Disclaimer: I am not in any way trying to be harsh, or offend any yoga teachers, but this is something that has been on my mind lately…
It is very common for teachers to move from Virabadrasana I directly into Virabadrasana II. Unfortunately, it is much less common for this transition to be taught with care. I have witnessed many teachers sacrifice safe alignment in the name of the almighty “flow”. Most often I hear teachers say, “…now open up into Vira II”.
The poses are distinctly different and work varying muscles. It is not enough to simply “tell” a student to change positions, especially beginners. The transition between and the different foundation of the poses require careful instruction for all students to be proper aligned and thus practice safely. When we take the time to align our bodies in asana practice we create the conditions for true extension and freedom on the mat. This, in turn, enhances our ability to grow our practice and the hope that the lessons we learn extend beyond the studio and into our life.
In Vira I, unless you are BKS Iyengar, it is highly unlikely your hip flexors are open enough to “square your hips” as many teachers instruct. Yes, we are hoping to move the pelvis toward square but this is accomplished through the muscular action of engaging the back inner thigh and working the pelvis TOWARD the front of the pose. It does not have to get there. If we simply torque our pelvis around we risk damaging our often already tight hip flexors that need a little love and affection if they are to listen to our grand ideas of a “full” Vira I.
To create a stable foundation and thus greater freedom in the pelvis and hip flexors most students need more width between the feet. To accomplish this, teachers can instruct students to “heel/toe” the front foot “out”, towards the edge of the mat so the feet on our “train tracks” as opposed to a “tightrope”. This can be taught in Low Lunge before lifting the arms up by the ears. By providing newer students and those with tight or even “normal” hip flexors with this one alignment point, it is much easier to feel an effective yet challenging stretch in the hip flexors. The pelvis can work toward square and a greater sense of commitment can be given to bending the front knee toward ninety degrees.
From Vira I, to simply cartwheel the hands open to Vira II leaves the front foot out of proper alignment for Vira II. Teachers very rarely instruct how the front foot needs to “heel/toe” towards the midline of your mat and come into “front heel to back arch” alignment in your foundation for Vira II.
If we do not make this adjustment we put the groin of our front leg at risk of strain in addition to the back knee being more susceptible to a “tweak” through over torqueing. With a stable foundation the torso is able to stay perpendicular to the ground (just like Tadasana), as we turn our gaze out over the middle finger of our front hand.
These transitional alignment points take all of 30 seconds or less to instruct yet are consistently ignored by many teachers. Here’s to more of us teaching these basic poses with care and consideration so our students can experience the freedom in their body that can lead to freedom in their heart.