Monkey Pose, commonly known as "the splits", is an advanced leg stretch and hip-opener. However, the alignment of the yoga splits is subtly but significantly different from the way they are done in gymnastics and cheerleading. In yoga, the way that you go about getting into the position is always more important than the final result. If you can get your legs flat on the floor but you’re alignment is off, that not the pose. The yoga version of this pose keeps the hips squared to the front, unlike the version practiced in dance where the hips are opened more to the side.
The Sanskrit name for this pose, "Hanumanasana" (HAH-new-mahn-AHS-uh-nuh), is named after the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman. In an ancient story, Hanuman took one giant leap all the way from India to Sri Lanka, and then one more leap to return to India. Hanumanasana mimics his leap! By practicing the pose on each side, you become like Hanuman, soaring to a new country and returning home.
Warm up First
Hanumanasana requires flexible hamstrings, quadriceps, and hips, so be sure to incorporate plenty of leg stretches and hip-opening poses into your regular practice before trying this pose. Practice this sequence to help prepare for your leap:
- Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
- Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
- Standing Hand to Big Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana)
- Standing Split (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana)
- Head-of-Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
- Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
- Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
- Reclining Hero Pose (Supta Virasana)
Benefits of Monkey Pose
Hanumanasana opens the hamstrings, quadriceps, groins, and hip flexors, while toning and stimulating the abdominal organs. This pose simultaneously stretches the front and back of your legs, which mimics movements made in other activities, including walking, running, bicycling, and skiing. Regularly practicing Hanumanasana will keep your legs and hips supple, which can help prevent injury in other activities.
Do not practice Hanumanasana if you have a recent or chronic hamstring, groin, or low back injury. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
How to Do Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana)
- Begin by kneeling upright with your knees hip-distance apart. Rotate your thighs inward and press your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor. Do not squeeze your buttocks.
- Extend your right leg in front of you with your heel on the floor. Lean your torso forward and press your fingertips firmly on the floor. You can also press your hands onto yoga blocks, placed alongside each hip.
- Straighten your right leg, but do not lock or hyperextend your knee. Slowly begin to press your right heel forward, away from your torso. Keep rotating your right thigh inward, so your kneecap points upward, toward the ceiling. At the same time, slide your left knee back. Press the top of your left foot into the floor, or tuck your left toes for more stability.
- Keep your hips squared to the front of your mat and parallel to each other. Check to ensure your left leg is reaching directly behind you and is not splayed out to the side. The center of your left kneecap should be pressing on the floor.
- Flex your right foot, reaching your toes toward the ceiling.
- If you are comfortable and stable here, then bring your torso upright. Place your hands at your chest in prayer position (Anjali Mudra [link]), or reach your arms straight up to the ceiling. Gaze softly at the horizon.
- Hold for up to one minute.
- To release, press your hands firmly into the floor. Let your right leg drop open slightly as you gently draw your right heel and back leg toward your torso.
- Return to your starting position. Repeat the pose with the left leg in front for the same amount of time.
It’s irrelevant whether you achieve the full pose or not. What’s important is you turn your awareness inward to find the energy of Hanuman inside yourself — an energy of devotion and introspection toward your own inner divinity. As you do this, your body will release and move. This movement, which transcends your current capacity and takes you where you could not have gone without this devotion, is your offering to the divinity within.
Monkey Pose for Beginners
Hanumanasana combines a deep stretch with a lighthearted feeling when practiced correctly. If you have tight legs or hips, this pose might seem out of the question! But with patience, practice, and dedication, your legs and hips will become more limber. Remember to take it slowly and never force the pose. Try these simple changes to find a variation of the pose that works for you:
- Place a blanket under the front heel to help you slide forward. Go slowly so that you can control your decent and stop when you need too.
- Use a block under each hand to support yourself if you cannot straighten the back leg completely. You can also place a block under your front hamstring for support if it does not come down to the floor.
- Be careful! This is an intense hamstring stretch. Only come down as far as is comfortable.
Monkey Pose for Advanced
Hanumanasana can be a fun pose, but it can also be very challenging! Be sure to thoroughly warm up your legs and hips before practicing this pose. Take it slowly and be careful! Only come as deeply into the pose as it is comfortable. Forcing the pose can quickly lead to an injury — so take it easy and be patient.
- If you are able to straighten both legs and come all the way down to the floor, lift your arms overhead and take a slight backbend.
- Those with more flexibility can add a slight backbend when their arms are overhead.
- Another advanced variation is to lean forward over the front, extended leg. Hold onto your front foot with both hands, keeping your hips squared and legs straight. Hold for 10 breaths, and then bring your torso upright on an inhalation.
Adding Hanumanasana to your regular practice can bring lightheartedness and fun to your mat. Let your imagination take over as you leap with Hanuman, stretching your legs into the biggest jump you’ve ever done!