I gave myself a mission to learn to do Hanumanasana, aka the splits or Monkey Pose. With our brand new Nikon and my trusty iPad in tow, my husband and I set out to the locations where I teach weekly Yoga classes here in Effingham, Illinois to capture my progress.
The first time I remember seeing someone do this pose was in second grade. My friend Sabra and I were in the girls' restroom. She excitedly told me to “watch this!” and then jumped into the air and landed in a perfect split. I was astonished, and up until recently I assumed I would never have the flexibility to do such a thing. I tried in second grade and failed, but as an experienced Yogi and Yoga instructor I have decided it's time to give it another shot!
I wanted my journey to be something others could follow and try themselves. I love teaching Yoga and I rarely get to work on advanced moves like this one in my classes, for the simple reason that most people's bodies are just not ready for that kind of movement (yet).
I will do my best to make learning this pose safe and fun for all of us. So let's begin with some prerequisites. Here is a list of postures you need to be able to hold comfortably before proceeding with Hanumanasana:
Practice these postures to help you warm up and prepare your body for working on Monkey Pose. Take your time with each one. In Yoga, slowing down is actually a way to speed things up. If you rush your body you may not be able to release the accumulated tension in the deeper muscles and end up feeling like you are failing at the pose, or worse - you could hurt yourself. Spend 2-5 minutes on each posture and do them everyday as you work on your splits.
Reflections from Day 1
I did NOT spend enough time warming up. Maybe I came in to this project too cocky, or maybe I was trying to show off for my husband, but for some reason I flew through my warm ups and ended up paying for it.
I did not feel good in the pose. It was as struggle. My breath was tight and my hamstrings and glutes were even tighter. Muscles I had never felt before made themselves very present to me. It was a little discouraging. This is how far I made it on day one of practice.
Reflections from Day 2
After a much longer and more thorough warm up, I felt more confident going into the pose. How you enter any posture will be a huge determining factor in how you experience the pose during the holding process. If you enter a pose too quickly you will likely rush through the practice and get very little out of it. If you enter the pose angry or frustrated, there you will remain for the duration of the pose. I suggest spending time setting intentions, breathing mindfully, stretching in poses that make you feel confident and help you loosen up. Enter challenging postures like this feeling relaxed, confident and focused.
I also used my Yoga blocks as a support. I placed one block under my thigh so I could rest my weight on it and bring my torso upright. I could feel gravity assisting me in dropping deeper into the pose in this position. The trick was learning to relax the deep thigh muscles and glutes with slow, deep breaths.
Reflections from Day 3
On day three I was able to do the full splits for the first time in my life. The feeling was liberating and very exciting. It was not nearly as uncomfortable as it was the first two days and it released a lot of energy that I wasn't really expecting. I actually did a headstand afterwards out of sheer excitement. My husband caught it on camera!
I did everything I learned from day two, but felt a lot more confident. That is the key with difficult Yoga poses, is slowly learning how to 1) relax your muscles enough to ease into the posture and 2) practice with a sense of confidence and self trust.
As with any physical activities, you have to honor where you are and avoid pushing yourself to unrealistic extremes. I knew this pose was accessible to me because I have spent years doing Yoga on a daily basis and building my way up to this. In the past, I had to dedicate a similar amount of focus and daily practice just to master Downward Facing Dog.
How you come out of Monkey Pose is also an important thing to think about. I chose to rise gently out of the pose through low lunge. Then, I transitioned to a lunge variation where I could lift my torso and keep my front knee bent at a 90 degree angle, this helped me feel stability in my hips and lumbar region of my spine. Child's pose felt kind to my body afterwards.
I also enjoyed resting my forearms on my Yoga blocks and doing slow pelvic circles. Savasana for 5 – 10 minutes after my practice helped my body heal itself after being pushed to such extremes. Overall I spent almost as much time recovering and cooling down as I did warming up. I only spent 3-5 minutes doing the pose on each side.