by Jenni Rawlings
Warrior I is a foundational yoga pose in most traditions, and for knee safety, there are a few key alignment points that both students and teachers should be aware of beginning with the often-overlooked back leg.
Common problems arise with the alignment of the hip, knee, ankle and foot. When your back heel is rotated down onto the floor, ideally, we’d like that entire back leg line to be angled equally at roughly 45-degrees (this varies student-to-student, of course). If the angle of your foot and ankle are wide while your hip is angled tightly, the knee—the unsuspecting link in the middle—will likely experience “torque”, a rotational, twisting force that can potentially injure the soft tissues of your knee joint. While the knee joint does have a small amount of natural rotational ability, its primary function is to hinge forward and backward, anatomically referred to as extension and flexion.
“Square off your hips to the front,” teachers often instruct during Warrior I Pose. Unfortunately, this common pose cue can lead to problems because if you force your pelvis to square off to the front, your back hip and ankle will no longer be aligned in the same angle. Again, this can potentially place torque on that back knee. If you imagine the wringing out of a dish towel, the top hand twisting represents your hip squaring off to the front, the bottom hand holding steady represents your foot planted on the floor. The twisted and compressed area of the dish towel in the middle represents your knee experiencing torque—ouch!
The solution? Instead of pushing your hip to square forward, allow the hip of your back leg to face the same direction as the back knee and ankle to maintain the integrity of your knee joint. Warrior I is a forward-facing pose, but rather than achieving this from the hips, we should use our torso. Instead of “squaring your hips to the front,” a more appropriate instruction would be to, “Square the chest forward.”
The alignment in your front leg is simpler and easier to learn. For starters, you don’t want your front knee to bend deeper than your front ankle line, and you don’t want it to collapse inward or outward. Instructors often say, “Bend the front knee directly over the ankle.” While technically correct, this suggests too deep a bend for beginning students who lack the flexibility to go down that far. The real goal here is to keep your ankle, knee, and hip in one aligned plane as you lower down to your own limit.
You may have a deep, 90-degree angle between the thigh and calf, or you might have a 110- or even 130-degree angle—and that’s just fine! If you stay in one aligned plane and don’t go past 90-degrees, you’ll be in a safe position for practice.
Most yoga students do Warrior I in every class, so it’s worthwhile to learn these subtle alignment pointers as they can transform your Warrior I from a knee-tweaking pose to an awesome, knee-supporting posture.
JENNI RAWLINGS loves to weave her natural interest in anatomy and biomechanics into her yoga teaching. You can find out more about her offerings and teachings at www.jennirawlings.com.