I’m sick today, as I’m writing this. Because I’m sick, I’ve also been incredibly unproductive by conventional standards. (By the standards of “pushing fluids” and “expelling all the green snot from my sinuses,” however, I am made of win.) The only asana practice I did today was some seated and reclined stretching, and I’m feeling just the teeniest bit guilty about that.
Just a little, though. Writing about a standing pose — even if I don’t actually do said standing pose today — should just about rectify it.
Also, warrior 1 is a common enough pose that it’s worth examining the hamstring action going on.
Because, actually, both hamstrings here are strengthening.
[Video by Real Bodywork via YouTube.]
As a quick refresher, the functions of the hamstrings include both knee flexion and hip extension. Conveniently enough, one of each of these is happening in warrior 1: knee flexion in the front leg, hip extension in the back. At least for me, if my hamstrings aren’t strong enough, it can make it difficult to feel stable deeper as I go deeper in the posture — even if my low back and hip flexors are accommodating enough. (I try to make it a rule never to go so deep into a posture that I can’t get out of it on my own. It makes for fewer embarrassing yoga stories that way.)
In order to safely get that hamstring strengthening, it’s pretty important to do warrior 1 the right way. While the general concept of the “right way” is the same for everyone — keep your low back and knees safe — the specifics of it can vary from body to body:
- Stance — A lot of places teach warrior 1 with a longer, narrower stance. That can be fine and good for folks who are familiar with it, but taking a shorter, wider stance may be easier for folks who are learning. Or folks with shorter legs and/or wider hips, even if they are not new to the posture. Basically, do what you need to feel like you’re not wobbling on a tightrope.
- Feet — I see a lot of variation on direction of placement of the back foot in warrior 1. At the extremes, some instructors advocate turning the back foot out ninety degrees from the front foot (which is way not safe for my own knee) while others recommend keeping the back toes facing forward, even if it means lifting the back heel a little (which feels a lot more like high lunge to me). And a lot of instructors advise turning the back foot in fifteen, thirty, forty-five, or sixty degrees. Perhaps because I do not bring a protractor with me to my mat, my own best advice is this: Back foot placement should (in my own order of importance):
- Avoid torquing the back knee.
- Keep the pose stable, usually through allowing the outside edge of the back foot to ground, from the pinky toe all the way down through the heel.
- Maximize the degree of safe forward rotation of the back hip.
What that means in terms of precise placement is going to vary from person to person, and maybe even from day to day.
- Hip Point Position — The idea is that both hip points rotate to face as close to forward as possible while keeping the knees and feet safe. Often, taking a shorter and/or wider stance can facilitate this rotation. Similarly, so can experimenting with the position of the back foot. Finally, it may be worth pointing out that not everyone’s hips will face dead-on forward: mine don’t. In my most stable warrior 1, my hips are somewhere between there and forty-five degrees out. That is, they’re not truly forward-facing, but they’re more forward than they are opened up to the side. I’d give specifics, but I don’t bring a protractor to my mat and all.
- Pelvic Tilt — The pelvic tilt helps keep the low back safe here; it also allows the hip flexors to stretch and the back hip extensor — the hamstrings — to strengthen. For me, it works better to think of it as lengthening my tailbone down rather than as tucking my tailbone under. The latter gives me a mental image of a dog tucking its tail between its legs, which garners a butt clenching reaction in me. And let’s face it… yoga is so much better when both my low back and my ass are relaxed and happy.
Also, for people who see the standing warrior pose and are like, “That is a little much, at least for right now. I’m busy blowing green snot chunks from my nose, after all,” there are a couple of versions using a chair (one seated, one standing with the chair as support):
[Nora Forziati instructing for Expert Village. Video via YouTube.]
Also, votes for the next hip yoga installment: Another hamstring strengthening pose (probably prone or supine) or on to the last hamstring stretching pose?