Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Poses in Detail: Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I)

"Be afraid of nothing—
you have within you 
all wisdom, 
all power,
all strength, 
all understanding."
-Eileen Caddy

(Image from beginning-yoga.info)

In breaking down various poses in yoga, I'm hoping that it'll inspire an exploration of your own body, so that you can become more familiar with how the asana should feel for you rather than the images that are often imprinted in our minds based on the covers of magazines. 

In Leslie Kaminoff's book, Yoga Anatomy, he writes that "yoga practice is fundamentally experiential" and the way that it feels for you is not going to feel the way it feels for me or anyone else in this world! (That's pretty cool.) Also, remember that the asanas are a process rather than a final product. There's always more deepening and refining that can be done, so that you're always engaging in a dialogue of practice rather than perfection.

Here are noteworthy points for Warrior I — 

- This is a standing pose with the base of support beginning in your feet. With the feet connected to the ground, weight-bearing forces are transmitted down to the earth while simultaneously drawing supporting energy upward into the body. Practice brahmana (expansion) in a way that Desikachar described as "sthiram sukham asanam" — sthiram is "alertness without tension" and sukham is "relaxation without dullness."

- The feet are unique to the human stance with architecture and musculature that helps us reconcile and neutralize opposing forces. Throughout our daily lives, we're wearing shoes and walking on paved surfaces, which is different than how nature originally built our bodies to come into contact with the ground beneath us. We no longer need to navigate uneven surfaces on bare feet, so many of our muscles have become weak, which can lead to various issues that "barefoot" shoes aim to address. Yoga lets us literally kick off our shoes to restore strength and flexibility in the feet and lower leg muscles. Standing in these asanas helps us to once again attain the feeling of natural aliveness, strength, and adaptability of our feet. It also gives us a chance to have our feet inform our brains of what's happening beneath, around, and above us. 

- Standing positions have the highest center of gravity of all the starting points for various asanas (there's also sitting, kneeling, supine, and prone). Humans are the only true biped mammals on the planet, yet we're also the least stable because we have the smallest base of support, the highest center of gravity, and proportionately the heaviest brain to top it all off.

Vira = Hero, brave
Bhadra = Virtuous
Asana = Posture

Step-by-steps:

1. Begin in a wide standing pose. Turn the right foot out at a 90 degree angle, then step the left heel back to a 45-60 degree angle, grounding the heel firmly. Traditionally, the front heel is in line with the back arch.
  - When I teach, I focus on the foundation first, then evolving from there. To ensure protection of the sacro-iliac region of our bodies, we can start this asana by focusing from the hips downward. Here's a fantastic video to understand just how deep we should be going with this pose.

2. Draw the front hip back and the back hip forward, so that your hips are square and face forward as much as possible. Move with the breath as you rotate the hips back and forth to find that sweet spot alignment of being in a neutral space. Hold.

3. Avoid overarching the low back by engaging the bandhas and releasing the sacrum down toward the earth.

5. Press the back heel firmly into the earth and bend the front knee towards 90 degrees. Keep the forward knee directly over the ankle and hug the muscles around the bones to support this alignment.
 - The abductors are important here as they help to lift the back knee away from the floor. If these muscles are weak or tight, other muscles in the body will be recruited to work, but they'll also bring in an external rotation of flexion at the hip, which shows up as an inability to "ground" the back foot. Refer to the video above to see modifications for this step.

6. On an inhale, raise the arms up overhead, then interlace the fingers and place them behind the head. Press the head and the neck back into the hands to align the head over the torso as you drop the shoulder blades down the back.

7. On your next inhale, release the interlacing fingertips and stretch the arms up overhead parallel to one another, drawing the head of the humerus back into the shoulder socket, relaxing the shoulders, drawing the shoulder blades down the back.

8. Rotate the pinky fingers inward towards the back to create more space across the upper back, where we hold a lot of tension from being seated at our computers and living our modern lifestyles.

9. If the shoulders rise up towards the ears, separate the arms a bit more, so that your shoulders can rest in a neutral position.

10. Allow the neck to lengthen in alignment with the spine, with the gaze forward and the chin parallel to the earth.

11. Press into the back heel and lengthen through the back leg, sensing a spiral of energy moving up the back leg to help the back hip move forward.

12. Breathe fully into the solar plexus behind the abdomen to activate the Third Chakra and from this central space, allow energy to radiate throughout the entire body.

13. Press the shoulders away from each other to open the chest and fill the heart with more strength and space.

14. Return to center by releasing the arms, standing back up into a wide leg stance, then repeat on the other side.

Extra tidbits:

- Begin to sense the willingness to meet life with the courage of an open heart.
- Sense the balance that comes to mind when you find the strength within to approach all of life's experiences.
- Hold the pose and allow yourself to meet obstacles that stand in your way with grace, equanimity, and valor, moving beyond limited beliefs to a greater sense of self and truth.

The benefits of the pose:

- Balances fire and air in Ayurvedic medicine. To learn how to practice especially for your doshaso please feel free to contact me.
  - For imbalances in the doshas, aim for the following:
    - Vata: Hands on the hips, feet fully grounded, soft drishti (gaze) on the horizon.
    - Pitta: Focus on opening the heart and not making a great effort. Practice sthiram at the start of this post.
    - Kapha: Use Vinyasa movements and hold.

- Primarily balances the Third and Fourth Chakras, then the First and Second Chakras.
- Develops flexibility in the hips and shoulders as it enhances stability.
- Tones the abdominal organs.
- Mental-emotionally teaches us to face life with virtue, honesty, bravery, and an open heart.

Modifications:

- Lift the back heel off the floor to facilitate alignment of the hips.
- Place the hands on the hips with a shorter stance for back, knee, or balance issues.
- Press the palms of the hands into the wall to assist alignment of the torso.
- Press the palms into the side ribs to further open up the chest.

Injuries:

- Anyone with knee, hip, low back pain, high blood pressure, heart disease, or history of stroke should begin with modifications then deepen the asana from there step-by-step.
- Gravity is creating flexion at the knee and the hip, so the hamstrings and quadriceps are very active to balance the pull of gravity. Different arrangements of the feet affect the pose in various ways with the more extended stance creating a deeper action at all the joints and lower extremities. It's important to have sufficient muscle strength in the legs, which can be done by working on the basic starting stance, otherwise additional stress will be placed on the joints and connective tissues.

Based upon Integrative Yoga Therapy by Joseph and Lilian Le Page and Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff.


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