Sunday, 21 April 2013

Hanumanasana: Two Great Prep Poses

Hanumanasana, or the front splits, combines backbending and forward bending.  There are lots of ways to prepare yourself for this pose.   Here I will show two of my favourites asanas to get you on your way.


Parsvottanasana using wall for support (Yoga Journal Magazine)

This is one of the all-time most effective poses to open the muscles along the back of front leg and outer hip.  When performed mindfully it will strengthen as well as lengthen the hamstrings and hip extensors.  Some tips to come into this pose:
  •             Outer edge of front foot parallel to outer edge of the mat—the heel turns slightly out. 
  •             Back foot positioned about 30 degrees from parallel—toes out and heel in.
  •             Hips pointing straight ahead (tail pointing straight back).
  •         Squeeze heel of front foot in towards the centre of the mat and press ball of foot outwards.  Note the foot doesn’t move but you should feel ankle stabilise and some movement at the hip joint.
  •        Lift outside edge of the foot towards the outer ankle.
  •       Press firmly through the ball of the foot, as though trying to push it through the floor and forwards.
  •        Stretch the mat with your feet—try to push the front foot forward and the back foot backwards. Then, try to pull the front thigh towards the back and the back thigh towards the front as though they were moving towards one another.  Lift them up into the sockets as well.
  •       Scoop the front sitting bone down and under towards the centreline of the body, as though it is moving towards the opposite sitting bone.   Another way to think about this is to see if you can roll the front thigh bone out (as though the knee were trying to turn out) from high up near the hip.  This is one of the most important actions and when performed, will make an enormous difference to the feel of the pose.  

All of the work being done with the feet and legs should combine to make the torso, spine and arms feel light and free.

From here, lift up out of your legs and start to fold forward.  Think up and forward rather than down. 

You will need to keep the front hip scooping and maintain the other leg/foot actions as you start to go up and forward or you will lose the freedom in the spine.  There is a lot of hard work going on in the legs.

In this variation, resist the urge to drop your chest and round your upper back.  Rather, try to maintain a long spine and keep it parallel to the earth.  Try to keep a feeling that you are doing a back bend in your upper back.  It doesn’t have to be a big effortful backbend—a baby one is just fine. 

Take your arms onto your front leg (or a wall as in the photo) without reaching so they are not just dangling.  Pull your armpits lightly towards your waist. 

Try to keep your natural lumbar curve.  Then, maintaining the natural curve, attempt to push your sitting bones down and forward (as though they were arcing in a circle towards your navel).  This will bring a light firmness to your lower belly and enhance the activation of the hamstrings which will be lengthening and strengthening. 

In Between
Take downward facing dog in between sides.  Feel the difference between the two legs.

Standing lunge
Bianca Machliss (Yoga Synergy) in san calasana with arms overhead

With the forward bend taken care of, move to the backward bend. When practicing this variation try not to keep the spine upright but relaxed.  Watch for the ribs that can tend to project out. 

Step into a long lunge and follow the following steps:
  •            Outer edge of front foot parallel to the outside edge of the mat, it will feel like the toes are turning in slightly.
  •            Scoop the front sitting bone under as for the previous pose, as though the front sitting bone is moving in an arc down and to the opposite side.  If you can manage to think of it, focus around the hip socket itself and try to roll the thigh bone out.  Then, try to pull the knee in towards the hip socket from the inner thigh.  To enhance these two actions try to squeeze the heel of the front foot in towards the centre of the mat (without moving it) and try to press the ball of the front foot out to the edge of the mat (without moving it).
  •            The back heel points up to the sky.  Draw the outer edge of the foot closer to the outer knee.
  •           Press the ball of the back foot strongly into the floor.  Try to move the top of the foot closer to the shin without moving it. Try to pull the heel towards the back of the knee without moving it.
  •           Attempt to pull the back foot forwards towards the front foot.  At the same time attempt to pull the front foot backwards. 
  •           Make sure the back thigh bone/knee points down to the floor.
  •          ‘Suck’ the back thigh bone up towards the torso, as though your leg started from your armpit.  If this makes no sense to you then try to flex the back hip (bend it) from its extended position (as though you were trying to bend at your hip to bring the back knee to your chest).
  •           Scoop the back leg sitting bone down and forward in an arc.  This will firm the lower belly and, when performed in conjunction with the instruction above, will start to activate the muscles that you are stretching.  You will feel the posture becomes much more active.
  •           Try and keep the scooping down and forward arc of the sitting bones with the sucking of the back leg to get a feeling that the sitting bones are lifting from beneath you and sending your whole spine upwards. 
Simon Borg Olivier (Yoga Synergy) in parsva san calasana.
The back foot is different but note the arm variation here, which is really a side bending variation. 
  •           Try an arm/side bending variation to enhance the stretch felt across the front of the back thigh. Take the arm of the back leg up to the sky and push the armpit up and forward in the direction it is facing.  Press that elbow over towards the opposite side of the body.  Take the arm of the front leg down beside the front hip and push the armpit down.  The torso will be in a side bend.  Press the front sitting bone down and forward and keep pressing the front knee in towards the centre line of the body. 
  •           Breathe.
You can see how this long lunge can keep extending into a backbend, as my teacher Paddy McGrath demonstrates below.  The more you scoop and suck the legs and sitting bones the more freedom in the spine, which can start to lift up and into a circle.  If Paddy just snuck her front leg out straight (which she can) she'd be in a(n extreme) version of hanumanasana!
Paddy McGrath in a very long lunge and backbend

The End

Hanumanasana is a combination of the forward bend of parsvottanasana and the back bend of the long lunge.  You could do a lot of different poses to prepare yourself for the challenge of the forward splits but I would recommend that whatever other poses you do, you perform these two actively.  They will give you strength and flexibility.  Be sure to combine the 'scooping' of the front sitting bone down and towards the centre of the body and the 'sucking' of the thigh bones into their sockets that is present in both of the poses to help you on your journey!

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