Warrior I illustrates the concept of creating stillness by balancing simultaneous movements in different directions. The front hip flexors and back hip extensors engage to descend and stabilize the pelvis while the chest lifts upward toward the sky. Similarly, the front hip and knee flex to create a sense of forward movement while the back hip and knee extend to constrain the rear foot onto the mat. As a result of these simultaneous movements, the body becomes a storehouse for potential energy, like a sprinter preparing to bolt out of the blocks.
Positioning Warrior I after Parsvottanasana in the standing pose sequence creates a synergistic progression that continues the turn of the pelvis from facing forward in poses such as Trikonasana and Warrior II, to facing toward the front leg in Warrior I. Placing Warrior I after Parsvottanasana balances folding forward (Parsvottanasana) with expanding upward (Warrior I). In Parsvottanasana the torso folds over the leg to create a deep stretch along the back side of the body; Warrior I rises from this position, expanding from the core and extending upward through the chest.
Basic Joint Positions
• The back foot turns inward 30 degrees and supinates.
• The front foot turns out 90 degrees.
• The back hip and knee extend.
• The front hip and knee flex.
• The shoulders flex overhead.
• The elbows extend.
• The back extends.
• The cervical spine extends.
Virabhadrasana I Preparation
Take the general form of the pose by turning the hips toward the front leg. Activate the back-leg buttocks and thigh muscles. Raise the arms and lift the chest. In this position, flex the front hip and knee to ninety degrees (keep the knee aligned over the ankle). In the beginning or when you feel fatigued, lessen the bend in the knee to make the pose easier. Maintain the alignment of the front-leg femur and tibia when you come out of the pose. This aids to protect the knee joint. You can also add a stretch of the front hip extensors to the preparation by using the bent-knee version of Supta Padangusthasana.
STEP 1 Flex the front hip by engaging the psoas and its synergistic hip flexors. Note on the image how the psoas anteverts the pelvis and draws the lumbar spine forward. Balance the action of the psoas with that of the back-leg gluteus maximus to stabilize the pelvis. The quadriceps contract to sustain the pose and prevent the knee from bending further. The front knee tends to drift inward in Warrior I. Engage the sartorius and tensor fascia lata to abduct the knee, keeping it aligned over the ankle.
STEP 2 The muscles that extend the back of the body create a line of action from the heel to the pelvis and up the spine. These muscles include the tibialis anterior, adductor magnus, gluteus maximus and minimus, quadratus lumborum, and erector spinae. Draw the top of the foot toward the shin to engage the tibialis anterior. Feel how this presses the heel into the floor. Attempt to drag the back foot toward the midline to engage the adductor magnus. Feel how this extends the leg. Engage the gluteus maximus to extend and externally rotate the hip. Visualize the gluteus minimus synergizing this action. Co-contract the buttocks muscles and the muscles of the back, including the quadratus lumborum and erector spinae, to lift the trunk and open the chest. Do this by arching the back while squeezing the buttocks.
STEP 3 Combine the action of the back-leg tibialis anterior described in Step 2 with that of the quadriceps. Extend the knee while attempting to lift the top of the foot toward the shin, pressing the heel down. Engage the tensor fascia lata to assist the quadriceps and help the gluteus medius turn the entire leg inward. Note that the gluteus maximus (Step 2) not only extends the hip but externally rotates it as well. Engaging the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius balances the external rotation produced by the gluteus maximus with a force that turns the hip inward. This stabilizes and turns the pelvis forward.
STEP 4 Use the arms and shoulders to lift the upper body and chest away from the pelvis, creating the upward movement in the pose. Contract the trapezius to lift the shoulders, the triceps to straighten the elbows, the deltoids to lift the arms, and the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles to externally rotate the humeri. Press the mounds of the index fingers together to pronate the forearms, using the pronators teres and quadratus. Balance pronation of the forearms by extending and abducting the thumbs. This engages the extensor pollicis longus and abductor pollicis muscles, minor supinators of the forearms. Note that, once the shoulders are lifted, we will relax the upper third of the trapezius and allow the lower third to draw the shoulders away from the ears in a sequential action, as illustrated in Step 5.
STEP 5 Draw the shoulders down the back by contracting the lower trapezius. Engage the rhomboids to stabilize the shoulder blades toward the midline. These actions combine to draw the shoulders away from the ears and open the chest forward. The rhomboids act to stabilize the scapulae and prepare them for closed chain contraction of the pectoralis minor and serratus anterior muscles, as described in Step 6.
STEP 6 The pectoralis minor and serratus anterior can be used to expand the thorax upward in Virabhadrasana I. This begins with stabilizing the shoulder blades toward the midline, as described in Step 5. It can be difficult and even frustrating to contract these muscles when the arms are overhead. Nevertheless, it can be done and will create more lift and expansion in the chest in this pose. Train yourself to combine these muscle actions in poses such as Tadasana first. Then integrate them into other poses, such as Warrior I.
Engage the rectus abdominis muscle to draw the lower ribs downward and prevent them from bulging forward. Use small actions such as these to put the final touch on a pose.
Always, in your particular case, consult your health care provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. Yoga must always be practiced under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor. Practicing under the direct supervision and guidance of a qualified instructor may reduce the risk of injuries. Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. Practicing under the direct supervision and guidance of a qualified instructor, in addition to the direction of your health care provider, can also help determine what poses are suitable for your particular case. The information provided in the blog, website, books, and other materials is strictly for reference only and is not in any manner a substitute for medical advice or direct guidance of a qualified yoga instructor. The author, illustrators, editors, publishers, and distributors assume no responsibility or liability for any injuries or losses that may result from practicing yoga or any other exercise program. The author, editors, illustrators, publishers, and distributors all make no representations or warranties with regards to the completeness or accuracy of information on this website, any linked websites, books, DVDs, or other products represented herein.
About Ray Long: Ray Long, MD, FRCSC, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga. He has studied yoga for over 25 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other of the world’s leading yoga masters. Dr. Long is the author of the bestselling series, The Key Muscles of Yoga and The Key Poses of Yoga and the Yoga Mat Companion anatomy series. Ray also writes a popular blog, The Daily Bandha, which details tips and techniques on how to combine modern Western science with the ancient art of yoga. He leads workshops internationally and can be reached at www.BandhaYoga.com.