When life gets tough, we tend to put up walls. “I don’t have time for that,” we say to a friend who invites us out. “Sorry, I don’t feel like talking about it,” we say to another. These walls feel like protection – like a way to keep ourselves safe while a storm rages around us. And because we’re so wrapped up in our own struggles, we can forget to be compassionate and available to others. It’s only later that we come out of our foxholes to reconnect with the people we avoided.
This response can seem like the right thing to do when we’re in the midst of turmoil. But a yoga instructor recently told me a story that challenges our knee-jerk reaction of withdrawing when we feel suffering: the story of Hanuman, the Monkey God of ancient Indian mythology.
According to the Ramayana, an ancient Hindu epic, Hanuman is a devoted friend of the god Rama. In fact, he’s so beloved, so trusted, that when Rama’s wife Sita is kidnapped by enemies in the midst of a war, Rama sends Hanuman to find her – even though she has been taken across the sea, to the island Sri Lanka.
Hanuman was terrified of the distance between India and the island. But stories tell that in his absolute devotion to Rama, he gathered his courage, and took a mighty leap – a leap so long that he landed in Lanka with his hands clasped in prayer, holding Rama’s ring to his heart.
The Ramayana (as told by William Buck) says that:
“It was the greatest leap ever taken. The speed of Hanuman’s jump pulled blossoms and flowers into the air after him and they fell like little stars on the waving treetops. The animals on the beach had never seen such a thing; they cheered Hanuman, then the air burned from his passage, and red clouds flamed over the sky…”
And when Hanuman arrived, he gave Rama’s ring to the captive Sita and told her the good news that her husband was on his way.
In the midst of battle, in the midst of turmoil, Hanuman didn’t shut down when his friend asked him an enormous favor. Instead, he offered complete and utter devotion. He opened his heart, offered compassion, and took a gigantic leap of faith. We now remember his courage and kindness in the pose Hanumanasana, the full split that mimics his leap from India to Sri Lanka.
As you flow through the poses below, ask yourself these questions:
When times get hard, can you soften your walls? When you are struggling, can you allow yourself to be vulnerable? When a friend asks you for help, can you push aside your troubles and offer them compassion anyway? What would our world look like if we did?
Supta Baddha Konasana
Begin on your back and let your knees fall open to the floor.
Happy Baby Pose
Softly open your hip flexors.
Supta Padagusthasana A + B
Grab your right toe with your right hand and bring your knee to your nose in Supta Padagusthasana A. Then gently open your leg to the right for B. Repeat on the left.
Take a few to realign your spine.
Sun Salutation A
Take three to five until you begin to feel warm. Rest in Downward Dog for several breaths.
Step your right foot forward and spin your left foot parallel to the back of your mat. Square your hips to the long side of your mat. Take your arms out to a T. Reach forward as far as you can with your right hand, and then let it settle against your shin, your calf, or the earth as you length your side body and feel a gentle stretch in the right hip flexor. Straighten and repeat on the left side.
Turn both toes forward to the long side of the mat, and then bend deeply from the waist. Let your neck and shoulders relax as you soften into a sweet forward fold. After several breaths, return to a low lunge at the top of your mat, step your foot back, and complete a vinyasa. Rest in Downward-Facing Dog.
Step your right foot forward while spinning your left foot outwards. Bend your right knee deeply and square your hips to the front. Let your arms rise to the sky as you gently offer your heart to the sky.
Place your hands on the ground and step your right foot to your right hand. Lower your left knee to the mat, cushioning it if you feel pain. Make sure your right knee is aligned over the ankle as you sink your weight down to feel a delicious stretch in the hip flexors. If you feel comfortable, lower down to your forearms.
Rise to your palms again and square the right calf parallel to the top of your mat. Lengthen your left leg behind you and settle your hips towards the ground as evenly as possible.
If your hips feel loose and warm, straighten the right leg and wiggle the right foot forward as you lower towards a split. Keep two blocks underneath your palms for extra stability and height. Draw the heart upwards and back as you square your thighs to the front of the room. Breathe in compassion and breathe out love. Then complete the sequence on the left side, beginning at Anjaneyasana.
Anna Squires studies political science, journalism, and creative writing at Colorado College. There is nothing she enjoys more in a yoga class than laughing so hard she falls out of a pose, especially since then she doesn’t have to hold it anymore. She hails from Atlanta, GA.