I’ll let you in on a secret: Hanumanasana is not a particularly difficult pose for me. When I was five years old, I took gymnastics lessons. And although I was terrible on the vault and a complete chicken when it came to back handsprings, I had “the splits” nailed. I can remember the day I won a blue ribbon for my splits. I’m sure I was proud of my accomplishment. But I also remember feeling like it really wasn’t a big deal – why should I get all the attention for something that was so easy when all the other girls around me were clearly working so hard? Doing the splits was like being petite or having brown curly hair. It was just part of the package I was born with.
Years later, this pose is not as easy as it was then. I had to relearn it, with much tighter hips flexors. And I’m certainly aware that there are still things I can do to refine my alignment. But for a variety of reasons—including my skeletal structure and 15 years of writing at a computer—Hanumanasana, a pose that’s regarded as “advanced” in the yoga canon, will always be infinitely easier for me than a beginning backbend like Bridge or Cobra. And although I still feel elated on the days when I slide one leg forward, the other one back into the great Monkey God pose, it doesn’t change who I am as a person or as a yogi. I still have my lackluster poses, my bad hair days, my neuroses, and insecurities. I still have my pile of stuff to work on.
Why am I sharing this? Because it’s difficult to resist that idea that one should be able to master the most advanced poses. And it can be hard to believe when you see your yoga friend post her new collection of Facebook photos where she’s throwing her leg behind her head or balancing in some jaw-dropping inversion that, well, maybe those poses just come to her naturally. That’s not to say that she hasn’t worked her tail off to refine them. But maybe she really struggles a lot more with her twists. Maybe her outer hips are tight. Maybe she hates her new bangs. Who knows?
The point is that, while we are seeing awesome new advances in the way that asana is being taught and practiced, it’s vital that we remember why we’re practicing asana in the first place: If you want to get really traditional about it, we practice asana to make the body a fit vehicle so that it’s easier to sit comfortably and meditate. The ancients knew that sitting and watching the machinations of the mind was not an easy task, but sitting and watching the mind while your hips were aching and your back was slumping? Nearly impossible. So, they created this amazing system to prepare us.
If you don’t have a regular seated meditation practice, that’s OK, too. You can use your time on the mat as a moving meditation. Simply attending to the tone, pace, and feeling of your breath is a moving meditation. Or you can cultivate witness consciousness and watch your reactions—the good, the bad, and the ugly—to all that arises as you move from shape to shape. You can learn to fully feel and celebrate the good moments, and laugh at yourself when you get frustrated by the bad. Asana practice can facilitate a deep sense of intimacy within you or with the Divine or God. It can be so much deeper and wider and more beautiful than the transient experience of pursuing a pose. It’s not a means to an end. It’s a process that you get to relish for the rest of your life.
And so, this week, we’ll try Hanumanasana using props. I encourage you to prop yourself higher than you normally would and see how it feels to be in the pose instead of pursuing an outcome.
My suggestion for warming up is to take your time. In Hanumanasana, the front leg is in deep flexion, which requires the back of your leg to be very open. The back leg is in deep extension, which requires the front of your leg and hip to be very open. I recommend that you either select a YogaGlo practice that includes Hanumanasana and try it with the propping described below, or select an all-around lower body practice (such as a standing pose sequence) and add Hanumanasana before Savasana.
When you are ready to do Hanumanasana, you have lots of choices for propping: A very common way to prop this pose is to place a block beneath your front sitting bone (put theblock on the highest height if you need to) and rest the hands on two more blocks on either side of your hips. While this is a great approach, my personal favorite is to pull out my bolster and place it underneath my hips. It’s soft yet supportive and it gives me enough lift that I can really work on squaring my hips.
Whichever props you’ve chosen, begin the pose by coming into a Low Lunge, with your back knee on the ground and the prop underneath your hips. Place your hands on their respective supports and bring your weight into your back leg as you straighten your front leg. Flex the front heel and begin to slide it forward, moving and adjusting the props as you need to. (If your front heel sticks to the mat, you can come off your mat for this pose and place the front heel on a blanket.)
Once you are settled on your props and in the shape of the pose, tuck your back toes under. Look at your back leg and rotate the thigh inward – if you’re not sure which direction this is, think of the inner back thigh lifting as the outer back thigh descends. Draw your left hip point forward to square the hips. Notice if you feel any compression in your lower back. If you do, place yourself on a higher prop. You should be propped high enough that you feel like you have plenty of space to lengthen your lower back and draw your tailbone down.
Keep both hands pressing down into the bolster or blocks, bring your hands to your heart in Prayer Position, or reach your arms up overhead in the full expression of the pose. Whatever your physical experience is, try to tune into the mental chatter in your head. Watch the stream and then let it go, allowing yourself to be in whatever form your own personal, perfect pose takes. Then take the other side.
An editor at Yoga Journal for nearly a decade, Andrea Ferretti has had the honor of writing about and learning from some of the best yoga teachers in the West. She has been greatly influenced by Sarah Powers, Sally Kempton, Cyndi Lee, and her husband, Jason Crandell. For more of her personal writing, visit her blog, Mindful Living.