The Warrior pose is one that many yogis practice regularly. A strong stance and an expansive chest—with a heart open to vulnerability and proud like its namesake—characterize this asana. But, what if you feel neither strong nor fearless in this asana? Those with compromised health or weak muscles may find this to be a challenging position even if they don’t tell you. There are actually many aspects to consider with this seemingly simple asana. Following are a few means to make it more accessible and easeful to a broad range of students, helping to create true asana with sthira sukham, or comfortable and steady pose. Remember that the inner experience of sthira sukham is more important that the outer expression of the asana; so we recommend a safe position characterized by comfort over one that meets any textbook protocol.
Many have been taught this asana aligning the heel of the bent leg with the instep or heel of the straight leg. This may work for certain body structures, but it’s not the safest alignment for all shapes, especially in women. For men whose shoulders are broader than hips—making the quintessential V-shape—that common alignment may work. For the rest of us, it’s safest and most comfortable to actually widen the stance. So, even though our feet are spread wide apart, the heels are as far apart as the hips (where the leg bone, or femur, meets the pelvis, or acetabulum). This can feel quite strange at first; but, with practice and focused awareness, you may find much greater comfort. Skeptical? To check your stability, ask a trusted practice partner to safely try to sway you from your stance in either option. For the vast majority of us, we’re more stable, stronger, with a broader base!
For the back knee, comfort is especially important. Knees are delicate joints that are meant primarily to hinge back and forth (flexion and extension) with a little other movement allowed when absorbing shock while bearing weight.If the back knee isn’t completely comfortable, adjust the placement of the back foot – both widening the stance, as above, as well as adjusting the angle the back foot is turned inward until the knee is completely comfortable. Also, ensure that the straight knee is extended and long rather than locked. Note that the openness in the hips relates to how far the back foot will turn in. Focus on keeping the waistline even (i.e. parallel to the floor).
Two common complaints in Virabhadrasana II are discomfort in the hip of the bent leg or discomfort in the inside area of the bent knee. For the hip, play with the width of the feet until the discomfort ceases. While the image of the Warrior situated between two panes of glass is often used, it may be wise for your students’ long-term safety to allow those imaginary panes to widen to allow complete comfort and freedom in the hip region. For the inner knee – this is one area where we NEVER want to experience discomfort. Typically, this discomfort is felt when the knee falls inward, failing to track right over the ankle. Invite your student to draw the bent knee toward the little toe side of the foot and keep the shin perpendicular to the floor. We can use a wall to help develop this awareness.
Using the Wall
A wall can be a useful tool in helping us to find comfortable alignment, especially if we’ve been practicing the pose in a less-than-ideal way for a long period of time. The wall can be especially helpful keeping the front, or bent, knee safe.
Try practicing Virabhadrasana II with the back to the wall and the feet just far enough away from the wall that the buttocks and maybe shoulder blades gently brush the wall. From the wide stance with feet turned to proper position and hips opened as far as is comfortable, place a pillow or yoga block behind the knee (and against the wall) as the bending knee moves into position. If the pillow or block slips away, then the knee is probably not tracking right over the ankle – a path that could lead to trouble over time. Have the student focus on keeping the pillow or block behind the knee by creating a strong external rotation in the hip of the leg that is bending (and holding the pillow or block against the wall).
Take A Seat!
For those comfortable in a standing position, stand behind a stable chair. Place the feet, legs and hips into starting position and let the hands rest on or take hold of the back of the chair. Use the breath to move into and out of this pose, exhaling as the knee bends and inhaling as the knee straightens. Be especially mindful that the front knee is tracking directly over the ankle and that the shin is perpendicular to the floor. One can build strength by moving dynamically with the breath for several rounds.
Finding sthira sukham is the objective of any asana. Feel free to play with these positions of Virabhadraasana II with each individual so that your student can find his or her own place of steadiness and comfort, memorize it, and come back to it time and time again. To be in asana, the student should be able to breathe easily. Once the breathing becomes labored, it is no longer asana.
Our culture can be so stressful and painful that sometimes we’re not even aware that something is uncomfortable until it’s too late. So open a dialogue with your students. Encourage individual sessions to identify and rectify areas of discomfort. Rather than pushing through this discomfort, inspire your students to adapt to their own needs so that they can find comfort not only in their body, but also in their mind if their asana looks different from the cover of popular magazines! Most of all, remember my favorite of Sri Gurudev’s teachings: “If you’re not having fun, you’re missing the point!”
Lakshmi Sutter, E–RYT 500, served in the Integral Yoga Academy at Yogaville for five years – as Academy Director, Integral Yoga Teachers Association Director and Teacher Training Planning & Development Director. Her current seva is developing the Integral Yoga Therapeutic Yoga certification program. She is a trainer of Integral Yoga Hatha Yoga at the basic and intermediate levels and enthusiastically shares her fascination with the human body during basic anatomy workshops. Lakshmi’s supportive instruction is suitable for a wide range of physical levels, with class approaches ranging from gentle and restorative to energetic and challenging. Lakshmi has returned to her career in ecology once again but will always call Yogaville home.
(by Lakshmi Sutter, from the IYTA Newsletter, August 2007)