Monkey Pose - Hanumanasana

woman in monkey pose (split)
Monkey Pose - Hanumanasana. Michelle Haymoz Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images
  • Type of Pose: Seated
  • Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings and hips.

This intense stretch is commonly called by another name: the splits! However, the alignment of the yoga splits is subtly but significantly different from the way they are done in gymnastics and cheerleading. 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, that not the pose.

For this pose, as in many others, the key thing to understand is the open versus closed position of the hips. This is covered in detail in my instructions for downdog split, which is a pose where it's pretty easy to feel the difference. In yoga, monkey pose is done with closed hips, while in gymnastics it's done with open 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. Setting up this way sometimes means that you can't come as deeply into the pose but that's ok. That's what props are for.

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 becomes a split for us. Yoga teachers often like to tell this story while you are holding this pose for what seems like an eternity.


  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 brought the left leg as straight as possible extending 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.

Beginners' Tips

  • Place a blanket under the front heel to help you slide forward. Go slowly so that you can control your decent 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.
  • Be careful! This is an intense hamstring stretch. Only come down as far as is comfortable.

Advanced Tips

  • 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.
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