Hanuman: Myth, Mantra and Asana
Hanuman was born on the wind and a prayer. His father was Kesari, a sort of meditating gladiator monkey-like humanoid, called in Sanskrit, a “vanara”. His mother, Anjana, held the essence of her name: “anj” in Sanskrit means reverence.
Anjana and Kesari really wanted a kid and prayed to Lord Shiva for the blessing of conceiving a son. Shiva, pleased by their devotion and prayers, sent Vayu, the god of wind, to carry Shiva’s essence to fulfill their wishes, perhaps something like a sacred stork.
Turns out that Vayu delivered a pretty gifted kid. Like his gladiator father and like many of our modern-day mixed martial art competitors, Hanuman had a plethora of skills and talents. He wrestled demons, transformed himself to fit the needs of the particular circumstances against which he was fighting, and did so all with unwavering devotion.
Hanuman was devoted to Lord Rama, the god of righteousness and virtue.
Through his devotion, he was characterized as a lifelong Brahmachari (celibate). The belief that Hanuman’s celibacy is the source of his strength became popular among the wrestlers in India.
Hanuman: Behind the Name
Sanskrit texts mention several stories about how Hanuman got his name. Hanuman had a lifelong obsession with the sun, and as a youngster, blazed towards it, mistaking the sun for a mango and mischievously chomping a bite out of it. This really pissed off Indra, the king of the gods, who struck Hanuman’s jaw with lightening, to scold his impetuous nature. A bit harsh, right? Regardless, Hanuman is said to have received his name from the Sanskrit words “hanu” meaning jaw, and “man” meaning prominent or disfigured.
Another lore credits the name as a derivative of the Sanskrit words “han” meaning killed or destroyed, and “mana” meaning pride; indicating that Hanuman is the one whose pride was destroyed.
As Saul David Raye shares in Earth Heart Hanuman, “humility comes when the jaw is broken.” Whether you’re an elite mixed martial artist, or simply a modern-day yogi maneuvering through daily challenges, we discover that when our hearts are full of devotion, our spirit is unbreakable. Saul David Raye says that the stories of Hanuman can teach us, “the balance of incredible opening while still staying balanced.”
It’s Hanuman we can thank for the devotion it takes to practice Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskars, which are a series of poses linked by the breath. Sun Salutations invite us to bow to and unite with the sun, as a pathway to the divine.
Singing the Song of Hanuman
I never expected one of my fondest memories from my travels to India to be of a Hindi man and his love of a monkey. He was standing beside the 50-foot statue of Hanuman near Karol Bagh, New Delhi. “Do you know of Hanuman?” he asked, his excitement bubbling over like uncorked champagne.
I don’t think he introduced himself by name, as he proclaimed that, because of Hanuman, his elderly mother regained her health and his family was able to overcome losing their home. My neck hurt looking up at Hanuman in wonder. “Bring your troubles to Hanuman,” he said, looking directly at me, “and in return, you will receive blessings beyond belief.”
A while later, after returning home, I decided I wanted to learn to chant the Hanuman Chalisa, a Hindu hymn authored by Tulsidas, a 16th-century poet. Tulsidas wrote Hanuman Chalisa as an act of his devotion, and it’s said to continue to serve by keeping devotees’ minds free from evil.
My desire may have been influenced by the devoted man we met at the Hanuman in India, or the promise to have a free mind, but I thought it was simply because it had my name in it. Come to find out Chalisa actually means forty. So there are 40 verses in a derivative of Sanskrit to learn.
As much as I love a good challenge, this began to feel next to impossible; which apparently is right up Hanuman’s alley. My 40-day plan to practice each of the verses evolved into 108 days. Rising a few hours before dawn (said to be the best time for such spiritual undertakings), here are my favorite verses:
Sankata te hanumnaa chhudavai
Mana karma vachana dhyana jo lavai
“Hanuman will release those from troubles who meditate upon him in their mind, actions and words.”
Durgama kaja jagata ke jete
Sugama anugraha tumhare tete
“All the difficult tasks in the world become easy if there is your grace.”
Legend has it that Hanuman took a courageous leap, doing the splits over the ocean to rescue Sita, the beloved of Rama, to whom Hanuman was entirely devoted. Hanuman took one look at the span across which he had to cross, thinking something along the lines of, “there’s no way I can do that!” Who hasn’t thought that same thing when faced with a monumental challenge du jour?
The pose associated with Hanuman is the splits. Often called ‘the leap of grace’.
I don’t know about you but my first attempts at doing the splits (aside from when I was five) were anything but graceful. Blessed with inflexible hamstrings and hips, practicing the splits has been a lengthy endeavor. It’s vital of course, to properly prepare by warming up the entire body, with particular attention to the backside of the legs, and hips.
Hanumanasana is often taught using one block at various heights to support beneath the forward extended hamstring. I’ve found that using two blocks underneath the hands (with stacked joints so wrists are in one line with elbows and shoulders) is more useful in progressing in depth over time in the asana.
The two-block method also provides additional support to lengthen the spine and extend the heart upwards. Getting out of the pose? Now that’s awkward. I’ve heard it said that on the other side of awkward, it is awesome.
It’s these moments in which we have the greatest opportunity to call upon whatever source of spiritual strength aids us. Hanuman exemplifies faith, trust, and being of service in such moments of doubt.
Immerse yourself in a community of such devotion at the Hanuman Festival, every June, in Boulder, Colorado, a music-filled yoga festival at the foot of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, with world-class yoga instructors. It’s an annual invitation to “immerse yourself in body, mind, and heart as you relax and rejuvenate, dance and devote, connect and expand, have fun and just be.”
Leap with Your Breath
Guiding students through Earth Heart Hanuman, Saul David Raye says, “When Hanuman leaps, he leaps with his breath.” In that way, Hanuman is an eternal entity in teaching us to find where the breath meets the body, where the body meets the bravery within our hearts, and enables our devotion to be a launching pad from which we meet life’s seemingly insurmountable challenges.
How Mantra Transports The Mind's Awareness to the Heart
In 2006, I enrolled in yoga teacher training. They sat us in a circle of 20 people and asked us to say our names and something fun about ourselves. My mouth got dry, my armpits started sweating, and like many introverts who are shy about public speaking, I waited to go last. By the time it was my turn, the nerves had totally built up.
I gave a terse introduction, all the while speaking through a shaky voice as I felt the nervous sweat dripping down my body. I realized I was terrified of speaking in front of my peers and loathed having all eyes on me. That evening I visited the leader and told him I was quitting teacher training.
It’s 2021 now and I can say honestly I’m glad he didn’t let me, but I am still, to this day, fearful of public speaking. During the first class I ever taught I received a comment card saying I had a robotic voice! But my motto ‘fake it until you make it’ one day turned into ‘fake it until you become it.’ That’s why I chose to continue to master my trade and teach yoga full time.
In 2009, I trained with Janet Stone at her very first teacher training where we sang and sang. I was introduced to the power of mantra. Maybe I loved it because I am half Filipina and lived in the Philippines—Filipinos love to sing! Maybe it was because my Dad, as a diplomat, played karaoke songs when I was little and I knew all the words to New York, New York by 5th grade. Ever since the training, mantra has been my savior.