After Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II in Sanskrit) is one of the most widely recognized yoga poses (asanas). And when done properly, it can do major things for your legs. The thing is, this is one pose where people like to take endless creative liberty with their alignment. And since you risk serious injury when done improperly (mainly to your knees), today's post is dedicated to this fearless pose.
How to get there
How does this help our legs? When done properly, Virabhadrasana II is a total body workout. Just holding the pose really fires up the muscles, toning the legs. And when done over and over again through class, your legs will be sure to feel it. If your hips are really tight and you want a bit of movement, you can play with straightening the front leg on your inhales and lower back into the pose on your exhales. This really works the inner thighs (Adductor Longus muscle) and the Quadriceps!
When I first started practicing yoga, it was in a gym and there were mirrors all around which helped me learn what "correct" alignment looked like. But it wasn't until I started practicing in a studio without mirrors that I learned what correct alignment actually feels like. It's also really hard, especially as a newer student or even more so as a really advanced student, to know correct form if your body is used to something else. This is where a yoga teacher experienced with hands on adjustments or "assists" can be really crucial. But since we don't always have that option, below are some of the most common things I see in classes...
The Wannabe Surfer Warrior: Most common traits include relaxed or bent arms with shoulders either leading or lagging behind the hips. I see this a lot as yogis and athletes start to get tired in class. There is less energy coursing through both the lower half and the upper half and you can see it here, for sure! To return energy to your body, root down deeply into the feet and think of pulling the mat apart between your feet as you press into the mat. Then, activate all muscles in your arms, from shoulders to finger tips and reach out nice and long, as if you were trying to touch the opposite ends of the room. Draw your belly in to find the correct and natural alignment of your spine (drawing it in means to do this with control using your abs, don't just suck it in!) - this will also protect your lower back.
The Twisted Knee Warrior: Most common traits include the front knee twisting in towards your mid-line. I see this mostly in yogis and athletes with snug hips and it scares me every time! This wonky knee puts you at risk for seriously injuring your knee, ankle, foot, etc! Just check out the pictures below. On the left, my knee is collapsing inward, awkwardly rotating not only my knee, but my hip and my ankle, too. The arch of my front foot is also collapsing inward and this was quite painful to demonstrate! Instead of giving in to the tight hip, try to not bend as deeply in the front thigh so that you can draw your knee closer to your pinkie toe. From where you are, you should be able to see your big toe and second toe just past your knee.
The Overeager Warrior: Most common traits include leaning way too far forward, with the front arm several inches higher than the back arm and the back hip pointing forward. It reminds of me of someone just wanting to spring forth into battle or who knows what! To take a more peaceful warrior, think of someone gently pulling your back arm up and back, just enough to bring your shoulders back over your hips. Then rotate your body open, evenly lengthening both sides of your torso to ensure your shoulders and hips are both opening up to the side.
The Stressed-Out Warrior: Most common traits include shoulders scrunched up by the ears, often accompanied by holding your breath. This creates a lot of unnecessary tension in your neck and shoulders, where we already hold a lot of stress! Take a deep breath in through your nose to a slow count of four and exhale through your mouth to a count of four. As you exhale, allow your shoulders to relax. One of my favorite cues for yogis in this pose is to flip your palms up and notice how your shoulders relax away from your ears. Then, keeping your arms exactly where they are, rotate your palms back down (see Alignment Tips above). This will help you get from the first photo, down to the second photo where my neck is long and free of shoulders.
Well, I think that about covers it for Virabhadrasana II (for now). I know that is a lot of information, so see if you can incorporate maybe one tip into your practice at a time and enjoy how this pose evolves for you over time!
Happy Warrioring this weekend, loves!
I’m Anahita Reilly, a Type-A, native Northern Virginian, happiness lover. This blog evolved out of my longstanding desire to share this beautiful thing called yoga with others. Click here to read more...