Love is something we humans tend to seek out, a joy — but it isn’t always easy. Love asks a lot from us. I’m not thinking only about romantic or familial love here but about the kind that connects us to all humanity, love of the potentially species-saving kind. Again, not always easy.
The yoga pose Hanumanasana, the Monkey Pose, is named after the Hindu god Lord Hanuman, whose qualities are said to combine unwavering devotion, selfless service, and unbounded strength. The Monkey Pose is a leap for love. The pose teaches us to lift up, to harness our strength, and to apply ourselves with determination, humility, and faith to overcome any barrier to love.
Hanumanasana is deep and powerful. The finished pose is an intense forward split posture that requires flexibility, balance, and focus. But don’t let that deter you from monkeying around. More important than how far apart the feet are, or how low to the ground you go, is to create a shape with your own body that feels like you’re preparing for a big, determined, joyful leap.
In the Hindu tradition, Hanuman took a leap across the Indian Ocean for the cause of love. When I teach on Mayo Beach in Wellfleet, I like to dig my feet into the sand and imagine leaping across the harbor. The yielding of the sand makes a gradual entry into the pose possible.
Before taking your leap, warm up with a few rounds of Sun Salutations or other gentle stretching exercises. Focus on the hip flexors and extensors, hamstrings, and quadriceps, as they play significant roles in this pose.
First, from a kneeling position, step your right foot forward. Set the foot down ahead of your knee and press your hips forward into a lunge. Keep your left knee on the ground and press down into top of the back foot.
Now, lengthen your spine. Inhale deeply and feel your chest become buoyant. As you exhale, draw the pelvic floor up toward the abdomen and the crown of your head. Continue to lift your chest and at the same time extend your tailbone towards the ground.
Swing your arms. As though you are taking long strides, reach the arms forward and back one at a time. Let your legs imagine the movement of a leap. Pause and reach the right hand back and left hand forward. Again, imagine the leap, your right leg thrust forward into it, your back foot poised for another big step.
Maintain an upright posture throughout the leap. Look in the direction you want to go.
Then, slowly move forward. As you exhale, begin to stretch your front leg out ahead of you while your back leg extends backward. Shift your weight to gradually move your hips closer to the ground without losing the upward rising lift of the posture. Move at your own pace, respecting the limitations of your body. If your front leg doesn’t fully extend, don’t worry. Set your hands onto blocks or place a bolster or folded blanket under your sitting bones for support.
Maintain balance and stability. To deepen into the pose, engage your core muscles and activate the legs. This will provide stability and help you find your center of gravity. If it feels possible, throw your arms to the sky mid-leap!
When you’re ready to release the pose, gently bring your back knee forward, draw the front foot back, and place both knees on the ground. Rest a moment in child’s pose. Switch sides. Repeat the process with the opposite leg forward.
Practicing yoga through poses, or asanas, invites us to use the body to change the mind. Notice what happens in your mind when you let yourself play in the monkey pose. Does it cultivate qualities of courage, determination, and balance within you? Find a moment this week to press your feet into the sand and imagine a leap.