We've been looking at hanumanasana or the splits a bit in class recently. This is one of the few postures where I think using the English name of the pose can sometimes put people at a disadvantage: everyone has seen gymnasts or dancers on the TV doing the splits, so think that's what this posture should look like. And since most people aren't ex-gymnasts, that means for a lot of people:
- the splits immediately feels unobtainable and they tell themselves they already know they can't do it
- they focus on the mental picture they have of what the splits should look like, and feel defeated/ disappointed/ annoyed when their body doesn't match it
- because of the above, they never actually work on this posture so miss out on all the benefits it brings (loads of hip and lower body opening, plus a feeling of empowerment once you reach your arms up for the full posture)
- their mental image of the splits is so dominant they don't listen to their body and force it into shapes it's not ready for, even if that's something they'd never dream of doing in other postures.
Basically, this posture can definitely bring up some stuff for people! So instead of working on 'the splits' we've been working on optimal alignment in 'hanumanasana' (aka posture dedicated to Hanuman). And more specifically, 'hanumanasana for people that aren't flexible enough to do the splits'.
If you had to pick just two postures to warm up for hanumanasana it's got to be the two shown below: anjaneyasana or low lunge, and ardha hanumanasana or half splits. They warm up the back leg and front leg respectively.
In low lunge (picture 1): as you inhale think upper body tall. As you exhale lift lower belly muscles strongly in and up (that will help you get a more effective stretch in the front of your back leg hip). Notice how your pelvis twists a little towards your back leg. And resist that by bringing your back hip (which in the photo is my left) a little forwards. After a few breaths see if you can lunge deeper on an exhale.
In ardha hanumanasana (picture 2): rather than rounding through your upper back to get your chest towards your leg, instead push your front heel straight down into the floor. Then isometrically (ie without actually moving it) drag your front heel towards you. Pull your front (here, my right) hip back and move your back hip a little forwards, and stick your tailbone out behind you.
Then try sliding your front heel forwards until it can't go any further (picture 3). This is often where people stop when working with hanumanasana. Notice if all of the sensation is in the hamstrings of your front leg, with very little feeling in your back leg. If so, know that is completely normal but ideally this posture is about both legs equally.
So to shift some of the demand into your back leg, try bending your front knee and letting your hips drop a little lower towards the floor (picture 4). Then maybe you will also feel a stretch in the front of your back leg hip. Take a breath or two there then see if that has created space for you to slide your front heel a little further forwards. Keep on cueing yourself to draw your front hip a little bit back and your back hip forwards - don't let your pelvis twist towards your back leg. As with every other yoga posture, don't sacrifice the integrity of the pose (ie keeping your hips square) for range of motion (aka taking your legs further apart).
Once you've reached your limit, grab some support and place it under the top of your front thigh (so not under your bum, under the top of your hamstrings). I've used a block (in the picture at the top of this blog post) but you can use whatever you have to hand to give you as much height as you need. So maybe a bolster, or a pyramid of 3 bolsters stacked on top of each other; a stack of books, one or many firm pillows. Whatever works! Whatever it is, make sure it's stable. Then walk your arms back in towards you and reach them up to the sky. Take a few breaths here: feel your front leg, feel your back leg, and feel upper body reaching up through centre. Then bring your hands to the floor, wriggle out of the posture, and repeat on the second side.
And ask if you have any questions! 🙏🏼✌🏼