What’s your favorite yoga pose? What’s your least favorite yoga pose? I’m asking, because one of my teachers asked our class recently, and my answer led me on an interesting little journey through the perils, purpose, and message of hanumanasana.
If you haven’t already guessed, hanumanasana is my least favorite pose. I dread it so much I actually used the term “hate” when my teacher asked me to name my least favorite pose. I can’t even do it with props! It’s not that I mind trying, but it’s always awkward and uncomfortable.
As soon as I announced my disdain for the pose, though, I realized the paradox in my statement. While I do not enjoy attempting hanumanasana, I love Hanuman. In fact, I’d say he’s my favorite character from Hindu mythology.
The Story Behind Hanumanasana
Hanuman was Rama’s servant. I’ve written before about the amazing power the beloved monkey god had because of his willingness to serve. Hanuman is also known for amazing—often seemingly impossible—feats.
In the Ramayana—an early Hindu text from the Epic period of yoga—there is a story known as Hanuman’s Leap of Faith. You might say it was the first time anyone performed hanumanasna. And yes, it was Lord Hanuman himself who first did this challenging pose, at least metaphorically.
In the story, Rama’s brother is wounded in battle and the only thing that can save him is a particular herb. Unfortunately, the herb was at the top of the Himalayas, and the battle was in the south of India. Rama knew it was not likely anyone could get to the top of the Himalayas and back in time to save his brother.
Hanuman’s Leap of Faith
Without knowing the exact location of the herb and with no directions for the journey, Hanuman took a leap of faith and set out across the ocean from the south of India in pursuit of the herb that would save his master’s brother. Hanuman did this by listening to the voice within him, even though he wasn’t certain he’d find what he sought.
So, how do you think the story ends? You guessed it! Hanuman found the herb, brought it back to Rama’s brother, and Rama’s brother recovered from his wounds. Oh, and just to be sure he didn’t return without the right herb, Hanuman brought the entire mountain back!
The Pose is Not the Point
Returning to the task of practicing hanumanasana after I identified it as my least favorite pose, I see why yoga teachers often say the poses we avoid are the ones we need most.
I’m not sure I agree that getting my body into a pose my hamstrings are much too tight for is a goal I need to reach physically. It would be cool, but I don’t think the pose itself will change my life. But I probably would benefit from taking more leaps of faith.
Maybe that’s what our teachers mean when they encourage us not to avoid poses. After all, yoga is not entirely about the physical poses. In many cases, it’s about taking the the pose off the mat, even if we haven’t perfected the physical posture. It’s about meeting the challenge, whether that means leaping, twisting, getting stronger, becoming more flexible, or turning upside-down.
So, next time I attempt hanumanasana, I’ll try to focus more on faith than my hamstrings!