Head in heaven, feet on earth: Anjaneyasana

‘Have your head in heaven and your feet on earth’, a riding teacher once said to me, I think having once had it said to her by one of her teachers, much like the lineage of passing down knowledge that has, and continues to, disseminate the practice of Yoga.

I think of this phrase when I think of Anjaneyasana and fittingly, much like the passing down of knowledge, I find that the deep affection of one of my teachers for this pose – her favourite of all the asanas – has also been passed to me.

Before we look more closely at the pull of Anjaneyasana, let us first establish exactly which pose we are looking at here, because the posture as I was taught it seems to have many aliases, including low lunge, deep lunge, psoas opening lunge, low crescent lunge and crescent moon, to name just a few.  So, for the purposes of this blog, the image above depicts Anjaneyasana as I know it, or at least in one of its guises, for there are variations almost as numerous as there are names.

Whilst on the subject of nomenclature, where does Anjaneyasana come from?  There are differing accounts.  According to Yoga teacher and author Zoe Newell in ‘The Mythology Behind Anjaneyasana’, one is that Anjana was a yogini who lived in the forest working towards mastery of the mind, body and senses, with the pose named in dedication to the power of her practice.

More universally agreed, is that Anjana is the mother of Hanuman, one of the key characters of the epic Ramayana, and whom the pose Hanumanasana – full front splits – is named after.  Fittingly, if we take a look at the physicality of Anjaneyasana, we can see how it could give birth to the splits; as such it is often used in preparation for Hanumanasana.

What physical actions then do we find in Anjaneyasana?  I could write here about the hip flexors and quadriceps, both of which are stretched and strengthened.  I could describe the activation of the core muscles as they stabilise the spine in extension – the shoulders and chest opening, helping to counterpose the generally forward bending focussed actions of daily life.  Or perhaps I could focus on the mindful release of the groin, deep psoas and trapezius muscles; release of the former two allowing back bending movements to be made freely without compression and release of the latter two said to help let go of stress and fear commonly held in these places.  All are noteworthy and beneficial aspects of Anjaneyasana, but equally important, what do I feel as those parts of my body make these actions and I embody this asana?

Anjaneyasana is said to be energising and uplifting, grounding and balancing.  For me this is a joyful pose – expansive, happy and generating the feelings of both giving and receiving.  I find joy and solace hereJoyful liberation as I reach towards the heavens; reassuring support and strength from my feet on the earth.

On Anjaneyasana, Yoga teacher Charlotte Bell remarks, ‘It is helpful to remember that the power to spring skyward originates in a downward, rooting motion through your legs and feet.’  It feels an enlivening place to be, experiencing the tension between those differing qualities.  This holding of opposites as we work towards outer and inner balance underpins so much of Hatha Yoga – ‘sun’ (ha) and ‘moon’ (tha) – and its practices, which help us to work on a physical, energetic and mental level.

In this way, we can see there is much encapsulated within the practice of Anjaneyasana and much to experience as we take this posture.  Here is your invitation to explore. How does it feel? Where does having your head in heaven, feet on earth take you today?

© Catherine Rolfe Hatha Yoga Teacher 2021

Inspired to practice? We will be taking Anjaneyasana and its variations as our focus for four weeks of this summer’s outdoor classes.  Find more information on joining the sessions here.