Yoga Myth Series: Hanumanasana
The story behind how Hanumanasana - the splits - came to be just happens to be one of my favorites. This story has everything: love, adventure, destruction, self-empowerment, obstacles, and a happy ending. Let's do this.
A Quick Background on Hanuman
Hanuman is the monkey god with the head of a monkey and body of a man. He's the son of the Hindu wind god, Vayu, and a woman named Anjana. As a boy, Hanuman was exceptionally rambunctious and mischievous with his supernatural powers, like his mighty leaps. After one of his little pranks, Hanuman was cursed to forget his superhuman powers and the only way he would be able to remember is if someone told him who he was.
In Hindu mythology, Hanuman represents loyalty, bravery, strength, and devotion.
The Story that Gives Us Hanumanasana (The Splits)
Once upon a time (as all good stories start), King Rama of ancient India was in a great war with the demon Ravana. In the heat of war, Ravana abducted the love of Rama's life, Sita.
Hanuman, a loyal devotee of King Rama, volunteered himself and a small group of his friends to go after Sita on a mission to rescue her. After traveling all over India in an attempt to find and rescue Sita, they discover that she's being held on a distant island. The small rescue team makes their way to the coast where they can just barely see the island of ancient Sri Lanka, and they pause to develop a plan.
The team brainstorms and ends up sleeping on the coast. When they wake up and still don't have a solid plan for how to rescue Sita, one of Hanuman's friends suggests that he goes alone. Hanuman is incredulous - he doesn't understand why his friend would ever recommend he go into such a dangerous situation without backup! However, Hanuman's friend stops him in the middle of his rant to remind him: "Hanuman, you're a god. You're the son of Vayu and Anjana. You have great powers."
Suddenly Hanuman remembers. He has the ability to leap great distances and other powers that can help him rescue Sita!
Without another thought, Hanuman turns toward the island and leaps. But, it wouldn't be such a great story if it were that simple, would it? Along his journey over the ocean, Hanuman encounters three deadly obstacles.
Obstacle 1: The Mountain Spirit
As Hanuman leaps over the ocean, he notices a mountain that has come out of the ocean. The mountain calls to him, inviting him to stop his journey rest. However, Hanuman understands the importance of his quest and knows he does not have time to rest. He lands on the mountain, thanks the Mountain Spirit, and explains the importance of his mission and why he's not able to stop and rest.
If we consider that the vast ocean in this story represents our subconscious, this first obstacle represents complacency. How often do we feel like we're doing "enough" in our spiritual practice and don't need to push ourselves any further? What we can learn from Hanuman here is that there is always work to be done, and we should resist the temptation to rest when we're onto something important. (I want to note here: rest is important, but we must learn when is the time to rest and when is the time to push.)
Obstacle 2: Surasa
Surasa is a Hindu goddess who is the "mother of the serpents." Surasa was asked by the gods to rise out of the sea and block Hanuman's path to Lanka as another obstacle, another test in his journey. Surasa invites Hanuman to fly into her mouth and be her dinner but, of course, Hanuman was having none of this. Again, Hanuman explains the importance of his journey and why he must continue on.
Surasa wasn't super happy about this. She grows even larger to block his path even more. Then Hanuman taps into his magical ability to grow and matches her size, then Surasa grows, then Hanuman grows, and on and on until they're both absolutely enormous. Then Hanuman quickly decreases himself to the size of a fly and flies into Surasa's mouth. When Surasa begins to close her mouth it takes so long, because she's so large, that Hanuman has time to fly back out at the last second... and Surasa allows him to pass.
This obstacle in Hanuman's journey represents our connection to our subconscious desires. Think of it this way: once you master a certain skill or responsibility, life doesn't go "Oh great! Let's take responsibilities off your plate." No, no, no. As you grow, your responsibility grows, and you must rise to the challenge. But we also must remember to grow small, to be humble when we need to, and allow the ego to subside. Finding a balance between these two is key as we continue on our individual spiritual journeys.
Obstacle 3: The Shadow Demoness
This demoness hides just under the surface of the ocean, waiting to find a shadow crossing over the water. Once she notices a shadow she can magically grab the shadow, freezing the being that casts it. Hanuman notices that the Shadow Demoness has a hold of his shadow and dives into the water, crashing into her and forcing her to release his shadow. He then returns to the surface and resumes his journey.
This obstacle represents our willingness to go deep within and face ourselves. We create stories that define who we are, and we must be willing to go within and face these stories head-on if we ever want to grow and become more than our "shadows."
Ultimately Hanuman is able to get to Lanka, defeat Ravana, and bring Sita home. So, go on, take the leap. See what you can learn along the way.
Note: Most of the details of this telling of Hanuman's story come from The Sivana Podcast episode released on September 28, 2016.