How to Do Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman on yoga mat in monkey pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: The splits

Targets: Hamstrings, hips, groin

Level: Intermediate

Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana) is an intense stretch commonly referred to as the splits. In yoga, Monkey Pose is done with closed hips, while in gymnastics and cheerleading, splits are done with open hips. This alignment is subtle, but significantly different.

The ideology behind this pose is to take a leap of faith and be devoted to others. Its name comes from the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman, who rescued Sita, the wife of the deity Rama. Sita was being held on the island of Sri Lanka, so Hanuman had to take a huge step across the straits in order the reach her.

This giant step is interpreted as the splits in this pose. Yoga teachers often like to tell this story while you are holding Monkey Pose for what seems like an eternity, which is a lesson in patience. It is often preceded by Low Lunge Pose and followed by Seated Forward Bend.

Benefits

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

Research also shows that a yoga sequence containing Monkey Pose can help you improve your muscle strength, muscle endurance, flexibility, and agility. These benefits were reported after doing eight weeks of a consistent yoga practice.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Prepare your body for 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 your thighs perpendicular to the floor. 
  2. Exhale as you lower your hands to the floor in front of your knees, "tenting" them so you are up on your fingertips. 
  3. Bring your right leg straight out in front of you, the heel on the floor. Flex your right foot strongly.
  4. Begin to slide your right foot forward, keeping your right leg straight, as you also extend 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. 
  5. Keep your hips facing forward. The toes of the left foot can be tucked under or you can release the top of that foot to the floor.
  6. Hold the pose for five to 10 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
  7. To come out of Monkey Pose, bend your right leg, come onto your left knee, and draw your right leg back toward your body.

Common Mistakes

For this pose, the key thing to understand is the open versus closed position of the hips. In Monkey Pose's 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.

In yoga, the way that you go about getting into the pose or position is always more important than the final result. If you can get your legs flat on the floor but your alignment is off, reassess your positioning. It may help to have an instructor guide you in doing this pose correctly.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

If you are a yoga beginner or just learning how to do Monkey Pose, place a blanket under your front heel to help you slide forward. Go slowly so that you can control your descent and stop when you need to.

You can also use a yoga block under each hand to support yourself if you cannot straighten your back leg completely. Another option is to place this 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 and lower yourself all the way to the floor, lift your arms overhead and take a slight backbend. Reach toward the ceiling with your pinky fingers to get a good stretch.

Safety and Precautions

This is an intense hamstring stretch. So, avoid Monkey Pose if you have any hamstring or groin injuries. Plus, when doing it, only drop your body down as close to the floor as is comfortable. This helps you enjoy the stretch without causing pain.

You can better prepare your body for Monkey Pose by doing other yoga poses that stretch the hamstrings and open the hips. Poses to consider are Bridge Pose, Downward Facing Dog, Firelog Pose, and Standing Forward Bend.

Try It Out

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

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  1. Singh T, Singh A, Kumar S. Effects of 4-week yoga training on muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and agility of female hockey players. Res J Social Science Managem. 2015;5(7):97-99.