Hanumanasana is Overrated


Sometimes I question the merits of Yoga Journal Magazine. There are good ideas and inspirational sentiments to be found in this publication but it's difficult to separate from the not always so subtle inclination of effective advertising to exploit low self-esteem. Magazines depicting idealized notions of beauty that make us feel worse about ourselves is nothing new but, in the context of yoga, feels inappropriate.

Setting aside the incongruity of yoga and market forces for now, when well intentioned considerations of yoga mix loosely with bottom-line business, essential principles can be inadvertently misconstrued.

The most recent issue of YJM offered the following passage:

"'How on earth will I ever be able to do Hanumanasana? It seems so hopelessly far away from what I can do'  But you don't have to do it in one day, or even ever.  And you aren't a lesser person for not doing Hanumanasana.  But in your head you might tell yourself, 'I'm going to do my best to do a version of Hanumanasana that doesn't injure me.  It's my goal to get to my idea of Hanumanasana.'"

Ostensibly, this sounds encouraging. I concur that its best to work incrementally and safely, with a tempered relationship to end results.  The question is whether it's sensible to make a goal of asana, especially Hanumanasana (full splitz.) We are told that "you don't have to do it in one day, or even ever" and that the goal is to get to "my idea of Hanumanasana" but there is still the implication that it would be favorable to do the fully realized form.

In my early years of practice, I made a goal of Hanumanasana.  I worked patiently and with great determination over time without injury and, eventually, was able to perform this feat. I spent another several years celebrating my ability with much satisfaction.

Unfortunately, it's fifteen years later now and I am prone to inflammation in my right hip. Sometimes it can flare up pretty bad and even be a bit debilitating. Fact is, Hanumanasana is an expression of "hyper-mobility" which often leads to a range of conditions characterized by inflammation.

From a standpoint where the purpose of Hatha yoga is to facilitate and maintain a healthy functioning body, there is no reason why a person would ever need to be able to do Hanumanasana. However unattached we may be in working towards it, the goal belies our better purpose. This goes to last months post about the "perceived need for arbitrary challenges" and a tendency towards goals with "presumptive or defeating premise."

Touting images of flashy classical asana demonstrations as examples of "mastery" has led to a gross exaggeration of physical practice, beyond the point of practicality, and has fueled a physical fitness industry that is more concerned with aesthetics than health. I realize that I may be taking a hard view of things but seeing past the cultural sensationalizing of just about everything can be a daunting task given the deeply ingrained mores stacked against it. Some amount of push back seems necessary.



J. Brown

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, New York. A teacher for 15 years, he is known for his pragmatic approach to teaching personal, breath-centered therapeutic yoga that adapt to individual needs. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal and Yogadork.