Asana Column: Hanumanasana
Leaping Beyond Your Limits
As in all intense postures, the benefits of Hanumanasana outweigh the risks only if you work sensibly and without attachment to the outcome. I have torn my hamstring from its origin at the sitting bone by pushing too hard in Hanumanasana, quickly trying to get into the pose without being adequately warmed up and prepared. This pose must be approached with humility, even if you're already quite flexible.
Many flexible people perform the pose by further stretching their already-open hamstrings but allowing their pelvis to tip forward. This creates an imbalance in the pose and leads to lower back pain when students attempt, as they should, to lift the spine. To balance the hamstring flexibility of the front leg with the hip flexor flexibility of the back leg, the front rim of the pelvis should be lifted so that the entire pelvic rim faces the ceiling instead of tipping forward. With the pelvis in this erect position, the stretch is evenly distributed between the back of the front leg and the front of the back leg.
To set up for Hanumanasana, start in the Lunge and then place both hands on the floor by the sides of your front thigh. If your hamstrings, quadriceps, and groins are tight, you might place your hands on two blocks or two chairs, one placed on each side of your pelvis. Bring your right knee down to the floor, pointing the toes of your right foot back and resting the foot on the instep (the top of the foot). Slowly begin to straighten your left leg in front of you, sliding your left heel forward while ensuring that your right inner ankle, your sacrum, and your left inner ankle are in a straight line. Keep sliding the left heel forward until the left hamstrings are on the floor; if this is impossibly painful or simply impossible, place your left sitting bone on a block or any other type of firm prop. Adjust your hands so that your spine is as erect as possible, and use the hands to rotate the pelvis so that the front hip bones point forward, bringing your inner thighs toward each other. Your pubic bone, belly button, and sternum should be facing the big toe of your left foot. Powerfully lift your lower belly up toward your chest to make your spine erect. Press the little toe of your right foot and your inner left thigh into the floor to create more stability. If you can stabilize the pose enough to take your hands off the floor, bring them into Namaste at your heart. And for the final stretch, sweep your arms sideways and up, joining them in a Namaste above your head, keeping your elbows straight. Look straight ahead.
For a more intense opening in the back leg groin, continue to lift the lower belly upward while lifting your chin and reaching back with your arms. Focus your eyes upon your thumbs. To get more of an intense stretch in the front-leg hamstrings, bend forward with arms overhead until you end up with your belly, sternum, and chin on your front leg. In this variation, hold your foot with both hands and pull on it as if you were doing a forward bend, elbows moving sideways and apart.
When in Hanumanasana, focus on extending the bones of each leg away from your trunk energetically while pulling the flesh of your legs toward the center of your body. Notice that as you breathe and extend the leg bones away from your center, you'll get a sense of an expansive stride—the mighty leap of Hanuman. To have this feeling of a yearning reach and freedom in the hips and pelvis is more important than being able to rest both legs on the ground. If you truly tap into the energy of this asana, you will attain the pose much faster than if you simply keep mentally inflicting instructions on your body.
An intense variation of Hanumanasana requires bending the back leg to bring the back-leg foot to the floor beside the hip as in Bhekasana (Frog Pose). If you lift the front pelvis while doing this, you will feel one of the most intense openings possible in your quadriceps.
As well as tremendously lengthening the hamstrings of the front leg, Hanumanasana also tremendously lengthens the hip flexors of the back leg. And as you open your hamstrings and hip flexors, you open your stride, and a longer, smoother stride helps the spine remain neutral and free of strain.
During your first few attempts at this pose, you will notice that your mind puts up more resistance than your body. When you empty yourself of these thoughts that resist the pose, you create the space for possibility. During your most intense moments in this posture, find your breath and pause. Don't try to go any farther. Instead, go inside yourself, and with each exhalation, move your mind into your front-leg hamstrings and your back-leg front thigh and groin—all of which may resist the pose.
When you have reached the edge of your capacity, a sense of desperation may often bubble up. But by not going beyond that edge but instead pausing and breathing there, you will make that hard, sharp edge become more liquid and expansive, thereby increasing your range of possibilities. Never do this pose by bobbing in and out of it like a jack-in-the-box. Approach the pose slowly, a little at a time, and with great respect. Then the pose will give back to you its essence—lengthening your stride so that it takes you fewer steps to reach your goals. In the full expression of Hanumanasana, your arms reach for the sky while one leg stretches in front of you and the other leg roots behind you. This pose demands you focus your energy intensely so that your mind can expand, integrating past and future even as you reach for the highest heavens.
Doing this pose with care and humility will invoke the blessings of Hanuman so that instead of just shuffling down your weary path, you will begin to take giant leaps toward your own inner destiny, the specific fulfillment of the indwelling godhead's dharma. Through the practice of this wonderful pose, or this mighty leap from the possible to the impossible, you move yourself into the expansive realm that is your potential whenever you connect love and devotion to your actions. When you practice Hanumanasana while maintaining the quality of bhakti (devotion), maintaining with inner sincerity the aspiration for your heart and the God within you, you too will stride longer than ever before.
You too will stretch beyond your limits and fly like the son of the wind, the mighty devotee Hanuman.
Founder-director of Yoga Centers in Bellevue, Washington, Aadil Palkhivala began studying yoga with B.K.S. Iyengar at age 7, was introduced to Sri Aurobindo's yoga at age 10, and received an Iyengar Advanced Yoga Teacher's Certificate at age 22. For more information on Aadil and his work, see www.yogacenters.com and www.aadilpalkhivala.com. !--page-->