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Warrior II

Inside The Pose: A powerhouse of a yoga pose, Warrior II (AKA Virabhadrasana II) is a real staple in many yoga practices, offering ancient wisdom and full-body awareness as well as lengthening and strengthening.

woman on a yoga mat in warrior II pose with her arms outstretched at shoulder height and a strong bend in her front leg
Warrior II Pose activates the entire body

There are several warrior poses in common use in yoga sequences, of which Warrior II is probably the best known. I personally tend to think of Warrior II as a perfect moment of centre, balance and grounding before launch. In the Hindu tradition it is said to represent the preparation of Virabhadra (for whom the pose is named) to fight with Daksha (a powerful creator) with two swords in his hands, hence the arms fully outstretched. At first thought, the mixture of warlike warriors and the peaceful, calming practices of yoga might seem an odd mix.

The Hindu tradition, from which the majority of our yoga practices arise, has many examples of the balance which needs to be struck in life between action, which at its extreme is violence and war, and peace and harmony which at the other extreme enable us to stop acting and stop adding to our karmic load.

A large chunk of the epic Mahabarata (a good read, would recommend by the way), set before a great battle of ancient Vedic families, is dedicated to considering the ethical, spiritual and practical dilemma of taking (in this case, violent) action in a required cause. And it isn't just mythological storytelling; it's very relevant to reflect back to everyday life.

We often find ourselves in less than ideal situations where we have do to things that we would rather not, and deal with difficult emotions and reactions that could lead us to more difficult situations. We need to get our bodies, minds and energies right. The Warrior poses in yoga can represent a chance for connection, balance and grounding before acting or reacting - because often we must do so, however difficult it may be.

Practicing Virabhadrasana or Warrior II

This is a hip opening posture, so to come into Warrior II pose we need a big step between the feet. This is usually wider than the step required for Warrior I, so when entering from another pose I always consider readjusting.

The front foot is facing the short edge of the mat, and the back foot is at 90 degrees to it, facing the long edge. The heel of the front foot is normally best placed in line with the heel or inner arch of the back foot, for stability.

I'd encourage you to experiment with the foot placement and see what feels most stable and balanced in your body, bearing in mind we are looking to create strength, stability and connection in the lower body which results in a well balanced, light and (perhaps somewhat!) effortless upper body.

The hips are facing the long edge of the mat, the same direction as the back foot. This requires activation of all the leg muscles from buttocks to calves and from hip flexors to thigh muscles to shin muscles. It also needs the feet to be fully engaged.

Before bending the front knee, check the alignment and balance in the upper body, because feeling into this sensation softly will always be harder once your knee is bent. Scooping in your tailbone, locating the shoulders above your hips and bringing arms out straight at shoulder height whilst finding the most effortless point for your head to rest on your neck are often ideal starting points.

The front knee can bend as little or as much as is appropriate for your body and your practice. The more bend in the front knee, the stronger the hip opening AND the more work the hip, thigh and buttock muscles, amongst others, have to do.

woman on yoga mat practicing warrior II pose with arms outstretched and front knee softly bent
Warrior II with less bend in the front knee

It's not necessary to bend the front leg so the thigh is parallel to the ground, but if you feel strong in that position, it's OK to do so. The front knee should be in line with the front foot, as knees are not built for rotating force, so if yours tries to point back towards the mid line of your body, consider if you are able to consciously hold it straight it or if it's better to take a narrower step and bend your knee less.

Finally, turning your head to look over the front middle finger, finding the drishti or gazing point over the outstretched hand. Holding the pose for 5-10 breaths gives the opportunity for sensations to arise and to get a real sense of yourself in the pose.

Sensations in Warrior II Pose

It's easy for Warrior II to feel like hard work. And there is a lot going on. By noticing and working with the sensations that arise, it can become a full body and mind experience.

Because it engages the whole body, Warrior II usually has a lot of sensation- although this can vary from practice to practice and person to person. Here are some things you may notice (although there are probably many others!):

Toe/foot/lower body strength: When you fully activate your feet and toes, there may be a sensation of the weight of the body distributed across them in a way not often found in other yoga poses. Consciously acknowledging the muscle activation is a great way of feeling the power and stability of the lower body, so stretch the toes, press into the quadriceps and energise the glutes.

woman's lower body in warrior II pose on the yoga mat, showing the feet very activated in gripping and distributing weight
Feet and toe activation is very supportive for Warrior II

Hip opening: Keeping the pelvis flat by 'tucking' your tail, whilst having the legs in a wide stride and the feet at 90 degrees will really activate the sensations of hip opening and work in the hip flexor muscles. This is a STRONG move!

Developing the sensation of both thighs rolling out away from one another may be a good way to feel the hips and thighs more firmly in the pose, continuing to activate the leg and hip muscles.

Shoulder power: The upper arms and shoulders normally develop a LOT of sensation in the classic Warrior II pose, especially if it's held for 10 breaths as in an Ashtanga practice (5 to each side). This is normal! But it can lead to feeling heavy, so I find that to encourage lightness in the arms one way is to really stretch the arms away from one another and relax the shoulders as much as possible.

In Warrior II we are seeking to feel grounded and strong in the lower body to enable lightness and length in the upper body, cultivating an overall sensation of power and readiness.

Woman on a yoga mat with her legs in Warrior I pose; a stride apart, front foot facing forwards and back foot a little off to the left
Warrior I as a preparation for Warrior II

Preparation for Warrior II Pose

Because it's a 'hip opener', it's a good plan to warm up the hips and lower body before attempting Warrior II. This might include a wide leg child's pose, a lunge or anjaneyasana and ideally a Warrior I, which also starts to bring the attention to the position of the pelvis and the activation of the leg muscles. In the Ashtanga primary series there is also a lot of work into stretching out the hamstrings before Warrior II pose, which is not strictly necessary in my opinion but can be helpful if you wish to try the pose with a longer stride.

Warrior II and the Chakras

Warrior II's nature of being whole body, grounded yet balanced, firm yet long and open, means that it not only works with all the chakras, but if there is a particular area you want to focus on, you can do it in this pose. You may not notice all of these in every practice, and not all at the same time, but it's possible to work with each in Warrior II:

Sacral and Root Chakras: There's clearly a strong connection with these chakras due to the power and flexibility required in the lower body to execute and hold this pose. The more we strengthen our hip and legs and our connection to the earth, we use and develop the power of the root chakra. As we open the hips and develop flexibility in this area of the body we connect to our creative energy and ability to flow through life which is embodied in the sacral chakra.

Solar Plexus Chakra: The fire and determination required for the pose (and maybe the fire you feel when you hold it!) indicates the activation of the solar plexus chakra which also represents the way we turn food into fuel to power the body. If your Warrior II feels a bit meh today, it could be because the energy of the solar plexus chakra is not fully available.

Heart Chakra: As we begin (hopefully) to feel joyful in the pose, it's a sign that the heart energy is fully activated, which is encouraged by the width of the arms and can be developed further by focusing on raising the breastbone.

Throat, Third Eye and Crown Chakras: Turning the neck physically brings the throat chakra into the pose, and feeling that you can be open, expressive and take up space on your mat may indicate that its energy engaged. Engaging the drishti focuses the third eye chakra into the pose, and finally you may notice a sensation of lightness, openness, drawing upwards and connection to what's around you that indicates the crown chakra energy in your Warrior II pose.

Warrior II Pose and Bandha

Warrior II is a wonderful position for naturally engaging mula bandha, the pelvic floor. If you want to test it, just try taking Warrior II and then concentrating on the movement of your pelvic floor as you inhale and exhale- it's usually much more noticeable than with straight legs or when seated.

Toning and awareness of the pelvic floor benefits the internal pressure required in our bodies and supports organ health, so a simple way to engage mula bandha like this seems like a no-brainer. Not to mention the energy benefits that a strong mula bandha is claimed to have in practices like kundalini yoga.

Variations of Warrior II

A few useful variations to try out in your next yoga practice:

With a chair

Woman on a yoga mat practicing warrior II pose with her front thigh resting sideways across the seat of a chair for support
Warrior II, Chair variation

Chair yoga is ideal for a more supported practice. To try Warrior II with the chair, position the front thigh sideways over the seat so the lower leg drops from bent front knee directly over the side. The weight of the upper body is then supported by the chair and the back leg which is still fully engaged off the other side of the seat. If, like me, you struggle to get both feet firmly on the ground in this version of Warrior II, use a block or yoga brick (or a thick book!) to support the front foot.

Another way to use the chair is to position it in front of the torso in a standard Warrior II pose and rest the arms on the chair back to provide additional support. Alternatively, position the chair at the front of the mat and allow the front knee to press against the front of the seat for more support in that area.

Reverse Warrior/Peaceful Warrior

woman on a yoga mat with warrior II legs and her front thigh being supported on a chair, front arm sweeping upwards to peaceful warrior pose
Reverse Warrior over the chair

From classic or chair Warrior II, turn the front palm upwards and slide the back palm down the outside of the back thigh, resulting in the front arm coming up and overhead. Look up towards to top palm and draw the top shoulderblade back like you would in another side stretching pose like gate pose. Keep bending the front knee (in my experience it usually tries to straighten as you lean back!). Breath for five breaths, if that works for you, then unwind to standard Warrior II.

Humble Warrior

woman on a yoga mat practicing humble warrior pose with her front leg bend and her upper body leaning over the front knee and her arms clasped behind
Humble Warrior Pose

From classic Warrior II, draw your arms behind you and clasp them together (I particularly like Kali mudra here), then inhale to draw the chest up before hinging forward at the hips on the exhale. Your inside shoulder will come down towards or below the front knee, keep hugging the knee into the midline of your body. Your arms can fall forward towards the floor in front of your mat. Breath for five breaths if that's OK, then power through both legs to return upright to Warrior II.

Final word on Warrior II Pose

It's such a staple yoga pose, which is no wonder considering the many benefits including hip opening, lower body strengthening, engaging the pelvic floor/mula bandha and potential to work with all seven chakras.

It gives us the chance to explore the balance between action and stillness, like an ancient warrior, feeling powerful and prepared for whatever the future has in store.

Next time you get on your yoga mat, you have the chance to experience and experiment with Warrior II.

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