Hanumanasana Yoga Sequence: King of the Monkeys Pose (the Splits)
Hanumanasana: What's in a Name?
Hanuman is the king of the monkeys in Hindu mythology, and a great friend of Rama (Rama is an avatar of Krishna, and the embodiment of virtue). When Rama's wife Sita was kidnapped by an evil demon, Hanuman was instrumental in her rescue. In order to rescue Sita, Hanuman took a great flying split leap from India's south-east coast to Sri Lanka - and thus Hanumanasana has been named in his honour.
Contra-Indications, Cautions, and Modifications
Anyone suffering from injuries to the hamstrings or groin should avoid practising Hanumanasana.
Those with tight hamstrings or hip flexors will benefitted by having two blocks (to support the hands) and a bloster or rolled up blanket (to tuck under the groin). The support provided by these props will reduce the risk of over-stretching.
Benefits of the Pose
Hanumanasana benefits the body by increasing flexibility in the hamstrings (down the back of the thighs) and hip flexors (the front of the hips). It encourages an opening of the heart and mobility of the spine, and helps to prepare the body for backbends.
Energetically, it is stimulating and energising. It opens the heart chakra (Anahata chakra), the seat of peace, harmony and compassion.
Preparing Your Body
The two main areas of the body that need to be warmed up before attempting Hanumanasana are the hamstrings (running from the sitting bones to the back of the knees) and the hip flexors (which cross the front of the hips). Included below demonstrating a vinyasa sequence leading up to Hanumanasana, and a break down on just a couple of the key asanas included in the video sequence.
The intense stretch experienced in Hanumanasana must be balanced by muscular activation.
Firstly, find a subtle lift through the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles (engaging Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha). These actions are crucial in order to support the delicate structure of the lower back and sacro-iliac joints.
Next, draw the kneecap of the front leg up, engaging the quadriceps. This will help to create an even stretch through the belly of the hamstring, rather than pulling on the hamstring tendon (where the hamstring attaches to the sitting bone, or ischial tuberosity).
Then work to square the hips towards the front of the mat and internally rotate the back leg.
Not Into Video? A Slightly Modified Pictorial
Prasarita Padottanasana: Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Start with a wide stance, and adjust your feet so they're slightly pigeon-toed and the outer edges are parallel. Take hold of your big toes with your first two fingers. On an inhalation, lift your heart and reach your chest forward. Exhale, and fold forward, taking the crown of your head towards the floor. If your head reaches the floor, take your feet slightly closer together. Hold here for five to eight breaths. Then inhale as you lift your chest, and exhale release your toes and return to standing.
In other variations of Prasarita Padottanasana, your hands are on your hips, in between your feet, or interlaced behind your back. Any of these versions will assist in preparing for Hanumanasana - the key focus is lengthening your hamstrings.
Ashva Sanchalanasana: High Lunge
Beginning in Downward facing dog, step your right foot to between your hands. Make sure your knee is stacked directly above your heel. Reach your left heel towards the wall behind you, press both feet down against the floor, draw your navel towards your sine and inhale to extend your arms up to alongside your ears. Keep both legs dynamic, lift both your pelvic floor and lower belly to support your lower back, and extend high into your fingertips while relaxing your shoulders. Feel the stretch down the front of your left hip.
Hold for five to eight breaths, then lower your hands to the floor and step back to Downward dog.