How to Not Hate the Splits
Ever end up in a yoga class and the instructor suddenly calls out, "Hanumanasana! Splits pose!" Well, it doesn't have to be as dire with a few simple tricks to help open the body in just the right way.
Hanumanasana is named after the demigod, Hanuman. He’s a monkey who is known for his devotion, friendship and fearlessness. This posture commemorates his iconic leap across the ocean to save King Ram’s girl, Sita, from the evil demon, Ravana in the epic tale of the Ramayana.
Before he gets to his great leap, though, Hanuman actually prepares himself with two other postures that help to warm him up for the “leap of faith.” Anjaneyasana, or kneeling lunge posture, is named after Hanuman’s childish follies and reckless abandon. Physically, it begins to open the hips in the same kind of way that Hanumanasana does. As we do a kneeling lunge pose, we sink deeply, drawing the tailbone to the floor in order to create a stretch across the front of the back leg and hip. This helps to open the hip flexors, specifically the psoas muscle, and prepares the body for the more extended posture to come - the full splits pose. One important factor that is easier to master here in this posture is the internal rotation of the back leg. Similar to the way we internally rotate the back leg in Warrior 1, this posture gives us an opportunity to feel that rotation and keep the hips facing forward. This is very important groundwork to lay in preparation for Hanumanasana where the tendency will be to open the hips, but the work to be done is to keep the hips facing forward through a strong internal rotation of the back leg.
In the interim, between the childhood precociousness represented by Anjaneyasana and the spiritual maturity represented by Hanumanasana, we have Virasana, or hero pose. Modern day yoga practice has us sitting between our heels in virasana, which is excellent for stretching the quadriceps and the external rotators of the legs. If we lay back in Supta Virasana, or reclining hero pose, it intensifies this opening, and once again, targets the hip flexors and psoas muscles, which is very important for an improved outlook in Hanumanasana. Hanuman sat in a similar shape before he made his great leap. It was a moment for him to gather the internal strength and faith he needed to accomplish a seemingly impossible task.
When he felt up to it, he propelled himself from his seated hero pose into the air and leapt to a far away island to save King Ram’s girl, Sita. If he, as a simple monkey, can rise to the challenge of a great leap, we certainly can! Especially, if we’ve prepared ourselves as Hanuman did with both Anjaneyasana and Virasana. As we come into the full splits pose, we can make a few modifications to keep our outlook uplifted. The first would be a half Hanumanasana, which is basically a kneeling lunge with the front leg straightened. In this case, hands can be on blocks for support while the heart remains open. If we extend into the full pose, we can support ourselves with a block under our seat while we diligently continue our practice to eventually descend happily to the floor. Hanuman was joyful in his leap, and hopefully, with proper preparation, we can be joyful as we attempt splits pose in Hanuman's honor!