Standing in a Relative Position
by Tracey Rich
Feeling vulnerable, or needing courage? Stand in Virabhadrasana II--the warrior position. Plenty of yoga teachers say things like that to their students. While asanas can serve as good metaphors and the warrior position can build strength and focus, I don't believe the asana works in a kind of literal translation. We are all standing in a relative position.
Warrior II is a great place to balance between two points. The asana teaches us to find the focus and concentration of looking in the direction the pose leads us, but also teaches us to be aware of the unseen--that which stands behind and is often ignored or unexplored. The pose requires us to stand firmly centered, and can teach us to become aware of our surroundings, and even, possibly, to hold opposing perspectives.
Starting at the feet, a strong, straight edge holds the weight of the back foot. This weight-bearing edge stands in constant relationship to the forward-facing heel and toe of the front foot. Lines of energy are simultaneously moving like electricity from foot to foot, all while the feet actively move in opposition to the floor. Vira II teaches us to balance the flow of upward and downward moving energy as we continually center ourselves in the pose.
"Sitting down" into the pose is a move that drops us into the natural flow of gravity while consciously opposing this pull, centering our awareness through the entire spine and into the space above our heads. "Sitting" into the pose is the act of elongating our spine, which requires both the release into gravity and resisting the gravitational pull. It's the aha moment of fully inhabiting your body in this asana.
There are myriad points of focus and awareness in Warrior II, as there are in every asana. Protecting joints is paramount in all practice. Paying particular attention to the bent knee creating the angle in the posture is one key focus area. When you "sit" into the pose, placing your awareness and weight into your heels and sit bones will be of great benefit--particularly awareness of the relationship between the front sit bone and front heel. When you feel that connection in your body, you do a much better job of staying in touch with where your knee is placed.
Some people have no idea where that front knee is in relation to the space their body is occupying. Practitioners often have their attention on bending the front knee to enter the asana. In addition, they put their focus on leading with the front side of the front knee, creating a tendency to overshoot the pose, which does not protect the knee joint. Some people seem unaware of whether their knee is falling inward or overextending. By keeping your torso centered over your sit bones, and even slightly weighting the back hand as you drop onto the pose to counterbalance, you will be more likely to protect your knee.
Letting your awareness sweep across both the front and back planes of your body, while observing the pose from within, will help you stay focused in Virabhadrasana, and will aid in building the strength for which the pose is noted. Attention to your breath and how it flows will help you navigate these landscapes. Ideally, staying in touch with your breath will keep you from tensing and contracting your muscles in the posture and instead encourage you to engage and activate supporting muscle groups. Your breath will help you tap into nerve flows and keep extensional energy alive throughout the pose.
This pose of strength can be practiced with lightness and ease, even within its challenging nature. Remember, it's all relative.
Points of Focus for Virabhadrasana II
1. Active feet: Balance between weight bearing edge of the back foot and the heel and toe of the front foot.
2. Shin perpendicular to floor: This does not imply a need for a right angle at the knee-- the level of the thigh, while keeping the shinbone perpendicular, determines the degree of the knee's angle.
3. Front of bent knee kept in line above the heel: Do not extended beyond where you can keep your shinbone perpendicular.
4. "Sit down" into the pose: Drop both sit bones towards the floor to enter the pose. Don't use the bend of the front knee as focal point of entering the pose.
5. Focus on relationship between sit bones and heels: Especially front sit bone and front heel. This will keep you more directly in contact with the important angle--the angle behind the bent knee.
6. Actively elongate the spine: Balance upward and downward energy flow. This can be enhanced by dropping the tailbone while lifting the breastbone.
7. Extend thru both arms: And beyond fingertips from the breastbone outward. Keeping both arms extended also activates awareness of the back of the body, even as you are looking forward in the pose.
8. Breathe, breath, breathe: Always keep the breath moving. Breathing keeps you in touch with the energy flow, or lack of flow, in the pose. It encourages engagement of muscle groups versus tensing muscle groups which can cut off nerve flow and can add to collapsing in the pose. There is no end to what breathing does in your practice.