What is the splits? Why is it Hanumanasana?
Hanumanasana is the front splits position. As you can see, it targets a number of major muscle groups in our bodies.
Reality check: what if I can’t do that?
You’re not alone! Around 95% of the population won’t express the pose in this way. However, there are a range of practice options that help you target the same muscle groups and get the same benefits, regardless of body type. And, with dedicated practice, this is a posture that most people can eventually express to the full…but it can take time to get there.
Ok, so how do I to get into my body’s version of this asana?
You can book in to our Hot Yoga Splits course here, for the full 4 sessions or just drop in to one or two. Or you can read the below instructions!
- Kneel down and step your right foot forward, but don’t fully straighten it. Rest your hands either side of your right leg, and if you can’t easily reach the floor, place your hands on bricks.
- Exhale and lean your torso forward. Slowly walk your left knee back, minding your balance on your hands! Let the right thigh descend toward the floor and let your hips sit down and back.
- Your left leg is going to lengthen as well. You might notice that your hips are twisting to the left as well. Stop straightening the back knee just before you reach the limit of your stretch, with the hips still square to the front of your mat.
- Don’t push into your lower back. If the sensation there is anything other than comfort then you could be hurting yourself.
- Now begin to push the right heel away. Don’t fully lock your right knee. Focus stretch sensations in the belly of hamstring and calf muscles. Don’t drop pressure into the back of your knee, the back of your hip, or the area where your hamstrings are meeting your glutes.
- Check that your left leg extends straight, in line with the hip, and isn’t angled out to the side.
- Your groin might be resting on the floor. Or, you can arrange bricks under your right hip, where your sit bone is, and rest on those. You might need to make a little tower of bricks for your hands if your hips as further from the floor.
- It’s possible that If you feel comfortable and stable then bring the hands into Anjali Mudra (palms together at the breastbone) or stretch the arms straight up toward the ceiling.
- Stay in this pose for 5-20 breaths, as you feel comfortable. To come out, get your hands onto some support. Use the strength of your arms to steady you as you gently put some bend in your right knee. It’s really important not to load weight into the knee while it’s fully extended if possible. With a bend in your front knee then you can start to load weight into it and use the strength of your legs. Warning: you might look ungainly and snobby Yogis might tut as you protect your knees on exit!
When you’ve tried that…here’s some thoughts and reflections
When you begin to practice this asana, your focus will be on your front leg and/or back thigh, and how tight they feel. Don’t try to rush this asana: keep in mind that it requires your front and back legs and hips to be equally flexible. If the front leg requires suppleness in the hamstrings, the back leg has to be open enough at the hip flexors. Once you manage to get this right, you will be able to balance yourself in this pose.
It doesn’t matter whether your pelvis touches the floor or not. What is more important is that you protect your lower back, and only go as much as it can go. Once you are stable in your legs and/or hands, think about the area of your tail. Can you lift your spine straighter from there?
The key is to always pick up the signs your body gives, and stop when it asks you to. You could use the supports, but most importantly, you must use your leg muscles to support your pelvis. Hug your inner thighs towards each other and pressing your legs down. Squeeze the bumcheek on the back leg. Activate the quads on the front leg. These actions help to stretch your pelvis up, engage your extensors and flexors, and support your joints.
Holding the pose for 5-20 breaths is such a small line of instruction in comparison to the others! But it’s incredibly important. You’ll never drop deeper if you can’t hang out, and if you’re feeling the work then good breath will help you relax and do just that.
Why do this anyway?
This posture is difficult, but for most people it will be achievable with enough careful and diligent practice. It’s one that a student really has to think about, and listen to their own body. People end up creating little practice sequences for themselves, to target their particular areas of stiffness.
Going through such a process, getting to know your own current limitations and finding creative ways to press forward in the face of them, is a wonderful life experience. It’s extremely positive, no matter how slow the progress might be. One of the biggest benefits of working on Hanumansana is this new sense of personal empowerment, that can only be achieved though working with things are they are.
Of course, you also build a great deal of strength and flexibility into your legs and hips as well. This is a great asset to your physicality, and may boost your performance in any sports you’re interested in a great deal.
Hanumanasana asks us to lengthen ourselves in two different directions simultaneously. When we get to lifting our arms, it also asks us to support ourselves with just the strength we have inside whilst lengthening in opposite directions. Being comfortable in our own support, finding enjoyment from the stability and safety we’ve created for ourselves, is the healthy interaction of Muladhara chakra and Svadhisthana chakra (root and sacral chakras). Energetically, the practice of hanumanasana has great implications. This is another reason why it’s so important to approach the physical practice carefully, and to use as many props and other assists as we need.
Hanuman Chalisa and Hanuman Mantra
Hanuman is a Hindu deity, in the form of a monkey-like humanoid or vanara. He is a devotee of Ram, and one of the central characters in the Indian epic poem, the Ramayan. Folk tales acclaim the powers and qualities of Hanuman, qualities such as strength, courage, wisdom, celibacy, and devotion. These are also detailed in the Hanuman Chalisa. This is a verse of 40 hymns devoted to Hanuman. The last stanza of the Chalisa says that whoever chants it with full devotion to Hanuman, will have Hanuman’s grace. It is a very popular belief amongst Hindus worldwide that chanting the Hanuman Chalisa invokes Hanuman’s divine intervention in the most serious of problems, including those concerning evil spirits. You can read the full Chalisa on the web.
There are a number of other chants to Hanuman. Below are just a couple of examples.
Manojavaṁ Maarutatulyavegam, Jitendriyam Buddhimataam Varistham.
Vaataatmajam Vaanarayoothmukhyam, Sriramdootam Saranam rapadhye.
I bow down to Hanuman, who is dear to Rama, who is owner of Riddhis and Siddhis, who is God in himself, I surrender to you and pray for my safety and well-being.
Siddhis and Riddhis types of power and prosperity. In fact, these words are slightly complex to explain – instead, read this article to get a full picture of what’s being said above.
Om Sri Hanumate Namah
Om – a very special sound in Yoga, which is chanted as a way to express everything that ever has, is or can be, and whatever mystical nothingness it formed from. The rest of the verse: I honour and show respect to Hanuman’s glory.
Why not chant the short mantra while you practice the posture?
There’s much more to Hanuman…
Why is this body position associated with Hanuman?
Hanuman is said to be the son of the wind, so he is known for mighty leaps. Two of the most famous are associated with war, at the battle of Lanka. In the first, Hanuman leapt the distance of one hundred yojanas (yojana being the longest distance traveled by sound from a person calling from a high place). This took him from the shore of India to that of Lanka, to comfort the captive Rama’s wife (Sita) who had been taken captive.
It’s said that the force of the leap made sand fly and waves run backwards. The power of his back leg propelled him skyward, while his front leg reached to touch Lanka’s shore. The story goes on to say that Hanuman kept his hands in a prayer position, holding onto Rama’s ring. Hanuman found Sita sitting under a tree guarded by demoness sentries. He stealthily delivered the ring and reassured her that Rama was on his way.
Later, Rama’s brother Lakshman became mortally wounded in battle. The story tells us that he could be healed, but only with a special herb that grew far off in the Himalayas. Hanuman leapt off to the mountains – but didn’t wait to find out which herb was needed. On arriving, he realised and so picked up a whole mountain by its the roots, and holding it carefully over his head, he made a flying leap back to the battlefield where physicians stood ready. The herb was located and prepared, and Hanuman was sent back with the mountain to put it back in place.
Why is Hanuman red?
Hanuman is depicted as red. This is apparently because he one day quite innocently followed Sita into her and Rama’s bedroom. Lord Rama said that he cannot enter into that room, to which Hanuman asked: if Sita can enter, why can’t he?
Rama was touched by Hanuman’s innocence and claimed that it was because Sita had a sindhur on her forehead. A sindhur is the red dot traditionally worn on the forehead of a married Hindu woman.
Hanuman later spoke with Sita to ask why she wore a sindhur. Again, appreciating his innocence, she said that wearing it would lengthen the lifespan of the man of the house.
Hanuman’s thought process was that, if a small red dot could increase life span, then a lot of red would increase it a great deal – almost eternally. His love and devotion to Rama was such that he covered his entire body in sindhur.
The name, ‘Hanuman’ actually means ‘disfigured jaw’ in Sanskrit
In fact, there are 108 names for Hanuman in the Sanskrit Language! You can read about all of them here. This is just one example.
One morning in his childhood, Hanuman was hungry and saw the rising red colored sun. Mistaking it for a ripe mango, he leapt up to eat it. In one version of the legend, the king of gods Indra struck Hanuman with a thunderbolt to stop him. It hit Hanuman on his jaw, and he fell to the earth unconscious with a broken jaw.
His father, Vayu (air) was upset and withdrew, causing great suffering to all living beings. Prajapati, the god of life, intervened to resuscitate Hanuman, which in turn prompted Vayu to return.
In another Hindu version, Hanuman’s leap for the sun prove fatal: he is burned and his ashes fall onto the earth and oceans. Gods then gather the ashes – everything except one fragment of jaw bone – and re-assemble him. Surya (the sun god) restores but he is left with a disfigured jaw.