As a yoga teacher, I am aware of how practicing yoga changes not only our postures but other aspects of our lives as well. I was recently climbing a long flight of stairs with a friend. It became a playful moment of racing each other to the top. I felt my legs and back engage and found that I could take these steps not just 2, but 3 at a time!
As I gracefully jumped, cat-like to land on each step, I found myself visualizing the great mythical leap of Hanuman. As the son of the wind god, Vayu, Hanuman flew clear across the ocean from the southern tip of India to the island of Sri Lanka. The flight of this monkey god on that day is described in the Ramayana as “the greatest leap ever taken.” Regarding my own flight up the stairs, I won the race with my friend and gained a new appreciation for one of my favorite poses.
As bipedal animals, we are balanced and moving over our two legs, rather than the all-fours orientation of our fellow mammals. But due to our propensity to sit in chairs, the hamstrings tighten over time and produce strains across the back body, shortening our gait. As our practice of Hanumanasana deepens, we open and tone the muscles of the groin, hamstrings, abductors, and thighs.
The resulting stability to the pelvis and sacroiliac joint allows our backs to strengthen and lift the torso powerfully off the hips to experience more lift through our hearts (Anahata Chakra).
When I am walking around in the world and allow a deep, full breath to pulse with my step, a strong fluidity can come to my movements. Between steps, there is a moment of suspension – I am flying through space. The simple act of walking becomes a meditation, and I am more awake to the world around me.
How to ease into Hanumanasana
Start by kneeling on the floor. Place one leg forward and allow the upper body to fold forward over the leg. If the hamstrings are tight, blocks can be placed under the hands for support.
Keeping the hips squared forward, spend time opening the hamstrings of the extended leg. In time, you will be able to work the front leg further forward, dropping the groin closer to the mat. A block or bolster can support the groin (block shown) to pause above the floor. Care should be taken if you have groin or hamstring injuries.
As you drop deeper and deeper into this split, there is the tendency to lose the square in the hips. Care should be taken to keep the hip of the back leg moving down and forward, and the hip of the front leg moving back.
The knee joints are pointing up on the front leg, and down on the back leg. Proper alignment can produce relief and healing for those suffering from sciatica.
Once the groin is resting securely on the floor, an advanced variation can be taken by folding the upper torso over the front leg. And, as you become secure in the legs, one arm at a time can reach overhead, eventually bringing both arms and the chest open, reaching to the sky.