What's Up with Warrior I?

My love-hate relationship with Warrior I has lasted years. I often mention it my students to let them know that they are not alone if they feel the same. It can be such a difficult pose for a variety of reasons. I remember the first time a teacher asked me to step my left foot back three feet and then turn my back foot in 45 degrees all the while bending into my front knee. I immediately felt awkward, unsure of myself, terribly off balance, and pretty certain 45 degrees was an impossible thing to measure without grabbing my protractor. Each subsequent group practice seemed to lead up to this seminal posture that had me gritting my teeth, body rigid, smile plastered on my face, seeking approval from the instructor. Did I do it right? Finally?!

Thank goodness those days are over! It took time, effort, and a whole lot of patience for me to cultivate a new attitude toward Warrior I. With this new found kinship, I have been able to more fully explore postures that I truly love - Humble Warrior, Revolved Humble Warrior, Standing Split, etc. - which have Warrior 1 as their blueprint or foundational posture.

So, if you find your jaw starts to lock every time you hear that cue for Sun Salutation B, rest easy and read on for some tips that may help save your relationship with this tricky pose.

1) Let go of dogmatic alignment.

Yoga Asana can be come problematic when we get stuck in dualistic thinking. Unfortunately both cues and the interpretation of cues fall victim to dualistic mindset - especially when a cue is spoken or heard by someone who deeply desires to do things 'the right way'. Something that often gets misunderstood about yoga poses (even by, if not especially by, modern yoga teachers) is that traditional alignment cues, or what we may describe as traditional, are not the same as safety cues.

If you don't do the posture to the prescribed alignment it doesn't mean that you are unsafe AND it also this does not mean that the alignment cues are unsafe. Rather, most of the 'full expression' cues that were handed down are models or approximations for the pose, and from there a good teacher helps a student understand how to interpret the model into their own body.

When you are being asked to bend your front knee to 90 degrees, step the opposite foot back and turn it to 45 degrees, 'square off' the hips, and simultaneously attempting to reduce spinal extension (a backbend), while maximizing hip extension in the back leg..... woof that's a lot! And if you just do a little bit of that, or consider it as something you are moving towards, you will find the pose.

The demand on the body can make it awkward, so give yourself a break.

Relax the muscles of the face - cheeks, chin, jaw.

Allow the heads of the shoulders to rest easy in their sockets. And even though your quads and hamstrings are at work, see if you can't soften them by 10 percent.

2) Widen your stance.

It is nearly impossible to have perfectly square hips without stepping your feet out wider for many reasons depending on the person - some related to soft tissue, and others bone structure.

So why not make your hips more comfortable (and bonus, your back knee will thank you too) and step your feet wider? Take them all the way to both sides if needed. Often a simple broadening of the base of support creates a firmer connection to the ground which in turn allows for the subsequent muscles up the chain to fire more willingly. You will feel not only more stable when you have an appropriate base of support for your body, but also stronger as you can focus your mind's attention on engaging in the pose rather than constantly trying to catch your balance or tug your back hip forward.

And guess what? If your hips don't want to 'square' then don't force them.

A happy hip is a more willing partner in the pose.

3) Lengthen your stance.

As we spoke about before, the 3-4 feet distance is merely a guideline.

Likely you're not the same height as your mat neighbor - your legs may be shorter or longer. Finding a longer stride in the pose allows you more comfort as in both the knees as well as the lower back.

Another reason This particular modification is so often avoided because all of sudden when you lengthen your stance you might feel better in the posture, but you have less ability to 'square' your hips forward. Often people will shorten, and shorten, and shorten their stance simply to achieve square hips - and in the process they cut themselves off from the possibility and also the challenge of the shape.

4) Make it a high lunge.

For some bodies (and on some days), Warrior I just doesn't work, specifically for the ankle and knee of the back leg. There are many reasons why someone's ankle may not feel comfortable in the position Warrior 1 depends, and why their heel may not easily go to the ground.

Rather than forcing it, modify. And luckily the high lunge modification doesn't really eliminate any intensity at all. Giving yourself permission to move the body into an open chain posture like high lunge can translate to joint ease, and the body receives the same benefits in terms of muscular work.

Remember, truly personalized alignment is an evolving exploration in efficiently carrying the load of a posture - it's not a set of static rules. This may be the biggest reason clinging too tightly to finite alignment cues (like 3ft, 90', 45', or 'square') becomes problematic - those positions may not apply to your body or your body in that season of life.

Rather embody the overall shape of the posture and seek out the sensation of stability and strength. Simply use the alignment cues for guidance. And once you are done placing the body, then the real work begins - allowing the breath and the mind to settle in with the shape as well.


Evelyn Mizell is an ERYT200, RYT500 working under the tutelage of Tiffany Cruikshank and Yoga Medicine. In addition to teaching yoga internationally, she is a Military Spouse supporting her family's many changes of station around the globe, and also an accomplished running enthusiast and brand ambassador for Lululemon. Despite her travels and multifaceted Yoga & Fitness career, Evelyn is never too far away to connect deeply with those she teaches and finds join in offering private and semi-private instruction to help people find more strength, understanding, and comfort in their body.

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