Asana Column: Hanumanasana
During mythological times, Rama, a king of ancient India, had a problem. The demon king who presided in Sri Lanka, Ravana, had abducted Rama's wife, Sita. Rama and his troops set out to rescue her from the vile demon. In the ensuing battle Rama's brother, Laksmana, was severely wounded, and the only way to save him was with an herb that grew exclusively in the Himalayas. It appeared that he would be lost, for who could possibly travel to the Himalayas and back in time to save him?
Hanuman, Rama's greatest devotee, said he would accomplish this impossible task. He then took one mighty leap that stretched all the way from the south of India to the Himalayas. At that point, he wasn't sure which herb to pick, and so he carried the entire mountain with him as he made another massive leap back to the battlefield. The healers found the herb in question, and Laksmana's life was saved.
In that giant leap Hanuman embodied his love for Rama. His intense devotion allowed him to do the impossible, and this is the lesson of Hanuman: Power comes from devotion.
That mighty leap is memorialized in the pose Hanumanasana. This pose asks you not merely to stretch your legs but also to bring true devotion into your practice. Hanumanasana expresses the expansiveness possible when devotion is in the heart—the sense that you can overcome any obstacle when your yearning to help is combined with reverence and respect, as well as an intense and fiery devotion. In Hanumanasana you strive to reach much further than seems humanly possible.
When this attitude is infused into the practice of Hanumanasana, it brings with it the energy to do this magnificent posture. Though Rama himself was an incarnation of the god Vishnu, he wasn't able to make the giant leap because he was earthbound in a human body. But Hanuman, with his intense devotion to Rama, could make the leap. This story shows that even a god cannot do what a human can when the human has true devotion in the heart. For a devoted soul, nothing is impossible.
As you practice this pose, notice the duality between your reach for the pose and the pains that may accompany your attempts. When you feel pain, turn your mind inward. Instead of focusing on the pain, use your breath to access your heart, finding the inner passion that created the leap of Hanuman. Notice that when you switch the mind from pain to passion and do the asana with a sense of Hanumanic devotion, resistance begins to dissolve and the pose starts to blossom. As the mind turns, so the body responds. As the mind moves into devotion and the heart opens, so will the hips, the hamstrings, and the legs. The opening up of the legs, hamstrings, and hip flexors is a reflection of a deeper opening felt inside. When you maintain an inner quality of expansive devotion, the pose will not be a fight to open your hamstrings, but a joyous attempt at aggrandizing all your capacities.
Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote, "The road is better than the inn." And so it goes with all yoga poses, and none more than Hanumanasana. It's irrelevant whether you achieve the full pose or not. What's important is you turn your awareness inward to find the energy of Hanuman inside yourself—an energy of devotion and introspection toward your own inner divinity. As you do this, your body will release and move. This movement, which transcends your current capacity and takes you where you could not have gone without this devotion, is your offering to the divinity within.