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Yoga at the Wall: Support and Alignment in Warrior II
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) is a fierce and powerful yoga pose that cultivates strength in your legs, core, shoulders, and even your mind. Embodying the strength of the fiery warrior Virabhadra, Warrior II is a posture of stability and grounding.
Although Warrior II is a very stable, strengthening pose, it also requires quite a great deal of flexibility and mobility within the hips. Creating external rotation in the front leg and internal rotation in the back leg, Warrior II opens the pelvis toward one side of the mat stretching the muscles on the front of the hips and strengthening the muscles on the back of the hips.
Culminating in a perfect balance between strength and surrender, Warrior II can be quite the challenge. As a mixture of strength and flexibility, many yoga practitioners find that they are unable to integrate all the “correct” alignment cues simultaneously.
How can I possibly turn my torso to the right and my knee to the left simultaneously? How can I root down and lift up at the same time? How can I widen my stance even further without closing off my hips?
The easiest method that I have found to address these issues and more is to take your practice to the wall! The wall is such an excellent prop to utilize throughout your yoga practice, but it can be especially useful and effective to align and refine your Warrior II.
How to Do Warrior II Yoga Pose at the Wall
Grab a yoga block (or a thick book) and slide your mat to the wall. Bring the long edge of your mat parallel to the wall and keep your block within arm’s reach.
Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose), off-center toward the right side of your mat. Let your right hand and your right foot touch the wall beside you.
Stretch your right leg to the sky, bend your knee deeply, and open your hip. Work to stack your right hip over your left and draw your right heel toward your left sit-bone. Press evenly into both hands to equalize your weight and square your shoulders forward. Let the rotation happen only in your hip joint, preparing it for the hip-opening position of Warrior II.
Stretch your right leg straight and step your right foot forward and place it directly between your hands. (If your foot doesn’t make it all the way up your mat, you can literally pick it up and place it there.)
Release your back heel to the floor. Angle your toes out to face roughly toward the left side of your mat. Choose an angle in your back foot that feels comfortable for your left knee.
You may choose to keep your stance as wide as it is right now. You may choose to walk your feet further apart from each other to lengthen your stance or you may choose to walk your feet closer together and shorten your stance. Focus on the sensations that you feel rather than the aesthetics of the pose and adjust accordingly. Make the position feel comfortable in your own body.
Either create a straight line from the heel of your right foot to the arch of your left foot or walk your feet further apart from each other, “railroading” your feet on “separate tracks” for greater stability and balance. (In this case, your back heel may need to move away from the wall.)
Bend your front knee deeply and align it either directly over your front ankle or slightly behind it.
Press down firmly into your feet, gather your core by drawing your musculature and energy into the centerline of your body, and windmill your arms up and open toward the short sides of your mat into a “T” shape.
Take your block and place it between your right knee and the wall. Actively press your knee toward the block to keep it from falling. This action will create greater external rotation through your front thigh primarily by activating and contracting your external rotators (the muscles responsible for externally rotating your femur—or thigh bone—within the acetabulum—or hip socket). This action will likely cause your left hip to turn inward. This is okay. Do not attempt to square your hips.
Align your shoulders directly over your hips. Reach out through your fingertips in both directions (front toward the top of your mat and back behind you). Soften and relax your shoulders away from your ears.
Scoop your right buttocks down toward the floor to tilt your pelvis ever so slightly and let this be a catalyst to create even more length in your spine. Draw your navel in toward your back body and up toward your ribcage. Stretch the crown of your head toward the sky and slightly lean your torso and the backs of your arms against the wall behind you. Press your lower ribs toward the wall behind you. Turn your head to look over your right fingertips.
Press the pinky side of your left foot firmly into the floor to create full contact with the mat rather than collapsing on your inner arch. Stretch and straighten through your back leg and, very subtly, inwardly spiral your thighbone toward the center of your mat.
Press your knee against the block so your knee tractions toward the pinky side of your foot. Slightly lean toward the wall behind you. Stretch up through your spine and ground down through your feet. Bend your front knee as much as you comfortably can. Energetically, magnetize your legs in toward the midline of your mat (both front to back and side to side). Hug all of your energy toward the center and let this lift you even higher through your back body.
Hold for five to ten full, deep breaths and then face the opposite side of your mat and switch sides.
Tips for Virabhadrasana II at the Wall
In the beginning, you may find a shorter stance with less of a bend in your front knee will feel more comfortable to help you create more space and opening through your hips. As you progress, you may find that you’re able to bend deeper into your front knee and/or widen your stance.
However, be aware that you may never change the dimensions of your Warrior II and that’s totally okay! This may be due to your actual bone structure that can create compressive restrictions rather than tensile restrictions resulting from muscular or fascial tightness.
As always, listen to your body and how it reacts to small micro-movements of your bone structure and your musculature. Adjust as needed to find a balance between effort and ease. Let your breath guide your practice and lead you into the subtle layers of your body and your mind.
Play around with Warrior II at the wall and notice how it can inform and align your body with ease. When you feel ready and stable, you can practice the same actions away from the wall, focusing on creating the same sense of stability and simultaneous ease.
Study with Shawnee Thornton Hardy and YogaUOnline - Yoga for Kids with Special Needs: Focus on Autism and ADHD.
Interested in more anatomy and yoga practice tips? Read Leah Sugerman's article Yoga Anatomy 101: Stop Relaxing Your Glutes in Backbends.
Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP, is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice and teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.