Warrior is one of the first asanas (poses) that beginning yoga students learn, and one that all students continue to perfect over the years. The stance: back leg is straight, front leg is bent at 90 degree angle with knee “tracking” toward pinkie of the front bent leg. The heel of the front foot is lined up with the instep of the back. Arms are extended, palms down; head is turned in the direction of the front extended arm.
It is a strong and powerful pose, what with the hands extended like blades in opposing directions as if to challenge and/or defend from ahead and behind. The feet and legs are placed in such a way as to give stability yet with the arms extended, there is also a delicious lightness in the torso. Whenever this one is comes up in class, I settle into the now-familiar feelings of stability and confidence. It’s comfortable, dependable, makes me feel good. Every now and then I assume the pose of the Warrior before doing something arduous or meeting up with what I know will be a difficult person or situation. Fitting my body into the skin of the Warrior pose gives an instant shot of confidence.
There is a variation on Warrior that brings a curious complexity. The pose of the Gentle Warrior is a true contradiction in terms yet it teaches something crucial. Here’s how it goes: assume the traditional Warrior as above. Now turn your hands palm up. That’s it. A 180º turn of the wrists and the entire pose is changed, its entire feeling and intent transformed. In Gentle Warrior one stands in strength, in a powerful and somewhat aggressive position, and yet, with the hands turned palms-up, there is vulnerability, invitation. “Come closer,” says this asana, not in a “Go ahead, make my day” taunt, but in a spirit of engagement. The Gentle Warrior says, “Come here. I am willing to meet you and I am strong enough for the encounter I am inviting you into.”
Over time, processing the inner meaning of this pose has enabled me to engage better with difficult people. Not all the time, by any means. But just having the body memory of strength and lightness, enables me to deal more securely with folks and situations that can make my heart pound. Over the years, in class after class, I toggle between Warrior and its gentler twin. I enjoy the feelings both asanas impart. It’s not about vanquishing an opponent so much as engaging from a place of confidence and security. A place of knowing what I have to offer and doing so with invitation, kindness and firm boundaries.
What is your favorite yoga pose?
What does it give to you each time you practice it?
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And, I can’t close this column without expressing gratitude to Katherine Austin and all my wonderful teachers at Karma Yoga and to Yvette Cobb at Yoga for Life.