Understanding Vinyasa Flow Yoga... Part 5 & 6: Reverse Warrior and Extended Side Angle Postures
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Here’s part five & six 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!
I thought a good follow on from the Warrior Two blog post would be to look at Reverse Warrior and Extended Side Angle pose, as these often appear during a vinyasa flow practice from a base of Warrior Two.
Be sure to check out some of the previous articles, especially part one: as it introduces more of the key ideas for this whole series. I also recommend reading the Warrior Two article - as that provides the base for these next two poses. You can find it here.
Reverse Warrior/Viparita Virabhadrasana:
We want to maintain that firm base in our legs, which is basically the same alignment as Warrior Two.
The yogic philosophy of sthira sukha, or 'balancing effort with ease’ can be applied as it was also for Warrior two. We want to hold the stable foundation in our lower body, and then explore more movement and opening (kind of a feeling of lightness or fluidity) in our upper body.
This pose gives a wonderful opportunity to open around the side of the body, as well as strengthening your ankles and feet, developing your concentration and improving your balance.
We move into Reverse Warrior (typically from Warrior two) by reaching up and back with the front arm. You can place your back arm on your hips or reach down the thigh. I encourage you to choose the option that helps most with stability, especially with regard to feeling comfortable around the lower back.
Extend the top arm as much as you feel comfortable to - so that you find a feeling of extension through that side of your torso.
As mentioned above, a key feature of this pose is maintaining the stability of your Warrior two leg position. You don’t have to have a super wide stance, in fact I’d recommend against that, as it’s more important to be able to ground well through your feet to really support yourself in the pose.
Because you’re leaning back you’ll naturally tip your weight back more into your back foot. You do want to aim to counteract this a little and maintain more of a balance - so try to actively ground more in your front foot. This should help you feel you’re carrying your weight evenly.
Try to keep your front knee bent at a similar angle to where it was in Warrior Two, as well as the alignment of it pointing forward.
Most commonly this is taught on an inhale. But if I’m flowing between Reverse Warrior and Extended Side Angle I actually prefer to go into these poses on an exhale.
This slows down the transitions so you can be more mindful, focused and in control.
To me it also more naturally matches the movement with a suitable length of breath so that you don’t feel rushed. Often it’s more challenging to go slow, so don’t get caught up with this idea of faster being better.
Drishti - gaze point
Maybe you’ve heard the instruction to gaze up, turning the head towards the upper arm that is overhead?
The problem I find with this is that it can cause some people discomfort in the neck. It can be quite a big turn of the head, and this involves the neck bearing the weight of the head at an unusual angle.
So if this doesn’t feel great for you - just change your head position to a place that doesn’t cause any aggravation in your neck.
This of course applies to many poses, not just this one. Overtime your neck will definitely thank you for it! And the main thing is to keep your gaze point still, and with a soft focus to alleviate the potential for distraction - so there is plenty of scope to adjust your gaze point/head position and still achieve that.
Don’t go into a backbend
There is a temptation here (especially if you’re gazing up), to move into more of a backbend shape by rotating your chest upwards. While backbends can be nice, there are plenty of other backbending opportunities in a typical class, but less chances to focus on mobility of the side body, so don’t skip this great opportunity to find release there.
Extended Side Angle/Parsvakonasana:
Check out my video for a full guide to the variations and key differences to this posture, to help you find a version which suits your body best right now:
This is one of my favourite postures, as I love the feeling of balancing the action of strong, stable legs with extension and opening in the torso. Similar to reverse warrior this pose is also especially good at lengthening the side body.
There are quite a few variations to this, and you can explore them to add more challenge as appropriate. The important thing to remember when you try them - is that you don’t compromise the length of the spine and opening of the side body, as that the key aim of making this shape.
Standing poses like this really are the foundation of our yoga asana practice. Especially when you’re newer to yoga, fine-tuning your understanding of these standing shapes and figuring out the best option for your body is an important learning that will serve you well in terms of strength and stability for your ongoing practice.
In much the same way as reverse warrior, the extension of the top arm provides a feeling of lengthening the side of the torso. Be sure to actively reach through the finger tips to access this opportunity as best you can.
In this example the bottom arm is positioned with the elbow resting on the thigh and actively resisting the thigh away, so you can maintain some space in that side of the waist as well. As you do that, ensure you keep that shoulder drawing down away from the ear to keep length around the neck.
Find external rotation of the top arm by thinking of turning your palm, so that the little finger side of the hand faces towards the floor. The thumb then faces upwards.
Grounding through the feet
The same principles in reverse warrior apply here - in maintaining a strong, stable grounding through the feet, as well as a balance of bearing your weight between the front and back foot. In this case when you are reaching forward, you’ll more naturally lean your weight into the front foot, so you should have some awareness of counteracting this by more actively grounding more through the back foot.
To find as much length as possible through the whole side of your body that is extending, think of grounding through the outer edge of your back foot.
Drishti - gaze point
Yes, you guessed it, the same principle applies here too. Find a head position and gaze point that feels comfortable for your neck. Keep your focus at one point with a softness to your gaze.
Want to know more…
I've also created a video which will take you through the all the detail of the different variations of this posture! Of which there are many. It will guide you towards better understanding the variations and help find a version which suits your body best right now.