January 19, 2014

Revolutionize Warrior One. ~ Madelaine Standing

Shouldn’t yoga be preventative in its very nature? To serve as remedy for possible future ailments?” 

My first yoga classes where I was in regular attendance were in the tradition of Ashtanga flow in the year of 2005 in the United States. The greatest insight into Warrior One that I received at that time was through observation of my teacher, who moved around the room to view how each of us embodied the posture.

During these opening days of yoga, I also learned quite a lot from the experienced students practicing on either side of me. I would hear the basics echoed to me as I found my way: place the knee over the ankle; drop your shoulders and the skinny side of your shoulder blades down your back, and on the instructions went in order for me to experience the pose to its fullest.

My only confusion around the pose in these classes was that when I would purposefully arrange my front heel to align with the back foot’s arch, as I was instructed to, I would feel a noticeable pulling in my back knee the moment that the teacher detailed the cue, “Now, face your hips to the front of the room.”

It was in these same Ashtanga classes that I was informed alongside the other students that the most senior instructor was getting double knee surgery the following month and that his class would be discontinued.

He was a lithe man with the noble body of a person who had surrendered and dedicated to the practice for 30 years or so. His face structure was visible and covered with very little excess weight as was the rest of his body. He spoke quietly and seemed to practice with discernment and consideration of all the anatomical perspectives that one can be aware of. From his mouth to our ears he spoke, “I’ve practically lived in the yoga studio for the last 30-some odd years and I will miss it greatly over the upcoming months while I’ll be away recovering from my surgery.”

I recall feeling uncomfortable because though I was concerned for his well-being, I felt equally curious as to why he was getting knee surgery in the first place, if he had spent most of his life nurturing his body through consistent healing and empowering movement. I could easily observe his measured approach to yoga in the last month before his surgery. I had questions but was too shy to say anything because I was so new to the practice.

His story stayed with me for years.

When I completed my 500 hour Hatha, Zen and Restorative Yoga Teacher Training Certifications, I gained greater insight into Warrior One.

During the process, I tried the option of allowing my back hip to remain slightly out to the side without pulling it forward to square to the front of the room while my feet remained in the previously described position of front heel to back arch alignment. I found that this option came as a relief to my knee. But I missed the sensation of completely facing forward while I raised my body skyward in the victorious stance. Plus, I still felt that I was on a tightrope and that was disconcerting to me.

Due to my Southern upbringing, which regards questioning and inquiry as vaguely rude, I didn’t mention a word to my Master Asana Teacher. Instead I found acceptance for the new variation and indeed was grateful to at least be aware of the discomfort without that very discomfort ruling me. Mind over matter, at least I didn’t have the pain in my back knee anymore at my tender young age of 24.

As I moved along in my yoga teaching years from 2007 to 2012, I consciously began to make a shift to my instruction.

I began to integrate what I did in my home practice:

The simple variation of stepping the front foot slightly out to the side simultaneously as it is being brought forward in preparation for Warrior in one gentle swift motion. Then, placing the back foot down at 45 degrees.

So, what’s the difference?

The front heel is now in alignment with the back heel or perhaps even slightly wider if more comfortable.

This variation of the Warrior One stance proves to honor the width of the hips.

When we look down at both feet from this position and momentarily turn the back heel out so both toes are facing forward we notice that our feet are now closer to being hip width apart, depending on what degree we choose to experiment with bringing the front foot not only forward but simultaneously to the side.

“But, why care so much about details that have been given to us as a gift, for goodness sake, from elders and civilizations that have existed eons longer than we’ve been around (in this present day body)?!”

Here are a few of the possible benefits of taking a wider stance:

First, more space at the base of the spine allows for greater flow of energy. From an energetic view, increased flow of energy can contribute to a healthier root chakra which can mean the discovery of more ease in our closest relationships. Please note that if there has been a trauma at the root of the spine, whatever that may be, the added opportunity for the body to rid itself of “old” or “stuck” energy can only further increase the already present benefits of Warrior One.

More space at the base of the spine can also aid in easier movement of craniosacral fluid throughout the rest of the spine, increasing cognition and healthy brain function for the practitioner.

Additionally, greater space at the base of the spine may also contribute to enhanced digestion and thus the acceleration of the elimination of the body’s waste, which will consequently support the daily detoxification that our body needs.

Well, quite frankly, this addition may not be a fit for everyone’s toolbox. But it might fit for some or their select students, if one is a facilitator of teaching yoga classes and perhaps see the body form of yoga as being a healing art form. In truth, we all know that the yoga asanas in and of themselves offer vital empowerment. Therefore, always creating space for people to embody the postures in new ways most suitable to them can be empowering for us as teachers and as participants .

I wonder if other practitioners have experienced similar circumstances or been prone to similar curiosities?

As a teacher I see it as my duty to open up vista points of possibilities for others to be a bit brighter, lighter and well-adjusted on their mats.

It’s not my duty however to tell them one way of being.

To me one of the most key parts of being well-adjusted means being aware of and honoring our bodily boundaries. This includes making our own choices in our practice and in the way that it is conveyed to others.

The rather long journey that the lineage of yoga itself has taken as it has traveled from the eastern to the western world may contribute to perhaps lessened communication surrounding the possibilities of Warrior One. Today, after going through many evolutions and moon phases myself, I feel strongly that some things may have been overlooked in yoga’s transcontinental and trans-century move through time and space to get where it is today.

The practice and how it fits into the bodies of yesteryear in comparison to today’s bodies has and continues to change from what it was originally. The practice as best we know it stems from lovingly documented texts written by its original and tenacious creators. Still, I wonder if components of these texts that have been understandably revered and painstakingly interpreted by some of the most sincere practitioners are not, if ever-so-slightly, missing the flexibility on this Warrior One stance.

As some of us may already know, women were “not allowed” to do yoga when it was first created. Yes, it is true.

And, what do we know about the difference between women and men’s bodies?

The distance of the space between the hip bones.

I wonder, did the men who eventually permitted their fierce female counterparts to take part instruct by their strict rules of the placement of the foot positions. Or, did they take time to pause in their instruction to mention, “Oh, and ladies, make sure to step your feet slightly wider to honor the width of your hips”?

Was yoga adapted to the female body when women were finally given the green light to hit the mat and start practicing? And, if not, then is the slight widening of the stance in Warrior One for women a worthwhile incorporation of action in today’s world of yoga?

What do you think?

Shall we make this equally as much Her-story, as it was His-tory, gals? All it takes is a little bit of forethought.

Please Note: in order to incorporate this difference you needn’t be a “feminist” (I don’t consider myself one). I simply consider that the woman’s needs are equal in significance and important to mention in a yoga class as our male counterparts. Again, is this slight shift in practice what is best for some? Maybe so, maybe not. At the end it’s not about where the foot is or where it is not. It’s about continuing to question what is being given to us and to remember that we may be closer than we perhaps realized to those people who created the practice when it comes to our ability to stand in our own positive personal power and our ability to create new and uplifting change for our communities one step at a time.

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Assistant Editor: Kristina Peterson/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Svante Adermark (flickr/swan-t)

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