Yoga Pose of the Month: The peaceful warrior

By Charlotte Bell

Spring cleaning for the brain.
by Charlotte Bell

In the early Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year. For a civilization with empire ambitions, the start of a new year seems like an opportune time to start a military campaign—and so the Romans named March for Mars, the god of war.

March’s boisterous beginning earns the month its name. But by the end of the month, the warrior calms. March’s balance of bluster and peace make it the perfect metaphor for yoga asana, the physical practice described in the yoga sutras as being “steady and comfortable,” or “firm and soft.” The foundation of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is ahimsa (nonviolence), or as Alistair Shearer translates it, “dynam­­ic peacefulness.” So in yoga, the warrior is peaceful—dynamic, resolute and steady, with a core of calm.

So too, is this month’s pose, Warrior I, a perfect balance of dynamic grounding and buoyant ease. In Warrior I (also known as Virabhadrasana I in Sanskrit), the lower body roots strongly into the ground, while the upper body rises up to the sky. This dynamic combination grounds and stabilizes as it generates an uprising energy that nourishes the spine and clears the mental “cobwebs.”

Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart at one end of a nonskid mat with most of the mat extending back behind you. Feel how your feet connect with the floor. Do you feel even weight across the feet—from right to left, from inside to outside, from the balls of the feet to the heels? Assess your energy: What are you bringing to the pose? Do you feel heavy or light in the body? Do you feel an upward or downward flow of energy? Is your energy agitated or calm?

Step your right leg straight back about a leg’s length (three feet or so). Make sure your right foot is facing mostly forward, so that your toes are only slightly angled to the right. It’s okay if your right heel doesn’t reach the floor—let it lift, but keep the right knee straight and extend strongly back through the leg. Now let your kidneys soften back so that the bottom ribs move toward your expanding lower back. As your lumbar area releases, extend your right heel down a bit more.

Hands on hips, press down into your hipbones, encouraging the legs to feed into the feet, and the feet to ground into the floor. Root strongly through the legs as you reach your arms up toward the sky, taking care not to jut your lower ribs forward as you raise your arms. Bend your left knee into a square, keeping the knee aligned over the lower leg so that it doesn’t roll either in or out. Keep bending your knee until it is directly over your heel.

Make your lower body—from your pelvis to your feet—very heavy and grounded. From that grounding, let the upper body—from the waist up to the fingertips—rise up and reach for the sky. Take five to 10 deep, relaxed breaths. Then press the feet into the floor to straighten the left knee. Step your right leg forward and return to standing with your feet hip-width apart. As you stand, note what has changed in your body as a result of practicing the pose. Then repeat the process on the other side.

With its combination of grounded strength and lightness, Warrior I is the perfect pose to help you ease into change—the blustery, unpredictable days of March, or the inevitable, constant change that marks all our lives. Practice Warrior I when you feel tired, sluggish or nervous. And don’t forget to breathe slowly and deeply in the pose, so that the warrior you become in the pose is a peaceful one.

Charlotte Bell is a yoga teacher, writer and musician who has taught yoga and meditation along the Wasatch Front and beyond since 1986. She is the author of “Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life.”

This article was originally published on February 28, 2010.