In class today, I had a student who is a regular on the yoga mat ask me about Warrior 1 alignment. I was surprised, as I didn’t feel I had said anything different in this class, and also as they were not a new or beginner student, I assumed they had a solid foundation in their basics. But something must of felt different for this student, as they wanted to know more about the why of the pose. It was a moment to revisit olė Warrior 1
The Myth of the Warrior
In this Hindu myth, Daksha (son of Lord Brahma) had a ritual sacrifice, but did not invite his youngest daughter, Sati, or her husband, Shiva. Sati found out about the ritual and turned up to the sacrifice which led to her and her father getting into a fierce fight. Daksha’s words and insults hurt Sati so much that she threw herself into the sacrificial fire as she didn’t want to be associated with the body that her father gave her. When Shiva found out about his wife’s sacrifice, he was devastated. In a moment of grief, he yanked out a lock of his hair, threw it in on the ground, and the warrior Virabhadra (Vira meaning hero and bhadra meaning friend) appeared. This powerful warrior, sliced off Daksha’s head, and planted it on a stake.
Love not war
Now obviously Warrior Poses are not meant to honour violence. Instead, we tune into our Warrior poses to challenge and test us to bring forward our strength, focus, confidence and courage.
That confidence comes into play from how we set the pose up, beginning from the feet, which create our foundation, and then how the rest of the body aligns itself to that foundation. It will either set us on solid or shakey ground
Yoga Alignment for ALL bodies
Warrior 1 is a pose found in nearly every yoga class. In a vinyasa style practice, you will usually step forward from your Downdog into Warrior 1, perhaps in a Hatha style class you may step back into it from your mountain pose. However you make your way to your Warrior 1, the way you place your feet will feed information up into your knees and hips, either working with you or against you!
So back to the yoga student. Their question was “Why did you cue to have your feet hip distance apart?”. The experience in Warrior 1 is that your hips ‘square’ to the front of the mat. Now, don’t get all technical here, what I mean by square is the best experience of neutral your pelvis can be towards the front of your yoga mat that doesn’t cause grievous bodily harm.
When we step into Warrior 1, usually what I notice is someone treating their stance like an audition for a tightrope walker. One foot placed in front of the other with the pelvis squished in the middle. Ouch! What this does is pulls the back hip towards the back, and into a slight external rotation, which will definitely destroy your hopes of your hips finding neutral, and possible give a nice little compression to your SI joint as a bonus! So, by setting your feet hip distance apart, you can move the back hip forward with a little more ease, and also add some internal rotation, which is much kinder to the knees and SI joint in this asana. The other aspect of hip distant feet, is that it gives you a solid foundation to build upon. You can also work a move even weight distribution into the front and back foot, where as in your tightrope walker position, there tends to be more emphasis on the front leg, and not as much access to the back leg, which yu need in order to discover your neutral pelvis.
Once you have found a supportive stance, it’s time to check in with the direction of the feet, specifically your heel and toes. I call the feet the steering wheel which will guide the line of energy zipping up that back leg. If you turn your back foot heavily out, as you can see in the picture below on the right, this guides that back leg into the external rotation we just mentioned above. If you then attempt to roll your back hip forward, you have a directional battle between the ankle and hip joint, with the knee as the casualty. As the knee joint is a hinge joint, it likes to go forward and back, so if my foot turns one way, but I am trying to get my hip to turn the opposite way, you can image the strain and confusion this puts into the knee!
However, if I turn my back foot more forward, or you could say to the front corner of your yoga mat, I now have three happy joints, ankle, knee and hip, all working together.
Don’t worry about being perfectly neutral, or even being perfect at all! The main thing is to get a strong line of energy running from the outer edge of the back foot, firming all the way up the back leg, and the ability to use some strength from the back leg to feel into any adjustments that your sensing in your body. You could also work at sliding the front thigh bone back, almost like plugging it into the hip socket, and this movement will also assist the pelvis to find your neutral.
Once your feet and legs have given the posture stability and strength, work your way up your torso. If your right leg is forward, try firming the left side of your belly, and using that contraction to turn the left side body towards the front of your mat. Find an evenness travelling up the side of your waist and ribs, and finish the posture with arms overhead, pinky fingers rolled towards each other, and a steady drishti that says “No one can throw me off my Warrior game!”
Above all, it is always best to find the alignment that works for your body. Yoga has come a long way from the days of specific alignment, the ‘must’ vs the ‘maybe’ style of cueing. Try these adjustments in your own Warrior 1, and then play around with how your pelvis feels, and also the rotation available in your hips and ankles.