I remember my first time well…It was my second year of yoga practice and I just had made the jump to the intermediate level classes. One of my favorite and most influential yoga teachers ever, Malissa Larson, had led us through a strong sequence and now we were down on the mat holding a nice long crescent lunge. Then came the transition to 1/2 split, and another long hold. I had no idea where we were going when Malissa cued us all to set up a blanket on the floor in front of our mat. She demo’d the pose so gracefully- a full split! I would come to later learn the pose in Sanskrit, hanumanasana– named after the Hindu monkey deity, Hanuman.
It was the greatest leap ever taken. The speed of Hanuman’s jump pulled blossoms and flowers into the air after him and they fell like little stars on the waving treetops. The animals on the beach had never seen such a thing; they cheered Hanuman, then the air burned from his passage, and red clouds flamed over the sky . . .
From the Ramayana, retold by William Buck
It was now my turn to attempt to slide my front foot forward on the blanket- sliding into totally unknown territory! “Whoa! OMG! Where the heck are those blocks?!?!” was all I remember thinking. I propped my hands up on blocks at the highest setting and took the deepest breaths I could muster. I think I held the pose for 4 or 5 choppy breaths and slid my way back to safety. I couldn’t believe I had just attempted a split! I was so new to yoga that I did not even know this asana existed. I told myself I would never be able to fully achieve the pose so I forgot about it for a long while…until teacher training. Which is when I decided that it was within my grasp. All it would take was A LOT of practice and learning to properly prep. I googled the posture often and read all I could about Hanuman, the meaning of the pose, and a million different teachers’ views on how to prepare for and enter the pose. I have recently become comfortable enough to have taught the posture in a couple of my yoga classes. After one class, I asked how many of my students had attempted the full split for the first time that day. The majority raised their hand. I was pleased to be their “first”! Until one young girl jokingly said, “first and LAST time…” At least, I hope she was joking. But, I knew exactly what she meant!
On my best, most flexible, well -prepped day, my hanumanasana involves a block placed on the lowest setting under my front thigh. Quite an achievement for someone who swore off the pose years earlier.
There are tons of great yoga teachers online, with MUCH more experience then me, demonstrating sequences up to a full split. But, what has worked for me is the following type of sequence. Here is my home practice:
- Warm-up with lots of low intensity hamstring (group of muscles at the back of the thigh) and hip flexor (group of muscles that bring the knee upward) openers.
Ardha hanumanasana (USE BLOCKS in hands!):
Parsvottanasana (you may like to vary the pose keeping the back heel up until you are more warmed up and USE BLOCKS!):
Anjaneyasana (you may want to pad your back knee with a blanket):
- Incorporate hamstring openers into your Sun Salutations by placing standing splits (urdhva prasarita eka padasana) where you would step back to a lunge and step up from a lunge (USE BLOCKS!!!).
- Standing sequence including Lunges, Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), Triangle pose (Utthita Trikonasana), and Extended Hand to Foot pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana).
- Twists of your choice. I like revolved chair (Parivrtta Utkatasana), step back to revolved lunge (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana variation with back heel lifted), drop and walk-in back heel & open arms to revolved triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana).
- Backbending opens the hip flexors (counter your backbending with some simple twists on the back or “windshield wipering” the knees).
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana:
- If you have time for hip opening, take a lizard or pigeon.
- A final nice long hold in crescent lunge or dynamically moving between crescent lunge (on the inhale) and 1/2 split (on the exhale) for several breaths is important before prepping your blanket.
- Soar into Hanumanasana…and, please, use props!!!
Blocks in the hands (start with highest setting and gently go lower adjusting the blocks). Depending on your depth in the pose, maybe a block under back thigh (start with highest setting…) or a block under front thigh (start with highest setting…)
Hanumanasana is named for Hanuman, who represents friendship, devotion, courage, and faith. Remember these qualities during your practice and enjoy your journey!
You are as powerful as the wind;
You are intelligent, illustrious and an inventor.
There is nothing in this world that’s too difficult for you;
Whenever stuck, you are the one who can help.
Jambavantha (the King of Bears), From the Ramayana