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Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana III) - Issues and solutions

List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:

Warrior 1 Pose Potential Problem Areas Image
            · Balance

            · Shoulders

            · Chest/Breathing/Heart

            · Lumbar Spine

            · Hips, hamstrings and knees

            · Ankles and feet

            Pregnancy





Balance

In terms of balance this is quite a demanding pose. Practising beside a wall can help, as can resting a hand or the lifted foot on a wall or chair. And, as always with balance, having a focus (such as a mark on the floor) to let one’s gaze rest upon can be a great aid – as can imagining the standing foot rooting down into the earth. However, those with poor balance can get much of a feel of the pose without lifting the unweighted back foot off the floor. Simply rest the toes on the floor behind and have the trunk in-line with the back leg so that there is a sense of length between the crown of the head and the heel of the unweighted leg.


Shoulders

Traditionally, in the full version of the pose, one holds the arms either side of the head pointing away from the hips – for those with free shoulders this creates a lovely feeling of length between the hands and the lifted back heel. However, this is a more tiring position than with other arm positions. Also, fully free shoulder joints are unusual – and aiming for this arm position without fully free shoulder joints will lead to compromises in the upper back away from ideal thoracic spine alignment. So, if one is taking the arms to this sort of position, it is good first to swing arms from the lower back or side to pointing sideways at shoulder level (in the same plane as the trunk) and mentally to check that the upper back still feels free and long. If it does, then try bending elbows so the forearms point more away from the hips (than sideways). And then encourage elbows and forearms to move forwards away from hips as far as feels comfortable - with the upper back staying feeling free (again, throughout this, the whole of the arms staying in the same plane as the trunk). This way one still gets the feeling of length without locking up or compromising the upper back.

However, having the arms pointing away from the hips is far from necessary in this pose – and. in particular, those with “frozen shoulder” type problems would do better to explore the pose with arms in other positions. Hands can be placed on the lower back (back of hands against lower back with little finger touching thumb of other hand) – this is great for aiding awareness of the shape of the lower back. Hands can also be in nameste, or one can have arms by one sides, or pointing out sideways.


Chest/Breathing/Heart

This is not at first glance a challenging pose for the chest area. However the balance aspect of the pose is greatly affected by one’s calmness and the degree of smoothness of the breath. So, if one does a vigorous actively like some fast sun salutations before practising this pose, it is sensible to allow the breath to calm – simply standing in Tadasana with hands in nameste will suit many. Twists and centering practices will generally also be helpful as preliminary or transition practice.


Lumbar Spine

Ideally, in this pose the lumbar spine is perhaps slightly elongated but is otherwise close to its neutral natural shape – so the spinal joints should not be experiencing significant strain. The back muscles do, however, have to work hard to maintain the shape of the spine – for moderately healthy backs this should cause little difficulty and has the benefit of encouraging (or maintaining) strength in the back muscles. Those whose back muscles are a little weak can reduce the effort of maintaining the back shape by not inclining the trunk to horizontal – the less far forwards the trunk is inclined, the less work the muscles of the back have to do. Similarly, the arm position affects the degree of work for the back muscles – the most work is needed with arms pointing away from hips, a little less work is needed with arms pointing sideways and the least work is needed for when the arms are by one’s side or hands are on lower back.

Ideally, in the pose the pelvic girdle is adjusted so that both sides are equally close to the floor – where this is not the case, the lumbar spine ends up a bit twisted. This is more likely to be a problems for those whose lumbar back is vulnerable and even there the degree of twisting would usually need to be quite large to cause noticeable problems. However, learning to avoid this issue is part of the challenge of the pose – so this is something for everyone to learn to avoid.

Those with vulnerable lower backs may find it helpful to consciously maintain abdominal tone – but generally, except in the case of really extreme lower back problems, this should not make this pose difficult to practise well.


Hips, hamstrings and knees

In the full version of the pose, both legs are straight with one leg at right-angles to the floor, the other parallel to the floor. Such a position is not possible without long hamstring muscles in the standing leg. The solution is to simply have the standing leg a little bent at the knee. This is actually helpful for most with regard to balance – as it allows for a greater degree of micro-adjustments and encourages the standing leg to strengthen. The hamstring of the lifted leg needs to be strong to hold the leg up and so do some of the buttock muscles.

Knees are not typically challenged in the position – although, if the standing leg is bent at the knee, those with vulnerable knee joints should take care over the knee alignment. In practice, this may necessitate reducing the balance aspect of the pose so that less micro-adjustments are occurring, potentially nudging (if only temporarily) the knee out of a healthy alignment.


Ankles and feet

The ankle and foot of the standing leg are in an essentially neutral position. However, the foot and ankle are supporting all the body’s weight and, with the micro-adjustments needed to maintain this, there can be a lot of movement in the ankle and shifting of “weight” around different areas of the foot. For those with healthy ankles and feet, this is great as it encourages strength and responsiveness.

Those with feet or ankle problem may well find it helpful to reduce the micro-adjustments by reducing the balance aspect of the pose. Or, if is that is not sufficient, you should practise a different pose that does not put the weight all on one foot.


Pregnancy

Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to give a better explanation.

In the later stages of pregnancy, one of the issues that needs to be borne in mind is that the womb starts to press against the inferior vena cava (main vein in the trunk) and the aorta (main artery). This has implications for blood circulation to and from the legs. It is thus unwise to hold the leg part of standing postures - with risks of discomfort, tiredness (in legs) and an increased likelihood, over the long term, of getting varicose veins or tissue fluid issues (oedema) in the legs. With regard to warrior poses one should only really go in and out of the leg part of the pose (i.e. omit any static holding the leg part of the pose for more than a couple of breaths). Since one is not holding the leg part of the pose it is not so relevant to mention that holding the arms lifted may be unhelpful from a breathing point of view. Also one obviously does not want to challenge oneself too much balance-wise if there is a risk in doing so that one will fall over. Practising poses like Dandasana (and Tadasana) and Easy pose with or without exploring lifting the arms overhead will probably give one the key meditative feeling of stillness that is so central to what balance poses are about.

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