Hanuman: the monkey, monkey god, the splits. These are the usual words and phrases we associate with one of India’s holiest and most revered deities.
The story of Hanuman is a personal favorite of mine. It’s a long story that spans through the Ramayana, Mahabharata and some Jain texts but I will try my sincere best to keep it short and sweet.
Hanuman was of the divine but his restless monkey mind, at times, would lead him to forget of his immense powers. Others argue that he didn’t particularly care about his powers because he had managed to completely kill his ego- hence his name: Han (“killed” or “destroyed”) and maana (pride); the name implies “one whose pride was destroyed.”
Hanuman came to meet Rama and promised to help him save his wife Sita. Upon meeting Rama, Hanumam immediately fell down to his knee and became completely loyal and an ardent supporter and devotee. Him and other Varanas (people of the forest) managed to make it to the southern most tip of India and needed to cross to Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka). At first they all sensed a great deal of utter sadness as they came to the realization that perhaps their pursuits would have to end abruptly. Suddenly the rest of the Varanas reminded Hanumam of his powers and he was able to enlarge himself and simply walk across the ocean into Lanka. This action of enlarging ourselves, extending our mind (consequently our bodies) into deeper depths is what makes hanumanasana (the splits) so physically demanding but above all, mentally challenging.
The story of Hanuman extends deeper but I’ll cut to my favorite part- Sita is rescued and Ravana (the evil dude who kidnapped her) is defeated. He helps Rama, Sita and Surgiva along the way. For his loyalty and incredible feats Rama rewards him with precious jewels and gold. Hanuman cracks open the jewels and is disturbed by them and tosses them on the floor. Rama asked him why he was throwing so much shade and Hanumam says “Inside this bling, there is only more bling, I want to see you (I’m clearly paraphrasing for the young ones). Rama was confused so Hanuman explained. He said that to him every fiber of his being was dedicated to Rama and Sita and then he opened his chest cavity and exposed his insides. Every single fiber of his being was carved with the image Rama and Sita. His devotion was so intense that EVERY thing of him was for them.
Now what about the asana? Not only do we need open hamstrings, open hip flexors, open hips but we also need a basic understanding of letting go. Surrender mentally to achieve physically great length
Splits, whether on the floor, standing or against a wall (one of my favorite variations) shouldn’t be simply grouped as another physical pose but it should remind us that yoga is about mentally and spiritually extending to greater depths, depths we perhaps did not find possible. The body comes later and it will come- let it be the physical representation of your mind- but don’t take my word for it, listen to this cute puppy: