Updated: Dec 8, 2022
I started yoga randomly dropping in to a vinyasa / flow class and was confused half of the time. The moment I started to figure out a pose, everyone else have already moved on to the next one. After practising for years, I started to grasp what I should feel in some of the poses, but very often in class, I'd wonder about things like 'what do I do if I just can't square my hips completely to the front?'
In this post, I'll be breaking down Warrior I, the common habits that can make these poses difficult to access and provide ways to modify them.
Common Issue 1: Instability with Heel-to-heel Feet Position
The traditional cue for Warrior 1 is to align the front and back heel in one straight line. This works really well with narrower body types because heel-to-heel pretty much means hip width apart to them. However, for new yogis or those with a broader pelvis like mine, heel-to-heel can be a really tight narrow stance that makes it difficult to balance in this pose. Imagine balancing on a tightrope. That can be pretty tough.
Figure 1: Heel-to-heel (L), Feet Hip Width Apart (R)
Solution: It's probably worth considering having a broader stance for the feet, i.e. having them hip width apart like train tracks. This should create a more stable base to work into the pose and ultimately when the body is familiar with it, you can always challenge yourself by bringing the feet into a tighter position.
Common Issue 2: Unable to 'Square the Hips'
Have you ever felt that you're doing Warrior 1 wrong because you can't completely 'square the hips'? The good news is, you don't have to. The problem? A lot of people force their hips to completely face the front because they think they need to. Warrior 1 has the back foot turned out a little so the hips would naturally follow as well. Forcing the hips to completely face forward often results in pressure into the ankle / knee of that back leg as this creates a twist into those areas (refer red circles in Figure 2).
Figure 2: Completely Squared Hips (L), Hips Slightly Turned Out (R)
Solution: Allow the back thigh to still turn out as much as the foot, and only turn the pelvis to face forward without compromising the knee and ankle. Pressing into the outer edge of the back foot would also reduce the chances of collapsing body weight into that inner ankle / knee. If it still doesn't work completely, High Lunge is always a good alternative, and it's okay to have the hips facing forward in it.
Common Issue 3: Back Heel Doesn't Go Down
This is usually an issue due to tight calves or ankles. The back ankle often ends up in an awkward position, especially when students try to have the back foot exactly in 45deg. In this situation, Warrior 1 can be uncomfortable or difficult to balance.
Figure 4: Back Heel Floating (L), High Lunge (R)
Solution: It's okay to allow the toes to turn out a little further than 45deg. Find a position for the back foot that works, and then turn the hips only as much to the front as it can go, and then turn the chest forward. If it still doesn't work, do consider high lunge instead where the back heel is off.
Common Issue 4: Front Knee Doesn't Bend to a Complete 90deg
Those with tighter hip flexors tend to come into a shorter stride because with a wide stride and the front leg 90deg, the lower back can feel uncomfortable. This is because the spine (particularly the lower back) is subconsciously compensating by coming into a big arch to bring the body upright (refer red circle in Figure 3). Note that this is only an issue if you find yourself constantly overarching or putting pressure into the lower back. Otherwise, all is good with a 90deg front leg.
Figure 3: Completely Squared Hips (L), Hips Slightly Turned Out (R)
Solution: Bring more awareness into the position of the torso. Keep the front of the core and glutes slightly engaged so that there's less pressure into the lower back. If it still doesn't work, consider shortening the stride a little. The front leg wouldn't be in a 90deg bend and that's okay too.
Common Issue 5: Front Knee Collapsing Inwards
This is something that's typically seem among newer yogis. It can either be a lack of awareness or lack of strength and stability in the hips. Allowing the front knee to collapse inwards repetitively over time can put pressure into the inner part of the front knee or ankle.
Figure 5: Collapsed Front Knee (L), Stabilized Hips (R)
Solution: Bring awareness into tracking the front knee and toes to point forward while hugging the outer hip towards the midline. It's almost like you're zipping everything in and up.
As a teacher, I used to panic every time I read articles like this one, thinking that I've been cueing a pose the wrong way and potentially damaging my students' body along the way. Hence, I think it's important to always remember that there is only so much that we can share when giving cues in a class setting. Observe the body language of students, check in with them after the class, and offer solutions to their struggles. We'll always come across many different body types, and it's okay to have more than one way to do a pose.
For those who prefer a video format, here's a short summary video: