Take a leap of faith into Hanumanasana or Monkey Pose, named for a figure in Hindu mythology who did just that. And when faith doesn’t get you all the way there, practice will.
“It was the greatest leap ever taken. The speed of Hanuman’s jump pulled blossoms and flowers into the air after him and they fell like little stars on the waving treetops. The animals on the beach had never seen such a thing; they cheered Hanuman, then the air burned from his passage, and red clouds flamed over the sky . . .” (Ramayana, retold by William Buck).
This pose then, in which the legs are split forward and back, mimics Hanuman’s famous leap from the southern tip of India to the island of Sri Lanka.
Practice this pose on a bare floor (without a sticky mat) with folded blankets under the back knee and front heel.
Monkey Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions
Kneel on the floor. Step your right foot forward about a foot in front of your left knee, and rotate your right thigh outwardly. Do this by lifting the inner sole away from the floor and resting the foot on the outer heel.
Exhale and lean your torso forward, pressing your fingertips to the floor. Slowly slide your left knee back, straightening the knee and at the same time descending the right thigh toward the floor. Stop straightening the back knee just before you reach the limit of your stretc
Now begin to push the right heel away from your torso. Because we started with a strong external rotation of the front leg, gradually turn the leg inward as it straightens to bring the kneecap toward the ceiling. As the front leg straightens, resume pressing the left knee back, and carefully descend the front of the left thigh and the back of the right leg (and the base of the pelvis) to the floor. Make sure the center of the right knee points directly up toward the ceiling.
Also check to see that the back leg extends straight out of the hip (and isn’t angled out to the side), and that the center of the back kneecap is pressing directly on the floor. Keep the front leg active by extending through the heel and lifting the ball of the foot toward the ceiling. Bring the hands into Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) or stretch the arms straight up toward the ceiling.
Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to a minute. To come out, press your hands to the floor, turn the front leg out slightly, and slowly return the front heel and the back knee to their starting positions. Then reverse the legs and repeat for the same length of time.
Contraindications and Cautions
- Groin or hamstring injuries
Modifications and Props
Students just beginning to learn this pose are often unable to get the legs and pelvis down on the floor, which is usually due to of tightness in the backs of the legs or front groins. While in the starting leg position then (as described in Step 1 above), place a thick bolster below the pelvis (with its long axis parallel to your inner legs). As you straighten the legs, slowly release your pelvis down onto the bolster. If the bolster isn’t thick enough to comfortably support your pelvis, add a thickly folded blanket.
Deepen the Pose
The arms are raised overhead from the “trigger” of the lower back ribs. Take the back ribs away from the top of the pelvis, and use this lift to reach the arms closer to the ceiling. Lengthen along the backs of the arms, stretching your pinkies a little closer to the ceiling than the index fingers. Then pin the fingertips against the ceiling and release or “hang” the ribs from the arms.
Yo-yo the ribs between the arms and the pelvis: relative to the pelvis, the ribs lift, boosting the arms closer to the ceiling; relative to the arms, the ribs drop toward the floor, increasing the stretch in the armpits.
To increase the length of the torso and spine, press the back foot actively into the floor and, from this pressure, lift the shoulder blades firmly into your back.
- Stretches the thighs, hamstrings, groins
- Stimulates the abdominal organs
The partner can help you create a lift through the arms in the completed pose. Perform Hanumanasana with the arms raised. Have your partner stand straddling your pelvis. She should then press her hands against the outsides of your upper arms (just above the shoulders) and scrub up along the arms toward the hands. Press out against your partner’s resistance and release the side ribs downward, away from the arms.