Use a Chair to Get More Out of Warrior II
3 Variations to Enhance Your Practice
A key part of being a warrior is challenging yourself in new ways, which can be a lot of fun if you take a playful and exploratory approach. Try these expressions of virabhadrasana ll (warrior ll) using a chair as a prop to see if you can challenge what you know to be true about this asana. You just might gain new insight into some of the subtler dynamics at work in this “everyday” pose and how you work with them.
Warrior II is more than feet spread wide apart, one foot pointed directly forward and the other slightly inward, a 90-degree bend in the front knee, torso facing to the side, and arms extended at shoulder height. It embodies strength, perseverance, curiosity, and body awareness. Using a chair can help yogis of all levels specifically develop these qualities in a way that is supportive and engaging.
There are many ways to use a chair to deepen your experience of warrior II. In the following variations, you will explore lower body alignment that’s slightly different than you may be used to in order to target specific muscles, access more stability, or bring awareness to aspects of the pose that you don’t often focus on.
Variation 1: Redistributing the Load
Note: This variation is more demanding on the inner thighs than the classic version of the pose. If you typically struggle to keep your back leg straight in virabhadrasana II, use a much shorter stance in this variation or skip it.
Why to practice this one: To gain more awareness of the actions in the back leg and to make warrior II gentler on the groins, outer hips, and front knee.
Placing your front foot on a chair will change the weight distribution in your legs: More weight, or load, will now be felt in the back foot and less in the front. This brings awareness to the engagement of the back leg and decreases pressure in the hips and front knee, facilitating the opening of the hips and inner thighs, particularly if they are tight.
Props: Two mats, one chair, and optional wall and blanket.
The wall and a blanket can be used if you’re concerned about the chair tipping over. If you are, place the chair as close to the wall as possible, then drape the blanket over the back of the chair so that it fills the gap between the chair and the wall.
Setup and practice: Place the chair at the front of your mat (or against the wall) with the chair seat facing you. Make sure all of the chair legs are on the mat.
Fold the second mat and place it on the chair seat (to prevent your front foot from slipping). Place your left foot on the mat on the chair seat. Place your hands on the chair for balance as you walk your right foot back until there is about two and a half to three and a half feet between your feet (about your leg’s length). You can practice heel-to-heel or heel-to-arch alignment, and your back foot can be parallel with the short edge of your mat or slightly turned in (which is a particularly good option if keeping your back foot parallel strains your hip).
Take your hands off the chair and turn your torso to face the long edge of your mat, opening your arms out into a T. Bend your front knee deeply, maybe coming to 90 degrees, so that it’s stacked over your ankle. Press your outer right heel firmly into the floor.
Slowly pulse in and out of this position a few times, slightly straightening and then rebending your front knee, to work deeper into your hips and inner thighs. Keep your back outer heel rooting into the floor and pay attention to the load in each foot: Each time you pulse and briefly pause in virabhadrasana II, notice how—unlike in an unsupported warrior II, in which there is a 50-50 weight distribution between the feet—there is more weight in the back foot than the front foot, and notice how the left outer hip doesn’t have to work as hard as it usually does.
Then stop pulsing and hold the pose. In general, you want to feel about 70 percent of your weight in the back foot and 30 percent in the front. Observe the sensations in your front knee, across your hips, and through your inner thighs. Ask yourself: Is this a more accessible way of coming into the posture (specifically for my hips) than with both feet on the floor? Am I more aware of my back leg in space and the activity of my back leg?
Stay for five to ten breaths, then switch sides.
Variation 2: Seated on a Chair
Why to practice this one: To help with balance and to be able to stay in the pose longer, and without as much fatigue, in order to work on alignment and explore muscular engagement.
Props: One mat, one chair, and optional blankets and block.
Setup and practice: Place the chair in the middle of your mat so the seat faces the long edge. You may have to move the chair closer to the top of your mat if you are very tall. Make sure that your props and feet are on your mat at all times. Start seated on the chair facing the top of your mat. Extend your left leg toward the back of your mat so that the distance between your feet is about a leg’s length, allowing your hips and torso to turn to the left. Work with either heel-to-heel or heel-to-arch alignment, back foot parallel to the short edge of your mat or turned in slightly. Stretch your arms out into a T. Keep your right foot on the floor and your hips on the chair, using blankets or even a bolster to support them if they lift away from the seat when you come into the pose. You can also place a block under your right foot if it doesn’t reach the floor.
You can remain seated and passively allow your hips to open, or, to work more actively, you can hover over the chair, engaging your inner thighs, buttocks, and outer hips (the whole hip complex) by resisting your heels toward each other and drawing your sitting bones toward each other to create the external rotation of your thighs. (Notice particularly how when you firm your right buttock, your right knee drifts more to the right—toward your middle toe.)
Hold for 10 to 15 breaths, then switch sides.
Variation 3: Calf-and-Ankle-Focused Warrior II
Note: This variation is more demanding on the front of the ankle. If you have issues with dorsiflexion, you may want to skip this variation.
Why to practice this one: To redistribute the weight in the pose to a lesser degree than variation one, to release the front calf, and to bring more awareness to the actions of the front lower leg.
Props: Two mats, one chair, and a wall.
Setup and practice: Flip the chair over so its legs are in the air and place it on your mat with the chair rim snugly against the wall. Fold the other mat and place it against the underside, or “bucket,” of the chair. Facing the chair, place your left foot in the center of the bucket. With your hands holding on to the chair legs, step your right foot back about a leg’s length. Your back foot can be parallel or angled in slightly, as in the previous variations, but I find that angling in is preferable in this variation to avoid the possibility of turning the foot out, which the more downward angle of the back leg can facilitate. Lift your torso up into warrior II position by turning it to the right and stretching your arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Slowly bend your left knee and bring your awareness to your left calf and ankle.
With your front foot elevated in this way, there is a subtler shift of weight into the back leg than in the first variation. You do not need to bring your front knee directly over your ankle, as this may be too intense for your ankle, but you can certainly explore your range of motion here. You may also notice that the greater dorsiflexion exaggerates, and thus brings more awareness to, the work of the tibialis anterior (located on the lateral shin); this allows you to work on dorsiflexion of the ankle and extension of the toes, which can help improve your stride.
Stay for five to ten breaths and notice the release in your calf. Then practice warrior II with both feet on the floor to compare the sensation in your shin, calf, and ankle. Then switch sides.
I find that exploring these versions of warrior II breathes new life into my practice by turning off my autopilot and asking me to keep challenging myself. The chair gives my body automatic feedback, continually inviting me to adapt the pose. Embodying the spirit of a warrior means challenging yourself with new thoughts and new perspectives all the time, giving yourself time to adapt to, and become aware of, each nuance on the battlefield called life.
Photography: Emily Smith