How to Do Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

woman in monkey pose (split)
Michelle Haymoz Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

Also Known As: The splits

Targets: Hamstrings, hips, groin

Level: Intermediate

Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana) is an intense stretch commonly called by another name—the splits. However, the alignment of the yoga splits is subtly but significantly different. In yoga, Monkey Pose is done with closed hips, while in gymnastics and cheerleading splits are done with open hips.

The mythology behind the name of this pose aims to teach you about taking a leap of faith and being devoted to others. Hanumanasana's name comes from the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. In the eponymous text, Hanuman must rescue Sita, the wife of the deity Rama. Sita is being held on the island of Sri Lanka, so Hanuman must take a very big step across the straits that separate the island from the mainland in order the reach her.

This giant step is interpreted as a split in this pose. Yoga teachers often like to tell this story while you are holding this pose for what seems like an eternity, which is a lesson in patience.

Benefits

Monkey Pose stretches the hamstrings, groin muscles, and hip flexors. You will also feel a quadriceps stretch for the back-facing leg. If you enjoy cardio exercises such as running, cycling, and skiing, this will help you maintain flexibility for those activities.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Warm up before Monkey Pose by doing a warmup sequence of asanas such Sun Salutations or by doing some light jogging.

  1. Come to a kneeling position with the thighs perpendicular to the floor. Lower your hands to the floor in front of your knees. Tent your hands so you are up on your fingertips. 
  2. Bring the right leg straight out in front of you with the heel on the floor. Flex your right foot strongly.
  3. Begin to slide the right foot forward, keeping the right leg straight until you have also extended the left leg as straight as possible behind you. It helps to bring your right heel off your mat so that it slides more easily. 
  4. Keep the hips parallel to one another and facing forward.
  5. You can keep the toes of the left foot tucked under or release the top of that foot to the floor.
  6. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
  7. To come out, bend the right leg, come onto your left knee, and draw the right leg back toward the body.

To compensate after the pose, do Chair Pose.

Common Mistakes

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 your alignment is off, you need to reassess your positioning.

For this pose, the key thing to understand is the open versus closed position of the hips. In the closed hip position, both hip points are lined up in the same plane and facing the front of the mat. Sometimes it helps to think of the hip points as headlights on a car; you want both headlights facing forward.

It is wise to have an instructor guide you in doing this pose correctly.

Modifications and Variations

Maintaining a proper position may, at least initially, mean that you cannot come as deeply into it. Work toward that goal.

Need a Modification?

Place a blanket under the front heel to help you slide forward. Go slowly so that you can control your descent 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.

Up for a Challenge?

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.

Safety and Precautions

Be careful, as this is an intense hamstring stretch. Prepare for it with other yoga poses that stretch the hamstrings and open the hips. Only come down as far as is comfortable.

Avoid this pose if you have any hamstring or groin injuries.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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