Ah, the splits. Hanumanasana in any form—regular, standing, inverted—tends to evoke strong emotions from yogis, whether it be full joy or a strong desire to make a hasty retreat. We no longer have the pressure of the floor or wall pressing into the body. The split shape now comes from our ability to EXPAND and REACH. We have no ground to look at to measure how deep we've gone nor ability to see if we've reached full extension. This pose is all about feeling and trust. It's about knowing you're putting your talents out there. There's no need for a reflection or visual result—you go based on what you feel.
This will not feel liberating for all of us, and if anything might be quite frustrating. If that's the case just remember one day at a time, one pose at a time, one breath at a time. I'd recommend practicing both regular Hanumansana and Standing Splits to help you prepare for the shape on your arms in Pincha Mayurasana, but remember making it into the full split doesn't matter. The key is to expand yourself beyond where you began. Open yourself to possibility and challenge your boundaries. There is a whole world of opportunity (and yoga poses) out there for you to enjoy and grow from. Have fun!
It's important to get the upper back warm and open for a big backbend like our upcoming Challenge Pose. One of the best (and most accessible) backbends to generate heat is Upward-Facing Dog. I'd recommend taking several Sun Salutes to warm up the body and hold your backbend for 5 breaths each when you get to it. To practice this pose start on your belly with your palms flat next to your ribs. Your elbows should be bent and stacked directly over your wrists. Separate your feet hip-width apart with your toenails flat on the ground. Roll your shoulder heads up and down your back so you feel your lower trapezius engage. Begin to press down into the ground while lifting your chest up toward straight arms. Everything will lift off of the mat except your palms and the tops of your toes. Relax your buns and engage your lower belly, lifting it toward your chest. Draw the tips of your shoulder blades down your back as you hug your triceps in and pull your heart through the gateway of your arms. Roll your shoulders back and lift your heart powerfully towards the ceiling. Press all 10 knuckles down evenly and do the same for your toes. Roll your upper inner thighs towards the ceiling to help release any tension in your buns.
Now, Hanumansana. If this pose is a regular part of your practice, begin in a runner's lunge with your hips stacked over your back knee and your front leg straight with the foot flexed. Approach this pose from a 50/50 perspective—50 percent hamstring (front leg) and 50 percent psoas (back leg). Slowly wiggle the front leg forward and pause. Bring your attention to your back leg by curling the toes under, lifting the knee and wiggling the back leg further toward the rear of the mat. Continue this 50/50 approach until you reach your full splits where you can lie the back toes flat.
Let's move on to Pincha Mayurasana. If you practice this inversion, it's important to kick up in to the regular version of the pose first to continue building heat in the upper back and remind yourself of proper alignment in your shoulders and pelvis. Place your forearms onto your mat parallel to each other about 5 inches away from the wall (we're going to allow a mild backbend). Stack your shoulders over your elbows and walk into Dolphin pose. Lift your dominant leg into the air as you hug your upper outer arms in. Keep your gaze slightly forward and kick the second leg up bringing both heels to the wall. Flex your feet and draw your tailbone toward your heels to avoid any folding in the low back. You'll feel the urge to bend the low back, keep the core strong and tailbone lifting to avoid this. Press into all 10 knuckles and engage and squeeze the triceps in.
Depending on your body proportion and flexibility you're going to have to play around with the distance from the wall for this next step. Always safer to start closer and work yourself away over time. A good gauge is to first stand facing the wall and lift one leg so that the foot presses directly into it with a straight leg. The standing leg should also be straight and directly beneath you. This base foot starting place is where you want your fingers in order to reach the wall when you kick up.
Follow the same kick up rules as you did the in the previous step. Take the kick-up foot to the wall (you'll already be in a split-like position because of your distance from the wall) and keep your opposite leg in the air reaching toward the middle of the room. Push the sole of your wall foot fully into the wall to encourage the leg to straighten. Keep your low back lifting as you melt your chest, pulling your heart and gaze toward the baseboard of the wall. If there is wiggle room, take your wall foot a few inches lower and continue the pushing action to straighten your front leg. Your back leg is caffeinated—keep the entire leg engaged, straight, and spread the toes! You'll have to lower the middle leg lower than you might think to give you a full split. Make sure to practice both sides.
The wall is a great place to practice this pose until your inversion practice can balance freestanding. If you're ready for a wall-less pose, kick up into your Pincha Mayurasana in the middle of the room. Find your traditional pose first. Next, melt your chest and pull your heart and gaze slightly past your fingertips. Reach one leg forward (toward where your wall was) as you let the back leg descend. Power up the front leg first and use the back leg as a balance point. Keep scissoring your upper inner thighs—back thighbone pulls in, front inner thigh rolls up toward the ceiling. Expand through the back of your knee-caps and spread your toes.
Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women’s Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MindBodyGreen, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD, co-founder of Poses for Paws and is currently writing Rodale’s The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website.