Can a warrior practice ahimsa, or kindness, consideration and respect? The answer is yes – a spiritual warrior can. Everyone can become a spiritual warrior; it just means finding the strength and courage to shave the edges off of your ego so your divine spirit can lead you in life.
The warrior asanas allow us to see what this looks like in practice. When you step into these poses with proper alignment, you connect to your true self and the strength within you. You become a warrior of the spirit, cutting through distraction to find connection to the God of your heart.
Virbhadrasana A, warrior 1, can guide you to face the falsehoods of your ego. As you ground through your legs and feet into the earth, you release stuck energy. As your upper body extends up toward the sky, you find direction from the cosmos on who you really are. Firmly planted in this pose, anchored by your back heel, you can discover a new understanding of balance – even if someone pushed you, you would not shift in your search for what is true.
As the planet wakes up from winter and moves into spring, incorporate this warming and strengthening pose into your practice. The gentle, subtle backbend will open the front side of your body to let your heart guide you into a new season of yourself.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and a sustainable practice throughout your life.
Virbhadrasana A from the ground up
A longer stance is not necessarily better in virbhadrasana A. Since a key part of this pose is to keep both hips straight ahead, a longer stance when you are not ready prevents proper alignment. Shave off the sharp edges of ego and accept your starting point with the stance you need for the strongest alignment.
1. Stand in tadasana, mountain pose, at the front of your mat. Keep your feet hip-width distance apart and toes pointing straight ahead.
2. Bend your knees and jump to face the right side of the room. Land with your feet about one leg distance apart, knees bent. This simple way to transition to the side of your mat keeps your hips and knees working in the range of motion they were designed for, improving your mobility and increasing your ability to practice for life.
3. Straighten your legs and pivot on your left heel until your foot is about 10 degrees off the midline of the mat. Then pivot on your right heel until the foot faces straight along the midline of the mat. Check in with your hips. Both should be parallel to the front of the room throughout the entire pose. If they are not, you may need to shorten your stance.
4. Press your left foot into the mat and engage your left leg. Bend your right knee so that it lines up over the top of your right ankle. As you do so, bring your pelvis and belly forward one-quarter of the way.
5. There are several modifications for your hands, depending on the openness of the front side of your spine and shoulders. They can remain at the center of your chest in prayer position; you can extend them up, shoulder distance apart with your upper arms just in front of your face; or extend your hands in prayer so your upper arms are just in front of your face. You’ll be ready for the full expression when your elbows no longer bend and your shoulders spread and move down from your ears when your hands are together. Until you are ready for the full expression, work with the other options to allow the front of your spine to open in a subtle, heart-opening backbend. Hold the variation of your choice for 15-20 breaths and repeat the pose on the other side.
Common trouble spots
Back foot turned out to the side. The proper alignment of the back foot at a 10-degree angle allows you to work out tightness in your lower leg. When the foot is turned to the side, you avoid the tightness and lose the opportunity to move stuck energy.
Back leg bent. Your strength in this pose comes primarily from your back leg extending down into the anchor of your back heel. It should stay extended and engaged the whole time. If you find yourself bending your back knee, shorten your stance.
Front knee bent beyond the heel. This puts unnecessary stress on the knee. To maintain a practice for life, lengthen your stance or decrease the bend in your knee to line it up over top of the heel.
Ungrounded back foot. Your back heel is your anchor for this pose, keeping you connected to the earth. Keep your heel down, arch lifted and toes relaxed.
Straight torso. Not coming forward one-quarter of the way with your belly and pelvis puts stress on the lower back.
Elbows bent in full expression of the pose. If your elbows bend or shoulders are scrunched up to your ears, separate your palms until you can find a neutral position.
Limp or spread fingers. Engage your whole body, including your hands. Avoid spreading your fingers, which disperses the energy you are creating.
Learn how you can be a warrior of the spirit by attending Hale Pule’s Advanced Yoga and Ayurveda intensive this October 24 through November 3.