Asana Column: Hanumanasana
Opening the Hamstrings
There are three major openings necessary for Hanumanasana, and the three preparatory poses that follow are geared specifically toward these particular openings. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) opens up the hamstrings of the front leg. Eka Pada Supta Virasana (One-Legged Reclining Hero Pose) opens the hip flexors of the back leg. The Lunge provides an opportunity to lift the pelvic root toward your heart center, creating Mula Bandha (Root Lock).
In Hanumanasana most people will find that the hamstrings are the first muscles to feel a stretch. To prepare the hamstrings for this stretch in a safe way, start with Supta Padangusthasana.
Lie on your back with both of the knees straight. Draw your lower belly toward the kidneys, bringing your lumbar spine toward the floor. Simultaneously press your thighbones away from your head and into your heels, squeezing your legs together. Place your right hand on the front right thigh and press it toward the floor. Bend the left knee and hold the big toe of the left foot with the index and middle fingers of your left hand.
Take a deep inhalation, and then exhale to straighten the left leg. Keep your quadriceps (front thigh) muscles contracted powerfully in both legs, thereby keeping both knees straight. It is important to remember that whenever you stretch the hamstrings, you must consciously contract the quadriceps (that is, lift the kneecaps); only then will the mind send a message to release the hamstrings. The term that is used for one muscle releasing while an opposing muscle is contracted is "reciprocal inhibition." You might find Supta Padangusthasana difficult to do with your knees straight. If this is so, hold a belt with your left hand and wrap it around the arch of your left foot. Do not do the pose with either your left elbow or your left knee bent, as this will prevent the smooth flow of energy through the limbs and thwart reciprocal inhibition.
The tendency in this pose is to shrink the left waist and lift the left hip. Counteract this tendency by pressing the left side of your pelvis away from your head to lengthen your left waist, while dropping your left leg from your left heel into the hip and bringing your left buttock into the floor.
If you have rather short hamstrings, you'll need a long loop in the strap, and your left leg will form an acute angle (less than 90 degrees) between the back of the leg and the floor. In this case, press the left hip toward the left heel. If you have more flexible hamstrings and your left leg forms an acute angle between the front of the thigh and the floor beneath your torso, press your left heel toward your left hip, thereby settling your left buttock and pelvis toward the floor.
All students should rotate their left hip and thigh externally so their left kneecap faces their left shoulder. This positions the left pelvis and the left leg properly for the final actions in the pose. These final actions include rotating the right leg internally, bringing the right inner thigh toward the floor, and pressing the right leg out toward the heel and big toe mound while simultaneously pulling your lower belly toward the kidneys and establishing Mula Bandha.
Draw your inner thighs toward each other and continue pressing your right thigh down with your right hand. Widen your shoulder blades and then drop them toward your buttocks. Also press both your shoulders down toward the floor, concentrating more on the left shoulder because it is more likely to lift.
If you have fairly pliant hamstrings, you can open them farther in preparation for Hanumanasana by slowly moving as far as you can toward the supine variation of Hanumanasana, Supta Trivikramasana (Reclining Three Strides Pose). To do this pose, begin in Supta Padangusthasana, catch your left foot with both hands, and then slowly draw your left leg toward your head, always keeping your knee absolutely straight.
Eventually the inner left thigh will rest against your outer left ribs and your left toes will rest on the floor just above your head, while your right hamstrings press into the floor. Position your inner left calf against your left ear and then widen your elbows sideways while pulling your left heel into your left hip with both hands. This is more difficult than Hanumanasana, yet excellent preparation for it; even if you cannot get all the way into Supta Trivikramasana, the attempt will prepare your hamstrings for Hanumanasana. Do either Supta Padangusthasana or Supta Trivikramasana on both sides before you move on to the next pose. !--page-->