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Friday, July 09, 2010

warrior stance

a few weeks ago, i took a class with a teacher i'd just met (and who shall remain nameless) whose surya flow sequence involved a transition from warrior 1 (aka virabhadrasana I) to warrior 2 (virabhadrasana II) and back. and each time i changed poses, i'd shuffle the position of my feet to allow for proper hip alignment (forward-facing for 1, side-facing for 2). when she noticed what i was doing, she walked up to me and told me that if i kept my feet in the same position, i.e., in heel-to-arch alignment, i wouldn't need to keep shuffling my feet.

knowing that almost every teacher who's focused on proper alignment has told me to position my feet differently for each of these warrior poses, i decided to continue doing it the way i'd been taught rather than play the obedient student and follow her instructions. thankfully, she respected my decision and continued on with the class.

i later posed this question on my facebook page:

in all the years that i've been practicing yoga with many of the best teachers, i've always been taught that warrior 1 = heel to heel alignment, warrior 2 = heel to arch. recently, i took a class with a teacher who pointed out that i should be doing heel to arch for both. i politely declined, claiming that what i was doing works for me. what do you all think?

almost immediately after i posted that, responses started streaming in. here's what they said:

Sarah Ezrin (teaches power yoga at bryan kest's power yoga and the hub):
There's been an ongoing debate over the years about W2 and whether the pelvis should be squared (this is reflected in heel to heel vs heel to arch and sometimes even wider than heel to heel). In ashtanga we do all standing poses heel to heel. However, the thing with W1 is, it is not a question- the hips are squared and what prevents most peeps from squaring are tight hip flexors. Heel to heel alignment and more importantly the positioning of the back foot (which is at a 45 degree angle) is what gives peeps the space to be able to square. I have some students wider than heel to heel sometimes even to help facilitate that opening. But heel to arch in W1 in my opinion is BIG no no! You can torque your back knee and/or hip. That's my two cents ;)

Jodi Blumstein (teaches ashtanga at YW larchmont and her home studio):
i like the feet wider - too close is little hard on the sacrum. especially for warrior 1.....but i am a weirdo.

Michele Agosti (teaches vinyasa flow and prenatal yoga at lyfe yoga):
I think that heel to heel in Warrior I is a no no, but it depends on your body. I teach it either heel to heel or a little wider, I personally like my feet a little wider. For warrior II I usually do heel to arch, but when I teach prenatal I teach the feet about hips distance in warrior II to create more space for growing baby and hips.

Lady Li Isings:
I haven't seen both arguments as a rule fit for all. My natural position for both is heel to arch and some of my students are heel to heel for both while others make a natural shift while moving from 1 to 2. I've stopped teaching it as precise as this, more concentrating on the hips, if the alignment is there, then I'm only correcting the position of the feet when I see e.g that the knee moves too far out or in. This does more damage than the way the heels or arches allign.

the accidental yogist (aka yours truly):
i agree with sarah about the heel to arch in W1 being a no-no. at least it won't work for me, given the sacrum, hip flexor, and all other back/hip issues that i'm dealing with.

Ashley Wynn (teaches vinyasa flow at home simply yoga and bhakti yoga shala):
Joni- my thoughts....Our body is our truest guide...when we really tune in...and just surrender all the "teachings" we've had- to just flow into what feels right for you....then-in my experience that's what makes our bodies smile:)

Charlie Samos (teaches vinyasa flow yoga at YW main street and yogis anonymous):
very few people can actually square the hips. so heal to heal or wider is almost like using a prop. if that one person squares hips with no sacral pain, well then, consider removing the prop. that will be very rare. just a thought. peace

Ashley added:
also I was hit by a car while riding my bike last spring and also have lots of back/hip issues, and my warrior 1 is a strong warrior, that starts from the earth up....really take so much care, love, and focus and from the soles of both feet rise up into YOUR perfect warrior 1, really use your breath as your guide and with attention, yet softens move your back foot to a place where you feel rooted and strong....I like to imagine I am growing from mama earth into a warrior goddess:) And I def. feel spinning the back toes in 45 degrees to support your hips is a helpful tool:)

Daniel Overberger (teaches an ashtanga-inspired practice at runyon canyon):
I did my TT's in Ashtanga/Astanga. With the feet pivot for the L + R of each pose/asana you kind of have to be heel to heel. But this made me think of what I kept hearing the last time I was in Mysore. That asana is a very small and maybe, not the most important part of yoga. Joni this also reminded me of when you told me. “you have to remember who you are doing asana with” “is it fingers open or closed today.” om. Aum. Ohm. ;-) This is good.

Leslie Kazadi (teaches a therapeutic yoga class at truyoga):
Only you can say how any pose feels in your body and if one stance creates more freedom than another for you. a slightly wider stance, even broader than heel to heel, creates more space for the low back and is safer for unstable SI joint and less stretch on the back calf and is easier to balance and bend the front knee more, creating for psoas eccentric stretch; whereas, a more narrow stance, heel-to-heel alignment, is easier to find udyana bhanda/lift of the pelvic floor, but can create compression in LB and SI and requires more stretch of back calf and is more challenging to balance. the more you turn the back foot in, toward the front of your mat, the less likely you are to torque the back knee, the more space for the SI joint of the back leg side, more stretch for back calf and peronials... and the more challenging the balance. So unless you're posing for the cover of "yoga journal," I would investigate what feels best for you on any given day.

Michele responded:
I think it's also different for men's vs women's bodies. A woman's body with fluxuation in hormones such as relaxin right before menstration and during pregnancy causes there to be more issues with the SI joint and more mobility happens naturally. That's why I think that for women it's better to have the stance wider a part. Along with everything Sarah said. And in pregnancy it's even more important to have the feet wider a part because there's an even higher chance of injury to the SI joint.

Gabriele Morgan (yoga student, referring to her mentor, annie carpenter):
In 11 years I have always been taught the same as you, and Annie C. was pretty clear about that and if Annie said it, it's golden.

Eden Goldman (yoga therapist, co-founder of yoga doctors):
The heel to heel, heel to arch debate is a B/S argument in my opinion...yogis will still be debating that in 50 years trying to say their school's version is "right." Who cares really? Schools teach it both ways. What is right is what's right in your body. How does it feel for you?!? OF COURSE, I do have my own constructive thoughts on it, too. Heel to heel (or even wider) is gonna put less strain on the groin, sacrum, pelvis and low back than heel to arch, but at least 7 out 10 "traditionalists" from Ashtanga and Power Yoga would probably say heel to arch based on what they learned from their teacher(s). Honestly, I don't even teach Warrior 1 anymore...just crescent...which from a sports medicine and Yoga therapy perspective is a much more effective and targeted stretch on your back leg's anterior hip flexors when done properly (i.e. with the legs in the same line as each corresponding hip and with the xyphoid process stacked above the pubic bone). There are over 10 variations to the crescent pose that can be applied depending on the practitioner's skill level and you get the extra added benefit of making it a balancing pose...balance being one of the first things we lose when we get older. This makes more sense to me since Yoga is now the 21st century's version of preventive medicine. While W1 adds an adductor stretch to the hip flexor stretch in a crescent, the torque produced by squaring your hips and trying to keep the outside of the foot on the floor makes it less specific to the targeted area of focus in the stretch and creates an energy leak in the kinetic chain of muscles. There are much more effective ways to perform an isolated stretch on the adductors, instead of trying to get the 2-for-1 value meal stretch in W1. Additionally, over time W1 can add rotational strain/distortion in the pelvis, create laxity in the pelvis' supporting ligaments and has the potential to jack up your SI joint and low back. Sorry to be so long winded, but those are my thoughts. O:-) Comments yogis?

Leslie replied:
Eden, I love crescent v. W1 for all the reasons you mention, but it adds a precarious balance element, even with the back heel up the wall for added stability (which I also love) for many students, esp. seniors, whom I specialize in teaching. also crescent adds greater risk of femur forward in the hip socket and wobbly knees and ankles. so "it depends" is more and more my final answer... and nobody gets to be wrong.:)

Nandanee Ramprasad:
I like heel to arch.

Kimberly Fowler (creator and founder of yoga for athletes):
In our trainings we teach “Heel to Arch” there are a lot of “Conflicting Cues” from style to style, so I guess it just depends on the style of Yoga you practice.

Phillip Dube:
yes there is different yoga styles I love heel to arch been doing it ten years.

Ashley again (referring to denise kaufman, who teaches restorative yoga at exhale venice):
Denise Kaufman said this: Every person has their own unique bone structure and in 2010, it's interesting that even in YOGA this is coming up....EVERYBODY'S BODY is different, ya feel me? I paraphrased, but this was the gist of it....If you want more check out Yoga for Anatomy with Paul Grilley (also Denise's rec.) http://www.pranamaya.com/grilley-afyd.html

the conversation ended there, although not without a funny footnote... while i was taking ally hamilton's livestreamed class at yogis anonymous the next day, she made a teasing jab at me and the facebook conversation when she described her preferred foot alignment in the warrior poses.

here's a link to that videotaped class; you'll hear her comment at around the 24 minute mark: http://yogisanonymous.com/VOD_test_viewer.php?id=25

please feel free to add your own comments using the link at the end of this post. since most of the input came from ashtanga, power yoga, and vinyasa flow aficionados, i'd love to hear from practitioners of alignment-focused yoga styles such as iyengar and anusara. i'm also curious to hear what devotees of bikram yoga -- which doesn't include warrior 1 nor 2 in the standard 26-pose sequence -- have to say...

more comments... this was emailed in:

Suzanne Strachan (teaches beginner and intermediate yoga at in the mudra):
I find that in order to not torque the back knee in W1, the back foot needs to be at about a 45 degree angle with the outside edges of the feet pressed into the earth. Toes, knees & hips all want to turn in the same direction. Trying to face your hip forward while your knees & toes are turned out can torque that back knee. Some students will need wider than heel to heel for balance & stability.


Anonymous Kesey Oldershaw said...

Yes!!! You are right..Never heard, read, or learned anything other than heel-to-heel(or wider) and moving from that to "heel-to-arch" in Warrior Two.
Always 'shuffle the feet" moving from Warrior One to Warrior Two,(if you start in heel to heel)...

For most people, it is very difficult to even find a squared hip stance in heel to heel on Warrior One; so,if anything, if you err on the side of conservancy and let them take some leeway and spread their feet a little wider than heel-to-heel (in Vera 1),allowing for totally squared hips, it is easier to find the correct alignment and be able to open up into Warrior Two in a heel to arch alignment...but I have definitely never hear anything about staying in "heel-to-heel" in the second warrior pose...:)

Good for you for not being intimidated by the directions and sticking to our "Yogic guns"...so you don't hurt yourself!!:))

11:51 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

love this discussion. i NEVER teach the warrior 1 to 2 transition due to the twist and turning of the ankle to arrive in safe alignment for each pose. they are 2 completely different bases. it's something that most of my sukha teacher trainees have adopted as well after personal experimentation :-) it is possible to create vinyasa sequences that flow from warrior 1 alignment foot positioning and separate sequences for warrior 2 foot positioning. i find this choice has changes so much in my classes! just the way i flow :-)

5:57 AM  

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