Monkey pose, or Hanumanasana in Sanskrit, is a graceful yet challenging posture named after the Monkey God Hanuman (1).
This posture requires flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors and hip extensors. Although challenging, there are many preparatory poses that can stretch and warm up the integral muscles for you to safely perform the splits.
As Hanumanasana is a strong posture, requiring open hips and flexibility, ensure your body is warm before attempting to get into the pose.
You can warm up the entire body by performing a few rounds of sun salutations.
Low Lunge - Anjaneyasana
This is a great posture for releasing your hips and stretching your hamstrings and quadriceps, all integral for performing the splits.
- Begin in downward facing dog pose. Inhale lift your right leg up behind you and exhale step your right foot to the top of your mat, placing your foot in between your hands. Make sure your right knee is above your right heel.
- Lower your left knee to the floor and release the toes of your left foot. Slide your left knee back until you feel a comfortable stretch and sink deeper into your hips.
- On an inhale raise your arms up and overhead and take your gaze up to the ceiling. Make sure your core is engaged, torso lengthened and your shoulders are released down your back.
- Hold for 5 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Fold - Paschimottanasana
This pose helps to stabilise the back extensors and stretches the hamstrings and the spine.
- Begin seated on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Keep your feet active with toes pointing up to the ceiling and legs engaged.
- Inhale and create length in your spine, rolling shoulders back and lifting the torso, and exhale hinge forward from the hips. As you fold over your legs, maintain the length through the spine by focusing on taking your chest towards your feet.
- Take hold of the outsides of your feet or you can also use a strap around the feet if you are working on your flexibility in this posture. Hold position for 5 deep breaths.
Head To Knee Forward Fold - Janu Sirsasana
As well as stretching the all important hamstrings, this pose also works the psoas, the only muscle connecting our torso to our lower body.
- Begin seated on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Bring your right leg in towards the body and place your right foot on the inside of you left thigh. Keep your left foot flexed and leg active without locking the knee.
- Align your body to the extended leg by bringing your belly button to the centre of your left leg. This may be enough of a stretch for you here. If so then hold for 5 deep breaths.
If you want to go deeper into the pose then fold forward over the extended leg and take hold of the foot or use a strap. Repeat on the other side.
Pigeon Pose - Eka Pada Raj Kapotasana
Pigeon pose is fantastic for opening the hips and lengthening the hip flexors.
- Begin in downward facing dog pose. Inhale raise your right leg and exhale bring your right knee forward towards your right hand and lower to the floor.
- Sink your pelvis to the floor and extend your left leg out behind you. Try to keep your hips aligned. You can use a block under your right hip if you find yourself rolling to the side.
- You can stay in an upright position or, to deepen the pose, fold forward over your right leg, extending your arms out in front of you and lowering your forehead onto the ground.
- Hold pigeon pose for 5 deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
The Splits - Step By Step Instructions
- Kneel on the floor and step your right foot to the front. Place your hands either side of your body and begin to straighten the right leg, sliding the heel of the right foot forward.
- Then slide your left knee and foot back until your thigh touches the floor, all the while your hands are pressing into the ground.
- Adjust your hips so they are in line with each other by bringing your left hip forward and pulling your right hip back. Check the knee of your right leg is pointing straight up to the ceiling to ensure the leg is not turning out to the side.
- Check your left leg is also extending straight back behind you with your knee facing down. Be aware of keeping your right foot flexed and active.
- Once both legs are straight lower your pelvis to the floor and bring your hands into prayer in the centre of your chest. You also have the option to raise the arms above the head and take your gaze up to your hands.
- Hold this pose for 10 deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
Benefits Of Hanumanasana
Releases the hip flexors
Working the hip flexors is beneficial for our lower back, knees and hips. Our hip flexors get shortened from sitting for prolonged periods of time. Stretching these important muscles can relieve lower back pain and improve mobility and stability in the body. (2)
Stretches the hamstrings
Having flexible hamstrings has many benefits for our body. When your hamstrings are tight they can pull downwards on your pelvis, affecting your knees and thigh bones. Regularly stretching your hamstrings can release this tension and prevent future injuries. (3)
In this pose the abdominals get stimulated helping to aid digestion. You also get the additional benefit of toning and lengthening the muscles of the abdominals.
Do The Splits
Hopefully you now feel ready to try this yoga pose. The best way to build up your flexibility to perform the splits is practice. So warm up, prepare the body and have a go at Hanumanasana.
If you are just starting out, don't forget to use some props like yoga blocks to help you ease into your pose.