Understanding Vinyasa Flow Yoga... Part 4: Warrior Two
Updated: May 20, 2019
Here’s part four of this series Yoga Foundations - Understanding Vinyasa Flow Yoga!
For yoga beginners and more experienced practitioners alike: these articles are aimed at helping you refine your practice - so you can find a sustainable practice that suits your body!
Last time (in part three) we looked at the Warrior 1 posture.
Now we’re moving onto Warrior two. Because these two poses are often linked together in a class, I’ll also simplify some of the key differences between them, so you can get clear in your mind which aspects of alignment relates to which.
Similarly to Warrior 1, there is the contrasting action of grounding down and lifting up in different parts of the body. These opposing actions have a wonderful strengthening effect.
The yogic philosophy of sthira sukha, or 'balancing effort with ease’ can be applied. Hence consider the rooting down through the feet and legs balanced with a feeling a sense of lightness in the upper body.
When you’re practicing this pose on a regular basis you’re going to benefit by strengthening your ankles and feet, developing your concentration and improving your balance.
Set up of the legs
Find a length of stance that feels manageable in your body, noticing the sensation around the inner thigh area. Choose a distance between your feet that gives some sensation of opening up in that part of your body, but without over-doing it!
In that position you should also check that you can point your right knee forward pretty well. Ie it angles over the middle of your foot ideally. This requires an action of external rotation of your front thigh (imagine it slightly rolling up and towards the right, if your right leg is forward).
That action of pointing your knee forward over the middle of your foot, is initiated in your hip joint, as your thigh bone rotates in the hip socket.
If your hips don’t allow a level of external rotation that directs your knee over the middle of your foot, or if you discover pain in your knee when attempting to do so, then it’s probably a good idea to shorten your stance a little.
If you’ve been practising yoga for a while already, you may have heard the cue bring the angle at the back of the knee to 90 degrees, or the thigh bone parallel with the ground. If you’ve been thinking this is what to aim for, I suggest thinking again. It would be a good idea to free yourself of this notion.
That degree of angle of thigh bone in hip socket - requires more opening than is manageable for most bodies. And in order to stand with such a long stance, you also need to have a lot of flexibility in your feet and ankles for the back foot to ground sufficiently.
This is also not the case for the typical practitioner - so let's be honest with ourselves - we're not acrobats or contortionists and we shouldn't really want to be, our bodies are just not built for it. That, combined with the sedentary nature of our lives these days, means external rotation of our legs is not a naturally easeful postural habit.
It is much better instead to just bend your knee as much as feels appropriate in your body, bearing in mind:
The front knee is directed approximately over the middle of the foot
The sensations around your inner thigh and groin is moderate and not straining
You can maintain a feeling of your weight evenly distributed through both feet
Both feet can be firmly planted on the mat
Now, onto the back leg.
You should be trying to lengthen the leg as much as you can, as well as trying to emphasise the grounding of the outer edge of your back foot - just so the arch of that foot is not collapsing down onto the mat.
Both legs should feel they’re evenly carrying your weight and I also encourage a sense of actively grounding down through the feet, like you're trying to resist the floor away a little - in order to get more activity and engagement through the legs.
Alignment of the feet
The position of the feet is commonly cued to be aligned with the heel of your front foot lining up with the heel of your back foot, or arch of the back foot. But if you’re someone who is a bit limited in your external hip rotation this may feel rather unbalanced, so instead try stepping your front foot out to the side a bit (towards the range of hip width) and see if that helps.
More about your hips
Try to find the feeling of the pelvis being balanced, not tipping forward or back too much. Having your hands on your hips can provide a useful guide to find that, or of course you can check yourself out in a mirror as well.
Check out my funny hip waggle in the below video. You'll see my hands on hips to help me get a sense for where is generally neutral for me. And also an introduction to lifting your front heel and moving your thigh from left to right a few times - both of which are nice practices to help open things up a little more in your hips before you settle into the stillness of the pose.
From that relatively level pelvis position it is naturally more straightforward to keep your torso aligned roughly over your hips (rather than pitching forward or back).
As well, the front/back of your pelvis will not be perfectly aligned the long edge of the mat. So, again if this is a cue you’ve heard and tried to follow, let go of that. While well-intended, this cue fails to account for the fact that most of us don’t have the skeletal structure to externally rotate the thigh so much at the hip.
Allow the pelvis to turn slightly towards the front corner of your mat, and also encourage the back thigh to rotate inwards a bit, as this will match more naturally with the direction your pelvis is facing.
The upper body
The arms are out wide at approximately shoulder height. It’s pretty common to lean your torso too far forward, especially until we improve our sense of where our body is in space, so think about reaching equally forward and back with both hands. You can experience a lovely expansive feeling across the chest with this arm position.
Settle your ‘drishti’ (your gaze point) over your front hand and try to have a soft quality to your gaze. Unless this causes issues for your neck in which case find a gaze point that is comfortable for your neck wherever it may be - just prioritise length in both sides of the neck.
Allow the lower back and spine generally to settle into it’s natural curves.
Key differences between Warrior 1 and 2
Tips for Warrior 1 and 2 in a vinyasa flow class
Use your exhale to arrive in the pose.
When in a flow into reverse warrior stay as stable as you can in your legs, prioritise that stability rather than a big range of movement of your reach back.
In this form of yoga it’s common to open up from Warrior 1 to Warrior 2, but as the stance and overall positions are quite difference, I encourage you to take the time to adjust your alignment according to the above.
Don't feel you have to sink deeper and lower with your hips to progress in the pose - instead use your feet more and focus on grounding to strengthen the legs.