Yoga Tip Tuesdays: Warrior 3

This week's Yoga Tip is about Warrior III - a challenging standing balance.  Once again, one of the keys to finding a safe & stable expression of this pose is to engage the core muscles and keep the pelvis stable so you support your lower back.

The fundamentals of the pose are to stand on one foot and extend the other leg straight out behind you while bringing the torso parallel to the floor. Already this is pretty tough - it requires strength in the quadriceps and quite a bit of flexibility in the hamstrings to extend the lifted leg straight out. And as if that wasn't tricky enough, in the full expression of the pose you also extend your arms out in front of you.

Whether coming up into this pose from Warrior I or coming down into it from standing, I usually like to approach this pose in two phases: getting the standing balance, and then extending the arms.

Since this is a challenging pose, it can take a long time to find a steady, comfortable expression - they aren't called Warriors for nothing! But no matter where you are with this pose, when coming into the standing balance, here are 2 "don'ts" to watch out for:

1) Don't let the raised hip 'float' up

Since this is an asymmetrical pose, it's almost instinctual for the hip on the raised leg to 'float' open a bit.  This is also an "escape valve" if your hamstrings are tight.

When the hip lifts (external rotation), the pelvis  - and therefore the torso - twist, the standing thigh internally rotates, and this puts pressure more on the knee (and to some extent the ankle), which is supporting the whole weight of the body.  Since the knee is stabilised by ligaments, and since ligaments are connective tissue and can't stretch, putting too much strain on them is a bad idea, and can lead to injury.

Counter the floating hip by:
  • Dropping the raised hip down by flexing the toes and pointing them towards the floor (which internally rotates the thigh); and strongly pressing through the lifted heel. 
  • Engaging the standing quadricep and adding some external rotation to counteract the body's tendency to let the thigh - and therefore the knee - work inwards;
You might feel an increased hamstring stretch as you do this but will also have more stability as you bring the pelvis back in line. Remember not to lock the standing knee!

2) Don't over-arch the lower back

With the combined motion of extending the arms and the back leg, it's easy to give in to gravity and let the front of the body pull downwards, increasing the arch in the lower back. Furthermore, we usually tend to crane our necks to look forward and up in this pose, which exaggerates the arch even more.

  • Keep the tailbone lifting as you lift the belly button strongly upwards and 
  • Bring your neck in line with your spine. 
  • Imagine extending between the heel of the raised foot and the crown of the head so the spine lengthens and the arch in your back is minimised. 
The strong core is, eventually, what you will need to hold your arms out in front of you as well.  Remember that your lower back is naturally curved, so we are not trying to eliminate a curve, just to make sure that we are not putting too much strain on the

  • Do the pose with your hands in prayer, hands stretched out behind you, or even with arms entwined, (it makes for a nice vinyasa up to Eagle pose!)
  • Do the pose with your palms pressing into the wall
  • Do the pose with your back heel pressing into the wall
  • If your hamstrings are too tight, allow your knees to bend while trying to keep the rest of the alignment of the pose.
What are your thoughts, challenges, creative modifications or vinyasas of Warrior 3?