Challenge Pose: Hanumanasana

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I encounter plenty of challenges in my life: inversions, arm balances, deep backbends, relationships, managing business, avoiding ice cream, and couches.

Couches? Yes--they're my nemeses.

I'm writing this blog from my couch propped up on a massive ice bag. I've been tending to an old shoulder injury that decided to rear it's ugly little head right on cue as my travel schedule lightened up. I finally have the opportunity to get back into a full practice and I find myself stuck with my ice bag instead. I'd much rather be exploring different angles of how to properly press into handstand; instead, I find myself pressed at different angles into anti-inflammatory objects. It has been deeply frustrating. But I keep reminding myself that I am exactly where I should be (getting curvier by the minute as Thanksgiving approaches) and that nothing is permanent (my little turkey wing WILL function again if I can practice ahimsa and patience).

Instead of allowing myself to wallow, I'm enjoying my curvier figure and moving down the highway of my body into the core and legs. I've chose Hanumanasana as our challenge pose this week. It focuses on the ability to lift the pelvis, fire the psoas, and explore flexibility more than strength. It also has a playful edge as this pose is named after Hanuman, the Monkey God. When I find myself getting down (emotionally, and deeper into the pose), I simply envision a monkey god wearing a cape in full splits as he glides across oceans in order to save the damsel in distress. Ego soon vanishes as I breathe deeper and chuckle myself into the pose. This deep hip and hamstring opener helps me to check back into the present and remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies with us." So, whether you channel your favorite Transcendentalist or inner royal monkey, remember each moment is perfect and everything is in it's right place.

Step One:
Drop to your knee, Sir Knight.

The psoas muscle is a huge component of Hanumanasana so we'll begin in King Arthur's Pose (it looks as if you're about to be knighted with a sword) to find and release the muscle. Bring the yoga mat to the wall and feel free to double it up if you have a sensitive knee. Bend the right knee and place the shin flush against the wall with the toes pressing into the wall. Step the left foot forward into lunge so that the knee stacks over the heel. There may be immediate sensation here. If so, keep the fingertips on the ground or use blocks underneath the hands. If the sensation is tame enough to go deeper, prop the hands up onto the left thigh. Descend the tailbone and lift the front edges of the pelvis like a small thrust. This elongates the lower back and psoas. Keeping the right foot to the outside of the hip (like Virasana, or Hero Pose), potentially work towards taking the back flush against the wall as well. Stay here for 8-20 breaths then switch sides.

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Step 2:
You've been knighted. Take a bow.

What's better than splits on the ground? Splits at the wall, of course! (Almost a tie for banana splits!) This variation is a fabulous way to use traction and resistance to feel the actions of the full pose.

Begin in King Arthur Pose with the right shin against the wall. Shift your weight into the hands and pick the right knee off of the mat. Climb the right foot up the wall working toward straight. Push all your weight into the hands and lift the left foot off the ground, taking the heel to where the wall and ground meet. Root into the standing heel, press into the hands, and bring the pelvis closer to the wall. Roll the right hip down towards the ground, internally spiral the top thigh as the left femur pulls into the socket to help square the hips, and keep space in the lower back. Bow the torso and contemplate a kiss on the shinbone. Or blow a kiss. Take 8 breaths. Walk the hands out, release the legs and switch sides.

Step 3:
Prepare your monkey

From Downward-Facing Dog, step the left foot to the hands and drop the rear knee to the mat. Pull the hips back so they stack above the right knee. Keeping the hips in place, wiggle the front foot forward until the leg straightens and the foot flexes. Dig the heel into the mat and point the toes up toward the ceiling. Come to fingertips (feel free to use two blocks here) and either hold or walk forward towards the front foot. Draw the left thigh bone into its socket as the right hip squares forward. It will feel like a scissoring action in the inner thighs. Extend through the heart as the tailbone draws back. Take 8 breaths. Continue onto the next step from here or to release, bend the front knee, straighten the back leg and step back into Downward-Facing Dog. Switch sides.

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From the previous lunge, start to wiggle the front foot forward as you lower towards the splits. Have two blocks handy to place under the hands for support. Keep the back toes curled under to help square the hips--front thigh bone in, back hip rolled forward, inner back thigh spiraled up. You can play with the height of the blocks depending on how low your body wants to go into the pose. Keep the tailbone dropping, heart lifting, and the breath deep and full!

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Try for 8 breaths here. Either enter full Hanumanasana from this point, or bend the front knee and step back into Downward-Facing Dog.

Step 4:
Victorious knighted monkey king!

Continue the actions from the previous step and lose the blocks. Keep the back toes curled under (Note: in the picture I kept my back foot against the wall for added traction. This is great if you're new to this pose!) Flex the front foot, extending forward through the heel. Roll the right hip forward as you root into the ball of the back foot. You can also try placing the back toenails down onto the mat if the hips are fully square.

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Either keep the hands down on the ground for support or draw up through the core to lift the arms overhead for 8 breaths. Bend the front knee, push into the hands and step back to Downward-Facing Dog.

Kathryn Budig is a yoga teacher, writer, philanthropist, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, MindBodyGreen + Yoga Journal blogger, foodie, and lover of her dog. Follower her on Twitter and Facebook or on her website.