Sequence Wednesday: Warriors!
I always wanted to teach a class that featured all of the various warrior poses that I’ve seen over the years, both traditional and non. Warrior I, II and III are the classical poses, but yogis have gotten very creative and come up with some new favorites like peaceful/goddess/reverse warrior, which I love as well.
It’s always interesting to consider the Warrior Poses in the context of the broader teachings of yoga. On the surface, fierce, strong poses like Warrior seem out of place given the emphasis on ahimsa (non-harming/violence) and the fairly gentle worldview many yogis have. On the other hand, the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important and oldest yoga texts out there, is all about Krishna assuring Arjuna that it’s totally ok to go to war if that’s your dharma (clearly, I’ve oversimplified a bit here, sorry…)
The traditional Warrior (Virabhadrasana) poses represent the story of Virabhadra’s destruction of Daksha from the Vayu Purana. From what I understand, Warrior I is Virabhadra raising his sword, Warrior II is the slashing motion and Warrior III is cutting off of Daksha’s head. A little gruesome for your average yoga class, eh? Of course, a scholar better than me could explain to you that these stories are metaphors for defeating the ego etc…but I do like the idea that we can approach some yoga poses with a certain ferocity. We are cultivating strength and discipline (or tapas, which also means ‘heat’ in sanskrit) when we do our Warrior poses.
Starting with the classics:
Step 1: Warrior I. I’ll leave it up to you how you are going to get into this, but I do recommend that you take some time to find the ideal stance for your body. If you have wider hips like me, a front heel to back arch lineup probably isn’t going to work too well with your efforts to square your hips forward. I usually move my back foot out a little bit away from the midline to provide myself a better base for my pelvis. Press strongly into the back heel to make sure that your back leg is driving the pose. Hold for at least five breaths. Don’t be afraid to shift around until the pose feels right. You can make this pose a slight back bend, though I haven’t done so in the photo below.
Step 2: Warrior II. This is another pose (like downward dog) that shows up a heck of a lot in yoga classes. My general instructions are: come into a 3.5 – 4 ft stance (my students always have wildly varying ideas of what 4 feet looks like), make sure you have a front heel to back arch line up and that your hips are squared over both legs (to the side of the mat) and that the back heel is once again pressing firmly into the mat to engage the back leg. The arms come out to the side. You want to try to find the strength for the arms from the triceps rather than the shoulders (not sure if I was really following my own directions in the photo below but oh well). Hold for at least five breaths.
Step 3: Warrior III. Here I do a supported variation because the full expression of the pose and my body do not get along. You’ll place blocks in front of you and then lift one leg up to 90 degrees. The most important things to remember in this version are to keep a microbend in the standing leg if you hyperextend, to keep the back as straight as possible and to square the hips and make them even. Engaging your core will help. Also, think of a string pulling your hamstring (just your hamstring, not the full leg) toward the ceiling as a reminder to engage it. Hold for as long as you can without losing the integrity of the pose.
Onto the new!
Step 4: Peaceful/Goddess/Reverse Warrior. This is obviously the pose of 1000 names. It’s almost like a reversed version of extended side angle pose as well. I get a lot of questions on the mechanics of this pose i.e. which way should I be facing? where’s my gaze go? what do I do with my bottom arm? And I don’t really think there is a consensus in the yoga world on any of that either, so this is a great choose your own yoga adventure pose. P.S. the angle is weird on the photo but I don’t think that excuses how crunched my side is. I’m also not leaning on the wall even though it looks like I am – oops! Hold for at least five breaths.
Step 5: Humble Warrior. This pose is Warrior I with a forward bend and shoulder opener thrown in. Your torso should ideally come down in between your thighs, but I tend to rest at least par of it on my front thigh. Interlace your fingers behind your back and slowly lift your arms up over your head. Hold for at least five breaths or until your shoulders tell you to cut it out.
Step 6: Defeated or Dead/Wounded Warrior. This one is my favorite because it is just so darn fun to do! You have to be ok with flopping onto the floor at some point – but that’s the best part! You’ll need to start in downward dog pose and then raise one leg up into down dog split. Bring your raised leg into the chest with the knee bent and then slowly start to cross the midline. Straighten your leg and put the foot down on the mat. Now the moment of truth! Bend your arms and bring your chest toward the floor. Then let go and find the mat with your body. Phew!
Haha – eat mat, Carlin! This is a nice deep twist and very similar to eka pada koundinyasana without the arm balance.
Note: In all of these poses, it is imperative that the knee on the bent leg never goes beyond the ankle. If it does, you generally need to widen your stance. Happy Warrior-ing!!