Saturday, 31 January 2015

Working Towards Hanumanasana/Splits (James Brown Version—Gotta Go Up To Go Down)

Working Towards Hanumanasana/Splits (James Brown Version—Gotta Go Up To Go Down)

Hanumanasana (henceforth to be called the splits in this post) is a pose to work towards with caution. 

It looks so impressive most people’s egos get the better of them.

Or, perhaps it was just my ego?  As I tell my students, when I first started yoga I injured myself with over-zealous practice of the posture.

Actually, the practice was not over-zealous.  This was a case of pure ego.  I actually practiced mindfully and diligently.  The day I made it into the pose after many months of practice I was so pleased with myself that later on (several hours after my practice and we could almost call it the next day) I met a friend and said ‘Look, I can do the splits!’

I proceeded to do the splits right there and then, with no preparation.

Well, let’s say I managed the position but did something to my butt that had me limping for a month!

These days I can do the pose almost first thing in the morning as I have been practicing for many years.  However, most people will need quite a bit of preparation. 

Hopefully my previous posts should have lead you towards an understanding that the splits should not feel like too much stretching. 

It is not about splitting apart. 

Using active movements means the pose is actually about coming together again. 

If you are working towards this posture I recommend you work with an experienced yoga teacher to guide you.  Do not confuse flexible with experienced and also, I think it is better to make sure your teacher can do any pose they are trying to instruct you in. 

In the photos below I have shown one progression.  Watch the video above to see the movement in action.  The video at the end of the post shows advanced variations of the posture (intended for demonstration not for practice).

You remain at whatever stage you feel comfortable in (feel like lengthening and relaxing, not stretching and tugging).

There are two key things I am doing in each stage.   The first thing also has a little subplot. 

First, my front thigh is rolling out and my back thigh is rolling in. 

This means the thigh bone of the front leg feels as though the side butt (near the crease) is firming slightly.  What you see is that the knee might roll away from the centre line of your body.
The back thigh is rolling in, which means you might feel the inner thigh firming a little.  If you could turn around and see your knee is trying to move so it is more towards the centre line of your body. 

The subplot here is that I am also trying to move the side of front hip back and draw side of back hip forward. 

If you are not mindful the opposite tends to happen.  That is, when you roll the front thigh out it can often bring the side of front hip forward and when rolling the back thigh in it can often send the side of back hip backward. So you need to watch out for this.

The second key thing I am doing is to try to suck my legs or feet together. 

Yes.  I am not actually trying to split them apart. 

Sucking them together could be likened to someone at foot trying to push your legs back together (what I am doing). 

Whereas most beginners just try to let their legs come apart, almost as though there is a person at either foot pulling them in a tug-o-war.  Actually, they do not even do that so much as let the weight of their entire pelvis and torso just hang and sag in the middle. 

Ouch!  It is obvious when put that way that it would not be a pleasant feeling.

Sucking it up is key. 

This is where I put in the James Brown analogy in class.  He was a guy who sort of did a type of a split while on-stage singing but leapt straight back up again.  It looked really cool as a dance move.

In our yoga practice of this pose we need to be thinking of trying to draw our feet back together again (while they move apart). 

This makes the posture active rather than passive.

It will help make you stronger and more mobile.

Step 1

A standing lunge.  Stay here.  I am trying to pull my feet together.  No need to go further unless comfortable.
Step 2

Kneeling lunge.  Be soft on the back knee by being active in the legs and feet.  I am drawing front heel back and back knee forward.  You can stay here.  No need to go further.
Step 3

I start to move the front foot further away.  I go slowly so I don't elicit a stretch reflex.  You can see the back knee slightly raised.  I try and draw my feet together as though trying to stand up.  I am not sinking into my shoulders or hands at all.
Step 4

That front foot just keeps moving slowly forward.  
Step 5
I have come all the way forward.  I have moved my torso back while trying not to arch my lower back (tummy firm but calm).  I am reaching forward and up through my armpits to lengthen my spine.  

Of course, there is really no reason you need to do this pose.  It is fairly extreme. 

One of the benefits (which is not going to make you a happier or healthier person by any means) is that if you are coming into some other inverted postures like pincha mayurasana you can tap into the pose with greater ease. 

 Below is a video of me coming into active hanumanasana with a variation.

Some additional points you might notice from the videos:

  • I am not sinking into my hands or shoulders at any point.  I am trying to cultivate lift and length and freedom in the spine through the actions of my legs.  This is clearly shown in my fuller versions of the posture where I take my hands off the ground, arms overhead, and reach for the sky.
  • I am using my back foot strongly.  You can do a  top of foot down version if you like.  I just prefer this one.
  • Most people think of this posture as something to do with hamstrings.  As soon as you practice you should get an appreciation that the front of the thigh of the back leg needs to be lengthened.  If it is not you can squash your lower back.
  • You can see that in my versions I begin to move the whole spine back over the pelvis, trying to lengthen my spine while coming into an upright position.  This is actually a pretty tough back bend and you need to monitor that the spine is not squashing.  I am firm in my tummy in a way that I can still breathe into it, which helps.
  • I am reminding myself periodically to relax my face, my tongue, my lips.
  • I am breathing naturally. 
  • I am enjoying the sun on my face, the chirps of the birds, the call of loud children in the background playing with their dog.  I am feeling radiantly alive! Firm but calm.  Delighted with where I am and what I am doing, whatever that is. I am connected to my body but not so inward looking that I cannot sense others and I smile and nod as they pass by.
This is the type of thing we workshop in classes, and in our retreats in Bali and Sri Lanka.  Hope to see you there.  (

Happy and safe practicing!


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