Warrior II is such an important and frequent asana (pose) – enjoyed in its own right as a strength and heat building standing hip opener, and very commonly used as a transitional asana between standing asanas, it can be enjoyed before a vinyasa.
Warrior II is a dynamic, warming, strengthening, hip opening mega-asana! Sometimes, the asanas that we visit the most are the ones that we almost process through, or ‘get through’ to get to ‘the good stuff’. But Warrior II *is* the good stuff! But to enjoy it, and benefit from it, awareness of the alignment is paramount.
Your front foot points forward, the big toe side of the foot parallel to the long edge of your mat. For this example, let’s say the right foot is at the front.
The distance between the feet is up to you: Broadly speaking, the longer the distance, the more challenging the pose will be to hold, the shorter the distance, the less challenging.
Your back foot (left foot) should be 90 degrees from the right foot, i.e. the little toe edge of the foot parallel with the short edge of the mat. This will be dead on 90 degrees for some, for others it may mean slightly less than that.
In short, as with Warrior I, is that the thigh bone, knee cap, and second toe all point in the same direction. This may be easy to understand, but it’s damn hard to see – especially in your own body…. Keep reading on, we explore this more in the leg section.
Front (right) leg:
The front, right leg is bent, with the right knee exactly aligned over the right ankle. Ensure the knee is not in front of the ankle, as that puts pressure on the front of the knee joint (not good) and that it’s not behind the ankle, as then you’re somewhere between Warrior II and Trikonasana, but not getting the benefits of either.
As mentioned above, your thigh bone, knee cap and second toe all need to point in the same direction. A common mis-alignment in Warrior II is for the front knee to fall inside the big toe, so do watch out for that. There’s more info about the knee joints at the end of the post.
Getting the alignment is one thing, but keeping it for several breaths is completely another. Top tip: focus on keeping a steady breath and even distribution of weight through your feet. It’s tiring, but so energising!
Back (left) leg:
The actions of the back leg present a challenging combination. The back leg is in ‘extension’ i.e. the front part of the hip (a tight area for many) is stretching, maybe a little, maybe a lot. The thigh bone also rotates in the hip socket to allow the leg to angle away from the body. This action in anatomical terms is ‘abduction’. (Think of the leg being abducted from the body.)
Extension and abduction of the leg, together, is a challenge. Think about how many of us spend most of our day – sat in a chair with legs bent and knees pointing straight forwards. This repeated action, over time, means that the inside and outside hip joints get tight and weak and therefore struggle to maintain this position. The body starts to default back to what it’s used to: both legs together, knees pointing forwards.
Think about this next time you’re in Warrior II – notice where your legs want to be and how much work it is to keep them in alignment. It’s tough! But that’s yoga.
As indicated just above, aim the front hip bones (ASIS or Anterior Superior Iliac Spine) to point at the long edge of your mat. Once again, next time you’re in Warrior II, be aware of the ASIS and see if you can notice where they’re pointing to.
A common misalignment in Warrior II is collapsing in the lower back. The ‘opening’ action of the hips tends to invite us to lift the tail bone and therefore arch the lower back. Think about being in Setu Bandasana, and the backbend wants you to send the knees wider than the hips… This is a common backbend mis-alignment just caused by the anatomy of how many of us spend the bulk of our days.
So back to Warrior II. Take your focus to your spine, and think about making it long, long, long. One hand on your tummy, and one on your tailbone will help to indicate to you whether the tail is lifting, which then indicates a collapse in the lower back. Alternatively, or, additionally, you can think about dropping the lowest of your front ribs towards your ASIS (front hip bones). This will help to align, and lengthen the spine.
Relax them. If in doubt, hunch the shoulders right up by the ears with a big old inhale, and then let the shoulder blades relax down the back with a deep, satisfying exhale. The muscle that activates to hunch the shoulders is the Trapezius, but the Trapezius has no business in Warrior II. None at all. Tell it to bugger off and have a break. It will learn. (Eventually).
Are in a ‘T’ position. Reach past the ends of the fingertips, keep reaching, and then reach some more. This reaching action is intensely strengthening, and somehow feels easier (..?!) than if were internally thinking about ‘lifting’ the arms.
Over the front – right – middle finger.
Bonus info – the knee joint:
Our knees are ‘hinge joints’. A common hinge joint that we come across in everyday life is that of a door. Imagine if you repetitively tried to open a door on a diagonal – pulling the door up to open it… It would break, or at least, not be very happy. This is – essentially – what’s happening to the knee joint, if the knee falls inside the big toe when bent. The hinge of the knee joint loves having equal force on each side, but if the knee falls to one side, that side will have more force than the other, and over time it will weaken and break (ouch!).
This is comparatively easy to see in the front knee, because it’s bent. From where your head is, in Warrior II, if you can see the littlest toes, you can assume the knee is falling inwards. Ideally, you can see just the big toe – but that depends on lots of factors and isn’t the most amazing alignment cue I’ve ever heard in my life.
Another – potentially more useful and practical – guide to understanding where the knee is in relation to the ankle joint (and therefore the second toe) is to feel how your body weight is being distributed through your right foot. If the weight is falling to the big toe side of the foot, that indicates that the knee is falling inwards. If the weight is evenly distributed, that indicates the knee must be over the ankle joint. This is what we want.