Your skeleton is a complex structure, made up of interconnected muscles and bones that provide the strength you need to hold Yoga poses. The joints are simply spaces where two bones come near each other, where tissue exists to prevent the bones from grinding together.
Far too often, yogis develop a practice that appears to be strong, but it actually relies too much on leaning into the joints. Over time, this weakens the joints, creating instability. This is easy to see with hyperextension of the elbows in bhujangasana, cobra pose, but one pose where you might not think about misusing the joints is in virbhadrasana B, warrior II pose.
In most modern Yoga classes, students learn to keep their feet perpendicular to each other in virbhadrasana B – the front foot straight ahead and the back foot turned to the side. They are instructed to turn their hips to the long side of their mat and bend their front knee so that the thigh is parallel to the ground. But doing the pose in this way creates unnatural and unnecessary stress in the hip and strain in the knee of the back leg. Turning your back foot and pelvis to the side pulls on the vulnerable space on the inside of the back knee and causes your femur head to move beyond its optimal range of motion, resulting in the bones jamming in your hip socket. The soft tissue that fills this socket (called asatabula), which is responsible for protecting the bones from rubbing against each other, will wear out over time with this strain and eventually your femur head will rub against your hip socket, creating pain and misalignment.
Though this approach to virbhadrasana B is quite common now, it has not always been the case. Practicing in this way stresses these important joints; eventually causing imbalance that invites injury that can force even the most dedicated yogis to give up their asana practice.
A more sustainable method of Yoga asana, such as what we teach at Hale Pule, focuses on lining up the muscles and bones to give you the most support and strength so your prana can flow freely. This is the secret to creating a balanced practice that will last a lifetime.
Your hips and knees are arguably the most important joints in your body; taking good care of them in poses like virbhadrasana B by keeping your front hip facing straight ahead within its optimal range of motion and your back foot turned out just 10 degrees off the midline of the mat will ensure that you are mobile, flexible and pain free on and off the mat throughout your entire life. This hip alignment also applies to trikonasana and ardha chandrasana.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about Yoga asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. These are simple tools to be clear about the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment.
Practicing this pose with an appropriate foot position builds strength and flexibility in your lower body, while keeping your hip and knee joints safe. Work toward the front thigh being parallel to your mat, but not at the expense of the alignment of your pelvis and feet. Max, our Durga Farms volunteer and model for this pose, is fairly high up in the photos, however as he lengthens the tightness in his legs by maintaining the position of his pelvis and feet, his hips will eventually move lower.
3. Rotate on your heels to the right, turning what will be the back foot first to protect the vulnerable inner knee. Your back foot should only be about 10 degrees off the midline of your mat and your front hip should face straight ahead the entire time in the pose (not to the side of your mat as is commonly taught). Your back hip will be at a diagonal position, but how diagonal depends on the openness in your legs. Don’t manipulate the position to where you think it should be – after you have positioned your feet and front hip, your back hip will tell you how far it can go. Keep the arches in both feet lifted and your lower body grounding down.
4. Extend your arms long ways on your mat at shoulder height, gazing straight ahead over your fingertips. Bend your front knee until it is directly above your ankle, keeping your front hip facing forward so that your femur bone can sit happily in your hip joint. Align your shoulders straight over your hips and extend your fingertips away from one another for a gentle torso twist and extension through the chest.
Hips turned toward the side
This positioning extends your front hip beyond its normal range of motion, which will invite hip injury, pain and instability. Keep your front hip facing forward and your back hip diagonal, based on the openness of your legs. As you move into a gentle spiral of the spine, keep your front hip in its original placement to act as an anchor for that spiral. This is the power of the warrior.