (you can do this even if your hips aren’t all the way down!). Embrace the backbend and tap into the open-hearted devotion of Hanuman as you reach for the sky.
It might take months or years to come anywhere close to the floor–this is what props are for! Remain unattached to the outcome. In all honesty, this pose has taken me 11 years of work toward it. Some days my hips are still not all the way down and that’s okay! Remember the pose is merely a tool to explore the limits of your body and release unhealthy patterns in the mind. Respect and honor where your body is every step of the way. This is yoga, not gymnastics. Be present, and breathe.
Let me know how it goes for you!