Warrior II (also known as virabhadrasana II or B) is popular for good reason. When practiced effectively, it’s a full-body pose that builds leg strength, opens the hips, and expands the chest. With the back foot positioned almost perpendicular to the front foot, warrior II offers a stable base that enables students to connect to the earth and focus on the key actions of the hips. For most students, this standing pose is an accessible way to cultivate both strength and mobility through the pelvis and legs.
Despite its popularity, we often miss out on much of warrior II’s depth and potential. Let’s look at five common errors that can prevent you from reaping the full benefits of this powerful asana.
Warrior II is a vigorous and energizing pose for the legs, but many practitioners adopt too short a stance to take advantage of the pose’s inherent intensity. A good rule of thumb is to extend your arms out wide and then position your ankles under your wrists. From here, turn your front thigh and foot out so that your foot points to the short edge of your mat. Line up your front heel with your back arch and turn your back toes slightly in. Now that you’ve found your ideal stance, bring your front knee over your ankle so that your front thigh is parallel to the floor in a 90-degree angle. If your front thigh is not parallel to the floor, you will need to lengthen your stance. Remember: It’s called “warrior” for a reason!
While both legs should be engaged in warrior II, we often lose the power and support of our back leg, instead feeling all of the work in the front thigh. To find your back leg, root from your pelvis down into your back heel. Press strongly through your back heel as you bend your front knee toward 90 degrees. The engagement of the back leg will take some of the burn out of the front thigh, creating evenness of effort through both legs and allowing you to find more depth in the pose.
We often become “running warriors” in this pose (reaching too far forward with the upper body and shifting the hips toward the back foot). Instead, keep your back wrist over your back ankle as you sink into the pose. This will help keep your torso centered and your pelvis level. Once in the pose, check the position of your pelvis by placing your hands on your hips. Ensure that your front hip points are level with each other (rather than one lifting higher than the other) and that the hip points aren't dumping forward (which creates a backbend through the lower back). By keeping your pelvis even in the pose, you will be able to work through the deeper layers of tightness in your hips.
Because our outer hips are often weak, we may compensate by letting the front knee drop in toward the big-toe side of the foot. Instead, ensure that your front knee is directly over your front ankle and the line of your thigh tracks straight toward the front of your mat in line with the center of your foot. Press your knee toward the pinky-toe side of your foot in order to engage the external rotators and abductors of your front hip—essential muscles for pelvic stability and functionality.
How many of us have tried in vain to make our hips align perfectly with the long edge of the mat? This well-intended cue fails to account for the fact that most of us don’t have the skeletal structure to externally rotate the thigh a full ninety degrees at the hip. When we try to square our hips to the side of the mat, we either dump the front of our pelvis forward (creating lower back compression) or collapse our front knee inward. Focus instead on maximizing the range of motion possible for your hips. Once you have bent your front knee to 90 degrees, keep your front knee over your front ankle as you turn your pelvis toward the long side of your mat only to the extent that is possible for your body without the front knee rolling in. Turning your pelvis will engage your front hip’s external rotators. At the same time, keep extending out strongly through your back leg. The combination of the external rotation of the front thigh and the extension of the back leg creates balanced action in the pelvis, which both strengthens and opens the deep hip muscles.
Practicing these adjustments in your warrior II alignment will transform this foundational standing pose into a powerful opportunity for discovering your strength and opening your hips. The alignment you set here in warrior II will enhance your work in other externally rotated standing poses such as side angle, triangle, and half moon. So enjoy!