Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Powerful Warriors

Finally the promised Warrior poses!  This is actually a timely post, as I went back to practicing yoga on Monday 3 days after my surgery and had to find the strength to hold not only my Warrior poses, but any of the poses.  It was difficult getting on the mat at first because I found fear creeping into my mind.  Would the combination of the pain medication and the heat (I practice in a room heated between 98 and 104 degrees) make me too nauseous to finish?  Would my mouth swell up like a balloon?  Would I be strong enough to balance at all?  But I had come that night and I was determined to get my body back to work and pushed those lazy thoughts away.  The practice actually felt wonderful and my beloved teacher Nancy helped give me the courage to come into one of the most beautiful dancer’s poses to date. I will talk about Dancer’s pose in the future, including all the complicated emotional significance it carries for most yogis and yoginis. 

Anyhoo, last night as I came to my mat I felt more confident and physically ready to take on the challenging class.  I made an internal promise to myself that I would push myself and remember my own personal strength I find when I get out of my mind and into my body, my pose.  When Mary brought the class into our Warrior II she repeated a familiar mantra, “Where your attention goes, energy flows.” What a perfect thing to say!  Not only did this apply to my physical post-op healing, but my practice as well.  If you remember nothing that I ever say, please remember this.  In yoga, when you are struggling in a pose,  picture yourself breathing into the place of struggle.  Your energy will flow to your struggle and it will pass.  When you are off the mat and you are faced with a challenge, focus your energy and breathe into that challenge.  With your calm and positive vigor, it too will dissipate.  When I am cueing, I like to think to myself, inhale hold my ground, exhale sink into that struggle.  Before I know it, I am farther into a pose and breathing more deeply.  But…that’s just me. 
Now for the warriors:

Balancing Warrior
You have a couple of options to come into Balancing Warrior: stepping back or stepping forward. To step back, begin at the top of your mat in mountain pose.  Begin your “sun salutation” flow or any variation (Utkatasana, fold, come into flat back OR swan dive, fold, flat back).  Once in flat back, exhale your right leg back into a lunge, keeping you heel off the mat.  On your next exhale, swing your arms to your sides, palms down (airplane arms).  Inhale swing your arms down, forward and up.  Allow your arm movement to hinge your torso upright.  To step forward, come into your downward dog.  On an inhale lift your right leg off the mat and kick it up behind you.  On an exhale pull it through, placing it firmly on the mat between your palms and establishing your lunge.  Follow the same steps as above.  Things to keep in mind in Balancing Warrior:
-          Keep the weight in both legs even, engage the muscles equally
-          Your legs are the strength of this pose so establish a solid foundation
-          Straighten the right leg by reaching your right heel to the back of the mat
-          Square the hips to the top of you mat; usually it helps to pull your left hip back as you pull your right hip forward
-          Keep your shoulders over top of your hips (don’t lean forward or bend backward)
-          Relax your shoulders away from your ears, keeping the arms straight and strong
-          Bring energy into your fingertips
-          Gaze straight ahead and breathe (sink deeper into pose on exhales)
Warrior I
Warrior I consists of the same principles as Balancing Warrior except that your back heel is down on the mat.  This means that your hips have to work harder to be square toward the top of your mat.  In this Warrior pose, be careful not to allow your back leg to become lazy and bent slightly.  I always have to check in and make sure because even though I think my back leg is straight, it often tricks me here.  *Tip for straightening your back leg in Warriors with your heel on the mat, focus on pressing the outside part of your foot firmly into the mat, engaging all the muscles up the leg.

Warrior II

Start in Balancing Warrior or Warrior I, sweep the arms open and out to your sides into Warrior II.  You maintain the same principles in your lower body that you established in Warrior I.  Your gaze is just beyond your fingertips. Open your chest, open your heart, by reaching your fingertips in opposite directions and relaxing your shoulders down.  Keep your arms strong and straight; maintain the strength in your legs.
Reverse Warrior

Begin in Warrior II and slide your back arm to the back of your straight leg.  As you slide your arm down your leg, bring your gaze and other arm straight up to the sky.  Reach up from your core, all the way through your fingertips.  Feel a stretch in your side body.  Remember to continue to bend into your front leg; it has a tendency to become lazy and loose.
Warrior III
As with all other warrior poses, Warrior III strengthens the legs, shoulders, core and back, as well as improving balance.  Warrior III requires patience and concentration, as there is a lot going on within the body to maintain this pose.  Begin from Balancing Warrior, bring your palms together and interlace your fingers.  (Release your index finger, creating “Charlies’s Angels” pose). Then, mindfully:
-          Bring your weight forward into your front foot as you gently lift up your back leg.
-          Hinge at the waist, bringing your torso forward until it is parallel to the floor. (If you cannot keep your legs or arms straight, only hinge to the point where you can keep the integrity of the pose)
-          Think of your arms, core, and back leg as one solid line.  When you bring your arms toward the ground, the back leg must lift to the sky.
-          Keep both legs straight and the back flat.
-          Both hips pointing toward the ground, as you work to bring the back leg in line with your body
-          Reach through your fingertips and your raised leg, feeling length throughout your body.
-          The strength is always in the standing leg, so keep it grounded, straight, and strong.

There will be another post about the benefits of these warrior poses, but play around with them on your own and see if you can figure out the benefits yourself!  Remember, their power is in the strength and balance you must engage in each pose. 

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