We may not feel it every day, but each of us is a warrior. We have all faced situations that required the strength of our bodies and minds to overcome; these are the obvious warrior moments of our lives. We are also warriors on a daily basis, constantly fighting for and exemplifying our beliefs, whether working through a tough period with a partner, saying no to someone when they cross a personal boundary, or speaking up in what we feel is an unhealthy situation. Being able to access our stores of strength and courage is essential to our well-being and personal growth.
In yoga practice, moving through the warrior series is a wonderful way to build strength and heat in the body and access our inner fighters, reminding ourselves of our capacities for bravery and endurance. My next few articles will focus on the poses Warrior 1, Warrior 2 and Warrior 3, as we move forward in strength.
In appearance, Warrior 1 is very similar to a classic fitness move: the lunge. While there are many approaches to coming into Warrior 1, the most typical being to follow downward dog in a sun salutation, the simplest way to adopt the pose is to start in a basic standing position.
Begin by standing at the front of your mat, hands firmly on your hips. As you inhale, lift your chest up and expand your spine. As you exhale, press your upper ribs together, engaging the abdomen.
Inhale once again, keeping the belly strong, and on an exhale step your left foot back behind you. The farther you step back, the more challenging the pose will be – be sure to listen to your body to find the ideal distance. The left foot can press into the mat at a 45-degree angle to the right foot, or you can move deeper into the pose by lifting your left heel so the weight of your back (left) leg is supported on the ball of your left foot. Inhale fully, and as you exhale, bend the right knee just until it is directly over your ankle, but no farther. If the knee exceeds the ankle, the knee joint will be open and vulnerable, putting you at risk of injury should you lose your balance.
Keeping your hands on your hips, bring your awareness to your core, and use your abdominal muscles to balance the body. Inhale, lifting the heart and chest skyward. Exhaling, sink down into the pose as deeply as you comfortably can, stretching open the groin and hamstring muscles and engaging the front (right) thigh muscles. Ensure both hips are facing forward and your back (left) leg is as straight as possible.
If this feels challenging enough for your body, stay here. Breathe deeply and focus on balancing your body from your core, while feeling the deep stretch in your extended back leg and the strength building in your leg muscles.
If you would like to go further, press your ribs together and inhale as you slowly lift your arms over your head, extending your fingers and arms up to the sky while keeping your shoulders rolled away from your ears and shoulder blades pressing together. Ensure that each muscle of your arms and hands is strong and engaged. Breathe deeply, feeling the increase in your lung capacity.
If you would like to go further still, place your palms together and, on an exhale, allow a gentle back bend, reaching behind your body with your extended arms. Stay here for three deep breaths. On an inhale, using your abdomen, return to a neutral spine position with arms extended straight up.
To come out of the pose, there are a couple of options: either slowly straighten the front leg and move first your heels, then your toes closer together repeatedly until they are hip-width apart; or inhale strongly, and on an exhale step both feet together in one movement to the front of the mat, keeping your arms extended over your head. Press your palms together and trace a straight line down your body with your thumbs to your heart. Repeat to the other side.
As you move through the pose, bring your awareness to the strength of your body. As you become aware of the major muscle groups working hard and building heat in your body, consider the incredible strength of your spirit. Take a moment to remind yourself of times of battle in your life, and to cultivate the strength of spirit you used to emerge triumphant. Remind yourself of the warrior you are.
Jennifer McLennan is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor who has practiced in India, Canada and Costa Rica. She is currently a private yoga teacher in the beach community of Santa Teresa, on the southern Nicoya Peninsula.