Last Thursday, I taught a Warrior class with special emphasis on the back foot. It’s a variation that my teacher in Washington DC, Oya Horiguchi, is fond of because it makes you so aware of the placement of your hips and the grounding of the feet. In Virabhadrasana I, II, III much of your focus, and even your movement, is forwards, so there is a tendency to lean that direction and forget about what is going on behind you. By isolating the action of the back foot and leg, you become aware of that side of the body and get a much more even stretch. Let me show you…(my pictures are of the regular poses—to modify, just arrange your mat perpendicular to the wall with one edge touching and follow the directions below).
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1)
Stand with your back to a wall, and then step the right foot forward into the pre-Warrior straddle. Make sure the left heel is in contact with the wall, so when you ground through the sole of that foot you are aware of the pressure of your foot against the wall. Maintain that pressure as you lengthen the back of the left leg and gently press the left hip forward so that it is even with the right. Now bend the right knee, keeping it in line with the top of the right foot. Check in with the left leg, are you still pressing the heel to the wall and lengthening the back of the leg? Once you establish the lower body, lift the arms overhead, interlock the fingers and lengthen the neck back. Again, see if the left leg has started to soften, and if it has, re-press and engage. Repeat with the right foot in back.
By maintaining the contact with the wall, you are forced to keep the left leg strong. This will help you square the hips and make the base of the pose solid—which allows you to reach higher with the arms and really lengthen the side ribs in the full pose.
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2)
This time, stand with your left side at the wall and step into a side straddle, with the side of the left foot against the wall. Turn your right foot towards the front of your mat, and turn the left toes slightly toward center. Again, solidly ground through the bottoms of both feet and notice the press at the wall. Bend the right knee, keeping your right thigh and both hips parallel to the side of your mat. Be keenly aware of the contact of your left heel and the work of the left thigh to keep the foot in place. Now raise your arms to either side, extend and turn your head towards the right hand (you may have to rest your left palm on the wall).
Bring your attention to the back leg, making sure the knee hasn’t softened and the heel is still grounded. Check to see that you haven’t shifted your weight onto the toes of the right foot (lift them and press into the heel). Lift the side ribs and align the head with the tailbone, which should be easier because of the strength of your base. Repeat with the right foot in back.Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3)
Warrior 3 is a bit harder to work with, because of the balance aspect; nonetheless, bringing awareness to the back leg and foot make it a stronger pose and help you level out the hips. You may find the contact between foot and wall help you balance longer, as well. Measure your starting point, by standing facing the wall and stretching out your foot at a right angle to your standing leg, so the sole of the extended foot is touching the wall. Lower the leg and turn to face away from the wall.
Come into W3 by grounding solidly through the right foot and leg and folding at the hip crease. At the same time, lift the left leg behind you until the torso is parallel to the floor and your left foot is pressed against the wall, big toe pointing down. Your body should make the letter T. Now, ground evenly into the right sole and engage the right thigh; press the left foot to the wall and lengthen the back of the left leg. Again, see how the wall lets you really focus on this work in the back leg. When you are ready, stretch the arms in front of you, interlock the fingers and lengthen the side ribs. Check back to feel that the legs are still strong. Repeat with the right foot against the wall.
If you want a more intense practice, try all these Warriors away from the wall. Continue to be as diligent with your back leg, even without the extra pressure. See if these versions feel different than your usual poses—try to hold them awhile, as you remind yourself about the work of the back leg vis a vis the front. Notice the length and alignment of the spine—you should be able to really stretch the top of the head away from the tailbone with all this grounding in the base. Press down, lift up—this work in opposite directions becomes the source of the deep, invigorating stretch of these asana. Have at it! ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.