This vigorous standing pose for me is a key foundation pose because it does so much at the same time. It demands focus and determination. It asks you to draw on your inner mental and spiritual strength and yes your physical strength at the same time! The full expression of the pose takes some serious multitasking as you are required to perform several opposing actions at once. You must lift up while grounding down and press forward while reaching backward.
Although it can sometimes feel like one battle after another, mastering this foundational pose offers great rewards. Your thigh muscles get a workout. Your feet and ankles are stretched and strengthened, and your core muscles are toned. Your arms are strengthened as they lift overhead, and your chest will open and expand your lungs, giving a great feeling of vigor. Opening your hips and chest and strengthening both your legs and arms prepare you for all kinds of backbends and inversions.
What’s in a name?
Its seems odd for there to be a series of Yoga poses named “warrior”. Yoga’s origins are tightly linked with India it can therefore be expected that some of the richness of the Indian culture is woven into the very fabric of our Yoga asana practice. What’s really being commemorated in this pose’s name, and held up as an ideal for all practitioners, is the “spiritual warrior,” who bravely does battle with the universal enemy, self-ignorance (avidya), the ultimate source of all our suffering.
The warrior here is in fact Arjuna,the hesitant warrior from the Bhagavad Gita, and on the battle field he is instructed by Krishna to “Abandon all attachment to the results of action and obtain supreme peace.” This pose certainly asks that of all practitioners as we work through the krama or stages of this practice (see below).
Some tips for good practice…
A trick to mastering this pose is to keep in mind krama or stages. Focus on one aspect of this pose each time you practice it and over time you will come to the full expression with ease and grace. It is in choosing to accept your practice the way it is right now that you move from fear to freedom, from frozen to flowing and from stiffness to grace. Commit to the journey of yoga rather than trying to force your pose to look a specific way and instead, like Arjuna, learn to make efforts without being overly attached to achieving perfection in the form of the pose.
For many students, one of the greatest challenges is maintaining the deep bend in the front knee while reaching the torso upward without compressing the lower back. The key to this is the position of the pelvis. Unless you are naturally very open in the hip flexor muscles (these run from the front thigh across the pelvic area and allow you to take long, powerful strides), bending your front knee toward a right angle tends to tilt the top of the pelvis forward, compressing the lower back. Instead, work to bring the pelvis toward a more upright or neutral position by lifting the front hip points. You can feel where these are at either side of your low belly if you wrap your hands around your waist. It’s more important to work toward this placement of the pelvis, allowing your lower back to lengthen, than it is to have a perfect right-angle bend in your knee.
Explore the connection between the two actions: Notice that the more you bend the knee, the harder it is to move the pelvis toward upright. Try engaging a slight lift of your lower abdominal muscles and notice how that helps elongate your lower back. This personal inquiry reveals the flexibility of your hip joints and hip flexor muscles, as well as the strength of your abdominals. Some days you will have more ease than others, and as you warm up, you may experience a greater range, as well. While you may not fully arrive at a right-angle bend in your front leg, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment in having identified your work and sticking to it. You will have the deep satisfaction of committing to the challenge, no matter what the outcome may be.
At times, the efforts called for in a difficult pose like Warrior I may seem impossible. You may even feel like moving on to another pose you like better. Keep trying, build and cultivate patience and persistence and the rewards will be yours!
See you on the mat!
Practicing Warrior I will show you where you are strong, where you are tight, and where you are weak. Perhaps most important, it will teach you to accept whatever obstacles your body presents. Over time, you’ll create the stability, awareness, and skill to move into a deeper expression of this powerful pose.