In Defense of Warrior I
Call me a traditionalist, but I believe in this pose.
It's a funny thing to feel defensive about a pose.
And I feel that many poses in yoga are getting a lot of flak these days ... this pose is bad, that pose can hurt you, oh, and this one exceeds normal ROM (range of motion) so therefore don't do it!
Why? Are we afraid? Snowboarding is dangerous, and yet people less aware of their core do it. You can definitely hurt yourself running, and yet people do it every day, and we don't tell them not to. Does a yoga teacher need a physical therapy certification to teach yoga?
Is there not a wisdom inherent in the body? Isn't tapping into that wisdom a part of the practice? What is to be learned from these challenges? And aren't we told often enough what to or not to do... literally, prescribed to? Where can I explore my own experience, make my own choices, with some guidance?
To me, Yoga Asana is an exploration of Self, with the starting point being the physical experience. From there, deeper layers become more accessible... energy, emotion, intellect (the Koshas). Deepening AWARENESS of all aspects through which we experience this human existence.
That means, all poses, all ROM, are on the table to explore!
Virabhadrasana I... why?
Well, on a physical and anatomical level, Warrior I offers an opportunity to lengthen the inner thigh on the back leg in one angle of extension and external rotation. Doing so prepares the back leg for Warrior II.
Crescent lung is often touted as a modification of Warrior I, but I disagree. Crescent, or High Lunge, lengthens mostly the top of the thigh and hip flexors. The leg is not exactly "neutral" and in fact a very slight external rotation of the back thigh is optimal for stability. However, the leg is closer to neutral. Warrior I offers 1 degree of rotation more, and is something in between Crescent Lunge and Warrior II. (I have more to say on Crescent Lunge, but that for another post!)
Jason Crandall teaches a "Warrior 1.5," which is somewhere between Warrior I and II. I see this as also beneficial, as it is 1 degree of rotation more than Warrior I, again preparing the back leg for Warrior II.
Beyond the physical, the awareness, strength, and stability that come from engagement in the Warrior I pose are just excellent places to explore the deeper layers of your experience. You can hold the pose for a long enough time to allow the story to play out. It is hard, and it is stable with the right engagement.
So, I really like Warrior I.
Virabhadrasana I... why not?
Oh? Yes it is hard! Maybe that is called an "edge?" Mr. Iyengar says, a pose doesn't begin until you want to get out of it. Growth begins at the edge. A good therapist is not there to pat you on the back and tell you good job, rather she is there to support you at the edges.
What can you learn from your experience of doing something that is "hard?" Can you stay long enough to allow the story of your body to play out? To tap into your inner wisdom?
Is it a story of frustration? A story of exhaustion? A story of sensing pain, and learning how to negotiate that pain – is it harmful or helpful, and how to move with or around it, depending on what that pain is telling you?
Guess what, it is ALL welcome. What else?
I can't square my hips.
SQUARE your hips? Are hips square? Why are "square" hips the "definition" of the pose? Is it wrong to allow the hips to be not square? What if "squaring" is a direction and not a destination?
Note: Even Mr. Iyengar says NOTHING about square hips in this pose.
If you WANT to square your hips as a destination, you have to step your back leg really wide, and narrow in terms of the distance from front to back foot.
This creates a good deal of stability. This is a good pose variation for pregnancy, for larger bodies, or for an older population. It is also a good pose variation for injuries to the knee or the SI joints. At least temporarily, because hopefully your body will heal, as bodies do. At least to an extent.
Is that what YOU need in your practice? Then do it! And do it with the knowledge of your own body, of your own inner experience, and that overrides anything a teacher might tell you. To me, when practicing with that level of awareness, you are an advanced yogi!
Now, what about approaching "squaring the hips" as a direction, but not a destination? Then your back hip does not come as far forward, and ideally not far enough forward to put a torque on your back knee.
Torque on the back knee? Isn't that bad?
Let's talk about torque on the back knee. You will know there is torque on the back knee by feeling a twinge or pulling on the medial knee (inner knee). If you tend to be quite mobile, it is likely you are doing this without knowing. Muscular engagement is your friend. Muscular engagement supports any shape, when applied.
If there is a torque, then isn't the pose about figuring out how to NOT torque the back knee? And what is to be learned in that process of discovering how not to do something that causes you harm?
To address torque, let's go to the foundation of the pose.
Explore. What if you angle your foot forward more? 45 degrees is an average... again, a direction, not a destination. Go to the point where your toes angle forward and you can still press down through the back heel. Again, this is a direction, not a destination. The back heel may come up, you are just pressing down as best you can. Press through the pinky side of your foot and actively lift the inner arch, engaging the inner leg line. Does the engagement relieve the sensation of torque? (Yes? No? Maybe? All valid answers.)
How are you doing so far?
So, are you saying that yoga is an exploration? That all the cues I have learned are a place from which I am to explore my physical self?
Yes, that's it. Good. Let's go on.
Now look at the front knee. Is it coming out directly from the hip socket? Is it angled inward or outward? Can you simultaneously press your knee to midline (engage your adductors), and pull your hip back (engage your abductors)? That co-contraction should also aide in this direction of "squaring" the hips, and in stabilizing the front knee.
Good? Let's keep going.
Come a little higher, into the torso. What's happening there? There is a slight twist AND a back bend. Are you "dumping" in the low back? (I often joke that this as a "co-dependent relationship with your low back, which WILL take all the curve if asked to do so, it is so accommodating!)
Try this: Draw the fronts of your ribs in, thereby engaging the support of your abdominals, lengthen your low back, then move from the bottom back ribs forward, and top of shoulders backward. The action is similar to that of Locust pose or Utkatasana.
What's happening now?
Is it still hard?
Is yoga hard? Is life hard? Do you work to figure it out, find your way through, accept what is, let go of wanting what isn't?
Ok then, we're getting somewhere.
April 23rd - Virabhdra: Auspicious Hero @ Kindness Yoga Hilltop
Virabhdra, the auspicious hero, was created from the lord Shiva’s dreadlock when he threw it to the ground in anguish after learning of his love and wife, Sati’s death. Ordered to avenge her death, Virabhdra killed all the guests at the dinner. When Shiva saw the bloody mess, he felt remorse, and miraculously healed all the guests.
Have you wondered why such a peaceful practice includes bloody battles and poses for warriors? What is it we are battling? What are we preparing for, and how can Yoga Asana help us along the way?
In this 90 minute workshop with Kristen Boyle, we explore the three Warrior poses of yoga, cultivating the warrior’s mind in preparation for the battle against ignorance, ego and injustice.
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Kristen is a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist and Life Mentor. She offers online and in-person healing sessions. She lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado