Hanumanasana: It’s Time To Split!
When I was a kid, I could do the splits — side-splits and straddle splits. It was easy. I was like rubber. Then one day, as an aging adult, I found that I could no longer do the splits, and I had a hard time believing that, once upon a time, I ever could. Like most people, I chalked it up to aging.
But something inside niggled at me. If my body was capable once, there was no structural reason explaining my lack of ability now. Granted, I might have fascial adhesions and restrictions that now made it seem impossible in my 50’s, but was it? So I began an experiment.
I started to work with an often ignored yoga pose known as Hanumanasana, or Monkey Pose, not often seen in everyday yoga classes because of its perceived inaccessbility as an advanced pose. To be fair, to attempt it without body awareness and mindfulness could definitely cause some problems, such as a pulled hamstring, but while there may be certain contraindications (mentioned below), there are ways to get the benefits without the risks using props.
The pose is named after Hanuman, the Monkey God, who straddled India in a giant split to rescue the beautiful Sita, consort to god Rama, from the 10-headed evil dude Ravana. The ancient myth is a tale of friendship, humility, self-renunciation, service to others and alignment with the Divine Will, and it is these values that we should keep in mind as we practice the pose. Sita’s rescue culminated in her and Rama’s being crowned King and Queen of Heaven.
Turns out (no hip-pun intented) that the word split is an incredibly versatile word.
As a action, to split can mean to divide lengthwise, to cleave apart, to share, to separate and even to leave.
As an adjective, it can mean divided or fractured as in “a split log”.
As a noun, a split can be a narrow fissure or break, a division between forces or factions.
And my personal favorite: an ice cream sundae.
Since I knew I couldn’t do the pose as it is often pictured, I also knew I would have to create some modifications for myself, working through less-challenging variations and complimentary poses first. While at first my goal was to be able to do the splits again, after some time, I realized that destination wasn’t important. This was the application of the value of befriending and humbly embracing my limitations. But I was enjoying the journey nonetheless.
I worked with the following poses, not necessarily in order and not necessarily on the same day, but all with the intention of applying their benefits directly to Hanumanasana:
- Low Lunges
- Pigeon Variations
- Standing Forward Fold with Splits
- Kneeling Half Splits
- Baby Pose
Then when I was ready, I used a block under my front thigh as a support to work into what became my full pose.
Primarily, Monkey Pose is a hip opener stretching the groin, psoas and backline muscles of the legs as well as the quadriceps. As practiced, I found it also helpful in making the relationship between my hips, pelvis, and back more stable. In adding a lengthening of the upper body, I found it helped me to really feel the strength of my center line as I drew everything, including my inner leg lines inward and up.
Practicing the splits helped me to unify all the factions of my body and find my unifying center. The moment I settled into the pose—whatever it might look like on that particular day—and could reach one or even two arms overhead, I would feel like my body was a volcanic cone, the magma of my root gathering and bursting upward. In other words, quite ironically, I didn’t feel split. I felt aligned, gathered, mighty and able to straddle the whole world…well, at least my own little world on the mat.
Monkey Pose isn’t necessarily for everyone. Those with hip injuries or replacements, pelvic instability, or lower back issues and pregnant women should speak to their doctors.
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