Also known as ‘sun warrior’ and ‘peaceful warrior’ this variation on the traditional virabhadrasana 2 gives a welcome opening to the sides of the body – notably the serratus anterior which we engage a lot during chatturangas and vinyasas, and the intercostal muscles which surround the ribs, helping to expand and open the upper body in order to make space for deeper inhales.
The weather where I am right now is hot, like hot yoga kind of hot…. So everything is surprisingly already very open, flexible and more accessible in my practice. In the UK though, it’s almost December, and freezing cold weather tends to make us more rigid and stiff, with a tendency to close ourselves off….
Reverse warrior is a posture you’ll likely find in a lot of flow-style classes; it’s a popular transition within standing sequences, and is a great opportunity to add more movement and fluidity into your practice. Part of the ‘dancing warrior sequence’, this variation of virabhadrasana can certainly add a more ‘dance’ – orientated energy to the practice.
Although reverse warrior is a relatively simple posture often only held for a breath or two, those breaths and that moment in the posture matters just as much as holding something like a headstand for two minutes…. A vinyasa flow practice offers us a way to bring our full awareness into each moment on the mat, appreciative of our body’s ability to expand, contract, move, twist, bend, open, and balance in a way that cultivates a calmer mind and a more ‘connected’ state of being.
This posture is all about opening up and letting the breath in, so notice while you’re moving whether there is anything restricting your sense of just opening up an letting it in…. In day-to-day life, we’re very used to over-thinking and holding on physically and energetically…. This over-thinking and holding-on is very closely linked to clinging-on to a sense of control; the need to control every little aspect of our lives so things go our way translates into our Yoga practice (because if you look closely, the way we are on the mat reflects the way we are in life). Needing to ‘hold on’, over-think and maintain control often shows up in our physical bodies as a holding-on in the neck – as a way to keep our heads still and ‘think straight’…. Ultimately, this need to control is based in fear; fear of not knowing what might happen when we let go, because not knowing is a little bit scary – but it’s also where our limitless potential lies. I was reminded of this by the brilliant Kathryn Budig at her workshop last Summer; When we are absolutely certain and in control, there’s a full-stop to our situation, the story ends there. BUT when we don’t know, when we let go and trust ourselves enough to just see what happens, then theoretically anything is possible – we empower ourselves to move beyond self-imposed limitations. (Basically, if you suffer with unexplainable neck pain and tension, look at your mind as well as your body for the cause of the problem….)
So if you’re feeling a little stiff, rigid, or have a habit of ‘holding on’ a little too tightly, then include reverse warrior in your practice to not only physically open up the body, but to let go and make some space in the mind too. To prepare the body for reverse warrior: To prepare the body for reverse warrior:
Start off in adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) and move forward to plank as you inhale. Continue moving between downward facing dog and plank for 5 breaths in order to wake up the upper body and to engage the serratus anterior a little.
When you next return to downward facing dog, focus on lengthening the sides of your body – from hip to armpit. Use the breath to expand not just front to back – but side-to-side too, so the serratus anterior and intercostal muscles begin to open up.
From there, step forwards to uttanasana (standing forward fold) and slowly inhale as you roll up to stand in tadasana (mountain pose).
Move through your surya namaskar A and B fluidly, with each movement in time with the breath. Take a few rounds of each before returning to tadasana.
From tadasana, take a big step back with the [right] foot and turn the outer edge of the foot parallel with the back edge of the mat. Allow the body open up so the torso and hips are facing the long-edge of the mat.
Keep the front knee over the front ankle so as to protect the ligaments either side of the knee joint (splaying in or outward puts unnecessary pressure on the already vulnerable joint, and pushing the knee too far forward isn’t too healthy for the patellar ligament at the front of the knee), and see if you can bend the front leg enough so the thigh comes parallel to the floor.
Traditional alignment says the front foot should be in line with the arch of the back foot, so give it a try – but if you need to shuffle around to make the posture suit and serve your body, then go for it until you find the position that works for you.
As you inhale, raise the arms in line with the shoulders for virabhadrasana 2. Notice any tension building in the shoulders or neck, and consciously let the shoulders relax down the back.
To come into reverse warrior, turn the front palm up as you begin to lean the body back and open up the chest towards the sky. Let the back hand slide down the back leg and keep raising the top arm up and over.
Although the arms are very much involved here, let the movement initiate from the pelvis and ‘core’. A brilliant and effective concept of T’ai Chi is to ‘let the arms float like ribbons after movement has been initiated from the legs and pelvis’. So keep the arms and hands light (not overly pressing the back hand into the leg if there’s a tendency to lean on it) and continue to use the breath to create expansion in the front side of the body.
Keep your drishti (gaze point) either up towards the top palm if that is available and comfortable, or down towards the back foot if you’re prone to dizziness or wobbling (like me….)
Stay here for 5-10 breaths, or for however long feels good to you.
To transition out, exhale as you bring the arms back along-side the shoulders, and mindfully step the feet together at the front of the mat into tadasana.
Notice the difference in how you feel before practicing on the other side of the body.
To counterpose this asana, make your way down to the floor, and practice pursvottanasana (stretching of the east or ‘upward facing plank) to engage the knees and thighs, and to re-integrate the muscles along the back and sides of the body.
This asana is good preparation for:
Parighasana (Gate Pose)
Parsva Konasana (extended side angle)
Ardha chandrasana (half moon)
Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (revolved Head-To-Knee Pose)
Staying curious within our practice entails a little bit of ‘letting go’. Remember; it’s when we allow ourselves to move into the unknown that we discover our limitless potential.