Inside the pose: Anjaneyasana, a leg-strengthening, hip-stretching, back bending posture that grounds the body and opens the heart.
Anjaneyasana translates from Sanksrit as son of anjana's pose.
In the Indian epic the Ramayana, Hanuman, the playful monkey king, was the son of devoted and observant Anjana. Hanuman's father was Vayu, the wind god, and appropriately anjaneyasana is down to earth with the lower body whilst up in the air with the upper body. All versions of the pose give us the chance to open the chest and the heart, invoking a little of the joy and playfulness of young Hanuman.
Practicing Crescent Lunge Pose
To practice crescent lunge pose Anjaneyasana we face the front short edge of the mat with one foot forward of the upper body, sole firmly planted down, and the back leg shin and front of foot fully in contact with the mat behind the upper body.
We can begin with both knees in a right angle position, the hips in one line with the back knee and the shoulders directly in line above the hips. Other variations are covered below.
To stabilise in this position, the front foot and the back knee should be widthways apart the same distance as your hips. Push firmly down with the whole of the front foot and the back shin. The muscles of the thighs will need to be well engaged, feeling like they are rolling in towards one another.
For the classic pose, we bring our arms straight up alongside the ears and may even bring the palms to touch for Anjali mudra or Kali mudra if it's comfortable in the shoulders. From this position, when suitably warmed up, it's possible to take a further back bend by stretching the arms and head back and up whilst continuing to push down firmly with the legs to keep the lower body in position.
Sensations in Crescent Lunge Pose
Crescent lunge posture Anjaneyasana is really a full-body experience. The sensation of pushing down into the mat with the front foot and back leg enough in order to achieve stability is very strong, so it's often a good idea to place a blanket under the back knee or roll up the edge of the mat beneath it for additional support. Even the toes of the front foot will feel engaged and active in a well-stabilised anjaneyasana, which can be a curious sensation for those of us used to wearing neat, pointed shoes and rarely spreading out our toes!
The front of the back foot will bear weight down onto the mat, stretching it out and engaging the muscles right through the front of the ankle and shin, an unusual feeling with more muscular action than simply kneeling.
I normally feel the most hip stretch on the side where the back leg is down, and this may be more or less intense depending on whether that's left or right (right is always 'tighter' than left for me), what I've been doing that day or which version of the pose I'm attempting.
The keen engagement of the thigh muscles is a strong area of sensation, along with the stretch in the sides of the body as the arms are fully lifted up. The shoulders and upper arms are focused on keeping the arms raised overhead, creating a powerful lifting and pulling sensation.
Finally, if you choose to bend the upper body backwards in crescent lunge, there may be an intensity of sensation in the back and front of the body as we stretch in a way not normally encountered day to day. Sometimes this can feel exhilarating or overwhelming; tailor your backwards bending to the extent that you find tolerable and take your time in moving out of the pose into a more forward-bending position such as half-hanuman (AKA half splits).
Preparation for Crescent Lunge Pose
Crescent lunge pose engages the muscles of the legs, front and back of the torso and the arms so it's important to work through preparatory poses that activate all these areas of the body.
Hip openers including balasana (child's pose), pavanmuktasana (knees to chest) and reclining pigeon pose can all be done on the mat before moving into the lunge.
I generally practice bhujangasana (cobra pose) as a preparation for any further backbends; it can be held for five breaths as a low cobra with the elbows into the body, or for longer as a sphinx variation with the forearms on the ground and the elbows square under the shoulders.
Finally for the arms, ardho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) engages the shoulders and creates space in the chest in the same way that crescent lunge does, but with the added help of gravity to open the body.
Crescent Lunge Pose and the Chakras
As crescent lunge pose Anjaneyasana engages the whole body and requires a high level of breath focus, energetic and mental attention, it doesn't necessarily favour any of the chakras over another. You can choose to work with any energy centre that is calling you as you hold the pose.
For example, to work with the power of the root (muladara) chakra you can focus on how and where you are in contact with the mat, creating more strength and stability in the lower body (particularly helpful if wobbling!). For more heart (anahata) chakra energy, notice how it feels to draw your chest forward and up, even if you are not attempting a full back bend. If the crown (sahasrara) chakra is your focus, notice how the crown of your head lifts and draws stability and energy all the way up your body and spine to create your beautiful, long, expansive posture.
Crescent Lunge Pose and Bandha
The great news is that crescent lunge pose automatically engages the first "great lock" or bandha of the body: the pelvic floor. Consequently it's helpful for building pelvic floor stability no matter your age or level of physical fitness.
The plevic floor (mula bandha) is part of the body's deep core muscles which provide inner and outer stability and strength. As we activate it through yoga postures or intentional muscle activation (squeezing!) we move energy through the body and create stability where it's required.
Variations of Crescent Lunge Pose
Knees & Hips:
My first option is always to keep the legs "square", i.e. a 90 degree ben in each knee and keeping the hips over the back knee. This provides additional stability and a certain level of stretch through the hip on the side with the knee down.
If you're comfortable with stretching further into the front knee and opposite hip, the next option is to push the hips forward, lunging further into the front knee to the extent that feels OK. You might need to move the front foot forward a little, and the back leg becomes longer behind you.
Bringing the hands to Anjali Mudra or prayer position into the chest may feel well balanced for you in a particular version of this pose. If you have shoulder issues, you may prefer to keep the hands closer in to the body.
In order to bring the chest further forward, which may feel more appropriate when pushing the hips forward too, yoga blocks or bricks can be positioned either side of the hips for the hands to rest on. You can then push up through the arms to bring the chest forward and start to gently bend the upper body backwards.
Raising the arms is a great variation of Anjaneyasana as it allows for the contrast of grounding down with the upper body and reaching and opening with the upper body. Straight arms can be raised towards the level of the ears, palms facing one another or possibly meeting for Anjali or Kali mudra (I love Kali mudra to focus my energy). If keeping the hands together creates tension in your shoulders, feel free to have the palms apart.
Using a Chair:
For greater support in the lower body, a nice option is to practice Anjaneyasana over a chair. Position yourself sideways on the chair; front leg over one side of the seat, knee bent, and back leg just off the other side, extending down to the floor. If, like me, you feel that reaching the floor is a stretch from here then you can place some yoga bricks, blocks or even thick books beneath your feet for extra support. You can then either hold on to the chair to bring the chest forward, or experiment with raising the arms and bending the back.
With arms raised and hips forward in Anjaneyasana you have the additional option to move the chest up towards the sky, drawing the arms and shoulders behind you. This is where the name 'crescent lunge' becomes most appropriate because the back of the body begins to make a crescent shape. Keep awareness in the neck as you begin to tip the head backwards and keep breathing through the nose- in backbending poses it sometimes seems easier to hold the breath, but keep breathing!
If practicing the backbend version of this pose it's also important to remember to slowly move back out of it, taking a forward bending or twisting pose soon after.
Anjaneyasana can be practiced as a twist with the hands in anjali mudra at the chest and the opposite elbow hooked over the front knee. For a slightly more accessible version of the twist, both arms can be lengthened so that the opposite lower arm catches the outside of the bent front knee. If you practice this version, try it on both sides and notice how or if they differ.
Twisted Anjaneyasana is quite similar to some versions of revolved side angle pose (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana). The main difference being that you would usually aim to lift the back knee off the mat in revolved side angle, however they can be used interchangeably in practices where you are aiming to feel twisting, lifting and grounding simultaneously.
Onward poses from Crescent Lunge Pose
Having practiced crescent lunge pose it usually feels good to take a more passive, closed or forward bending posture to reconnect the upper body with the ground and the breath.
In a more dynamic sequence, I like to alternate crescent lunge with half hanuman (half splits) on one side and then the other. Moving through, for example, downward facing dog, crescent lunge (right leg forward) then half splits (right leg forward), tabletop pose, downward facing dog then repeating with the left leg forward.
In a slower sequence it's often good to take child's pose (Balansana) in between sides or after having practiced crescent lunge pose with each leg in front. From the lunge, it's straightforward to stretch back to Balansana and feel the full support of the ground.
Using Anjaneyasana to warm up into backwards bending may give you the chance to build other back bends into your onwards sequence. Ustrasana (camel posture), Dhanurasana (bow pose) and bridge posture (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) are all potential follow ups, making sure there is a good combination of forward bending and twisting poses alongside them to balance out the level of intensity.
Final word on Crescent Lunge Pose
It's a great pose for beginners and long time yoga asana practitioners alike, as there are many options to meet yourself (and your body) where you are.
Crescent lunge pose can either be the main focus of your yoga asana practice or a helpful warm up and testing ground before moving on to further backwards bending postures - remember those benefits of yoga backbends!
I'd love to practice Anjaneyasana with you, so I made a video of a mini Anjaneyasana flow incorporating a few versions of the pose. Check it out below and move along with me.
If you're keen for more, head over to the bookings page for details to join our friendly local class in North Leeds or book an online or in person 1-1 session. We'll be practicing Anjaneyasana in class throughout September.
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