I remember the first time I saw pictures of yogis in hanumanasana—I thought they must be former gymnasts. While some surely are, I now know better. There is hope for late-blooming stretchers.
I’m not “naturally flexible.” For me, hanumanasana was a process. As you begin or continue your own journey toward the full splits, remember to simply enjoy the communication with your body. A pose is just a pose—whether an extremely challenging one or not—and there’s always another posture to aim for once you get there. Celebrate where you are on your road now.
Having said that, let’s work into the full splits. Make sure you warm up before deep stretches.
1. Stretch your hamstrings. This might be a “duh” suggestion, but it’s true. My favorite pre-splits posture is half-hanumansana. Come into a low lunge with your right foot in front and your left knee on your mat. Flex your right foot and draw your hips back and over your left knee. Place your hands on either side of your extended right leg. Keep your lower back long and use blocks underneath your hands if you need to.
2. Stretch your psoas. Come into a nice psoas stretch from the previous stretch or vice versa. Begin in your low lunge with your right foot in front and your left knee (or above your knee if your hips are more open) on the mat. Tuck your tailbone to protect your low back as you bend your right knee. Your right knee is over your right ankle as you release your hips to the ground. Stretch your left arm overhead and place your right hand on your hip. Reach your left arm up and over—shoulder staying down away from your ear. Keep your right hand on your hip or place your hand on a block or the floor if your flexibility allows.
3.Be dynamic. Google the hanumasana story. It’s worth your time. One thing you’ll discover is that it’s symbolic of a great leap. So think of leaping as you attempt your full splits. To come into the full posture, extend your right leg out as you reach your left leg back from half-hanumasana. Energetically extend through your legs rather than heavily plopping your hips down on your mat. Keep your back toes curled under if this helps you “leap.” Remember to pull your right hip back and your left hip slightly forward to square the hips during your pose. Use props underneath your sitz bone and hands if need be or go back to half-hanumanasana rather than charging desperately—and dangerously—ahead before your body is ready.
4. Imprint a backbend. The full expression of hanumanasana takes your spine into a subtle but powerful backbend (think locust pose). Practice healthy and proper alignment during all other backbends and use this imprint as you practice hanumanasana.
5. Let go of judgment. The phrase “easier said than done” was possibly created for the non-competitive aspect of yoga. Many of us come to yoga for healing from other sports—even if it’s not gymnastics—and jobs that require us to be, at the very least, competitive with ourselves. Letting go of this all-American “work your way to the top” mentality is hard, but I can’t stress enough the importance of thinking of your practice as time to get in touch with your body, mind and spirit rather than time to work into postures.
6. Go back to the basics. Learning “advanced” postures is one of the best ways to remind yourself why you continue to practice more “basic” things like sun salutes, warriors, etc. These postures are designed to warm up and open your body. They’re the bread and butter of yoga for a reason—they’ll help you on your way to more complex asanas. Another thing to consider is the communication that happens with your body during these poses. You learn about your body, and that knowledge will help you as your practice grows.
7. Take your time. The full splits—like many things in life—won’t happen overnight. Hanumanasana takes skill, patience and practice. (It’s called yoga “practice” after all.) Most “advanced” postures require both flexibility and strength from the yogi. You can fake or cheat your way into an unfortunate number of yoga postures, but this isn’t one of them. Besides, frustration often causes us to tense our muscles—fighting the stretch that you’re trying to achieve. Learn where in your body you need to strengthen or soften and then be patient with yourself as you work on it.
Hanumanasana, or the full splits, is a challenging but glorious posture. It’s worth the time, energy and commitment it takes to get there. Most importantly, always have fun as you leap into new experiences on—and off—your mat.
image via YogafortheArts