This month’s five include standing balance, core strength, upper body strength and flexibility work and a coordination exercise.
Warrior II is one of my favorites. It strengthens and stretches your legs, hips and glutes, opens your shoulders and strengthens your arms and back. It also improves standing balance and mental focus. If you suffer from hip tightness, knee pain or balance issues keep reading, I’m breaking down the Warrior so you will know what to do (and what not to do) when trying this move at home.
This exercise list is meant to jog your memory about the moves we have done together as a team. For more detailed descriptions of the exercises click here.
The April Five:
1) Warrior II – side lunge with front knee bent, back knee straight
2) Leg Pull Back – reverse plank with leg lift
3) Swan Dive – roll down the front side of your body with control
4) Double Leg Kick – kick both heels to your bum, then extend arms, legs, and back
5) Rolling Like A Ball – rolling on your back with control
Now back to the Warrior II:
Yoga Journal’s description of the pose:
Virabhadra = the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger’s skin
Got an important meeting today? Asking for a raise, or negotiating a contract? Start your day with one minute of this pose and notice what happens to your physical, emotional and mental state. Roaring like a tiger is optional.
- Stand at the top of your mat, step left foot back and press left heel firmly into the mat.
- Stack your shoulders over your hips (hips and shoulders face the side wall) and reach arms out to the side.
- Bend your front knee and stack it over your ankle, as if your knee were looking out over your front toes.
- Hold for one minute then switch sides.
Looking to improve your balance? Warrior is the perfect pose for you. Since both feet are on the ground this pose is more accessible starting point that say your Tree or Eagle.
Stand near a wall. If you rest your whole back along the wall you will feel more secure and be able to feel your spine in neutral, and your shoulders stacked over your hips. Slowly and carefully work towards bringing both arms back to touch the wall, as well as the outside of your front leg, and most of your back, shoulders and hips. Not even close? Start with your feet a few inches away from the wall and rest the right side of your back, your right hip and your right arm on the wall. Keep arms in line with your shoulders and your front knee over your ankle.
Mind your feet. How often do you pay attention to your feet? Imagine a skinny cross country ski, now imagine a wide snow shoe. Guess which one is more stable?
Spread your toes. Stand with your feet hip distance apart and look down at your feet. Can you spread your toes so that you see space between each toe? Use your fingers to spread them apart and flatten each toe if you need to. Now imagine your foot as multiple tree roots, your big toe tap root is pressing down and away from you, as is your pinkie toe knuckle, and both sides of your outer heel. As your roots press down imagine a gentle lift under your arch. Now keep your front foot in this position and step your left foot back into your lunge. Notice any difference?
If this pose causes knee pain stop immediately, asses your alignment and start over. None of these exercises should hurt. In fact pain is a signal from your body that something it wrong. Listen.
The number one correction I give in this pose is “move your knee so that it is stacked directly over your ankle”. Look down, do you have a wandering knee? Often this is not actually a knee issue, but a hip issue. My runners, cyclists and desk jockeys often suffer from tight hips. In this pose you are asking your front leg to externally rotate in your hip socket to allow your knee to open enough to line up with your toe.
For you today this might mean that your hips are facing more forward than to the side. Remember we are working our way into a deeper version of this pose and really there is no “perfect” pose.
Track your knee. Stand in your Warrior II. Slowly bend and straighten your front knee. Look down to see that your kneecap is tracking right over your ankle, or middle toes, as if it were looking towards the front wall. If your knee tends to roll in towards your big toe, slowly guide it more towards your pinkie toe. This may take some time and you will feel different muscles in your hip working so go easy.
Shoulder pain/ tightness:
Warrior II is an excellent shoulder opener. Most of us spend a large portion of the day with our head and shoulders in a forward position, hunched over the computer, the steering wheel, the phone… Those of us with tight shoulders may find it challenging (or impossible) to bring arms straight out to the side without hunching our upper back and shoulders, or thrusting our heads forward.
Hug a ball. Stand up tall, bring your arms slightly in front of your shoulders with palms facing forward and and imagine hugging a giant beach ball in front of you. Gently roll your shoulders up, down and back. Now flip your palms down. This is your starting point if you have shoulder issues – arms slightly in front of your shoulders. Again we are slowly and gently working our arms back in line with our shoulders. Your chest, upper back and ribs will feel nice and open here and you will be able to take a full inhale and exhale.
Holding your breath:
Ever notice how (or if) you are breathing throughout the day? Holding your breath during exercise can cause changes in your blood pressure that may leave you feeling lightheaded. By taking slow full breaths you send more oxygen to your muscles and calm your nervous system.
Breath awareness. Take a moment in this pose and focus on your breath. As you inhale imagine your arches floating up, your pelvic floor lifting (mula bandha) and the top of your head floating up. As you exhale reach strong through your arms and fingers, down through your legs and feet and allow your chest and back to widen.
I would love to hear what tips you have for a successful Warrior II. Leave me a comment below…
Anne McCranie is a Portland, Oregon based personal trainer and licensed massage therapist. She offers these tips for a successful home yoga program. Please see your medical professional for specific advice before you begin a new exercise program. Questions? Call Anne (503) 705-4762.