Digging into the alignment of warrior I is like opening Pandora’s box. The complexity of the pose raises a number of questions, a few of which are particularly thorny:
• Am I supposed to square my hips?
• How long should the stance be?
• How much should I turn my back foot out?
In fact, the difficulty teaching warrior I has led many teachers to abandon it in favour of its more straightforward sibling, high crescent lunge. Both poses open the hip flexors, improve balance, and prepare the body for more challenging poses such as inversions and backbends. The two are pretty much identical, save for one key difference: In warrior I, you plant your back foot flat on the floor diagonally, while in high crescent lunge you turn your back heel straight up to the sky.
This small adjustment in the position of your foot is significant. When your back foot is turned flat, it forces your back leg into external rotation, which makes it virtually impossible to square your pelvis forward without twisting the knee or collapsing the foot. While each body is unique and the amount of “squaring” possible is different for each person, in a group class setting it’s hard for a teacher to give each student the personalized cueing needed to find their best expression of the pose.
By understanding the following common alignment myths about warrior I, however, you can empower yourself to explore the pose safely—which will then help you find your own optimal warrior.
Square your hips completely forward in warrior I.
As I mentioned above, when you place your back foot flat on the floor diagonally in warrior I, the position of the foot brings your back leg into external rotation, which “unsquares” your pelvis. If you force your pelvis to square to the front of the mat when in this position, you risk collapsing the inner edge of your back foot and inadvertently twisting the knee.
Solution: Keep the back leg in external rotation. This means that you will keep your back thigh turned out at the same angle of your back foot as you turn your pelvis toward the front of the mat (only turn your pelvis to the extent that you can without changing your back leg). Work to your own capacity and expect your hips to be angled slightly open. You will need to engage the glutes of your back leg moderately to keep your back thigh and shin bone aligned with the angle of your foot. Be careful not to overclench the glutes so that you can continue to lengthen the sitting bone down. This slight externally rotated position of the back leg ensures that the knee does not twist. Maintain this, and press into the outer edge of your back foot to lift your back inner arch.
Turn your back foot out 45 degrees. The degree to which you can turn your back foot out depends on the openness of your calves. While 45 degrees is an accessible and appropriate angle for many practitioners (which is why most teachers will default to cueing it), it will not be ideal for every body. If you have very open calf muscles, you may even be able to turn the back foot in in order to bring it more parallel with your other foot and still keep the heel down (but be careful not to turn it too much, or you will compromise your balance). However, if you have tight calves (as I do), you may not be able to get the whole foot to the floor when it’s turned 45 degrees.
Solution: To release the tension in the calf, turn your foot wider than 45 degrees. Remember, however, that you will also have to commensurately externally rotate your back leg to keep your thigh, shin, and foot aligned, which will cause your hips to be less square. If you find that you need to turn your foot out more than 70 degrees to accommodate your calf, then you may consider lifting your heel (see myth 3).
Always keep your back heel down. While turning your back foot wider than 45 degrees will release tension in the calf, it will also make it more challenging for you to work your hips toward “square.” If the back foot is at an angle that's greater than about 60 degrees, you will begin to lose the essential action of the pose, which is to engage the adductors and work your hips toward square. However, if you have tight calves and try to turn the foot forward, your back heel may lift.
Solution: If you have tight calves but don’t want to externally rotate the back leg to too great a degree, try placing a chip foam block or yoga wedge beneath your back heel and keeping the foot at a 45-degree angle. The extra lift will help you anchor your heel, while giving you more space to work the hips toward square.
Place your feet heel to heel. The feet are traditionally aligned heel to heel in warrior I. However, this tight positioning can make it challenging to balance. It can also be taxing on the hips, calves, and knees.
Solution: Explore taking the feet hip-distance apart (think railroad tracks rather than tightrope) to open up the pose and find more stability through your foundation. As your balance and stability in the pose increases, only then consider bringing the feet closer.
Bend your front knee to a square. While the ideal form of the pose may be to bend the front knee to a 90-degree angle, this position may simply be impossible for those of us with tight calves. Also, if you have tight hip flexors, you may find that bending the knee to a square overly compresses your lower back.
Solution: Shorten your stance. By shortening the distance between the feet, you will decrease the pull on the hip flexors and allow more space to keep the tailbone lengthening downward and the lower back spacious. Also, the shorter stance will decrease the pressure on your back calf. Or you can keep your stance long, but hinge your torso forward slightly to bring the spine in line with the angle of your pelvis. While this will not help tight calves, hinging forward will take the compression out of the low back and give you more space to lengthen your spine.
Because warrior I is a complex pose, it’s also an exciting opportunity to discover the unique capacity and needs of your own body. Playing with these options in your practice will help you find your own individualized warrior. Happy exploring!
The chakras have become a popular topic in New Age thinking, alternative medicine, and yoga, as has kundalini, the serpent power which energizes them. But there is a growing gap between how the chakras are viewed today and how they are regarded in traditional yogic literature. Today the chakras are used mainly for physical healing. This is different from, and at best preliminary to, the yogic process of Self-realization, which is concerned with going beyond the body and mind. Opening the chakras requires a radical change in consciousness, which usually occurs only after years of meditation. It is not a simple matter of emotional opening or physical cleansing.
Today, the chakras, like yoga, are defined in physical terms, which obscures their real purpose and function.
What has happened with the chakras is analogous to what has happened to yoga itself. Yoga means meditation, defined as “the negation of the dualistic thought processes of the mind” (Yoga Sutra 1.2). But today yoga has come to mean primarily asana (yogic postures), which is only an aid to the attainment of yoga. Chakra (not “shakra” as many people pronounce it) means “wheel,” literally “that which revolves.” In yogic literature it refers to the seven vital centers in the subtle or astral body, the body of life energy underlying the physical body. Their opening allows for the unfoldment of higher states of consciousness leading to the awareness of the Supreme Self. Yet today, the chakras, like yoga, are defined in physical terms, which obscures their real purpose and function.
Misconceptions About Chakra Healing
In much New Age thinking, imbalances or blockages of the chakras are regarded as the root of disease, which is then treated by correcting the function of the affected chakra. This misconception has spawned a whole group of practitioners who claim to heal our chakras for us. Others claim to be able to energize our chakras and thereby not only cure what ails us but also give us inner knowledge and experience. Some of these procedures can be very expensive and many are highly speculative.
Most chakra healing today emphasizes external measures such as gems, herbs, bodywork, sound or color therapy, and vibrational healing; often various machines are used to treat the chakras. In addition, psychic healers claim to work on the chakras directly through their mental or occult powers. Working on the chakras with such methods is supposed to open or awaken them, or to induce higher states of consciousness in the person being treated.
The yogic approach is aimed at opening the chakras, not for healing purposes or to gain occult powers, but as a part of the process of Self-knowledge. For this yoga employs internal practices of mantra, pranayama, and meditation, which we must do for ourselves; external means, such as diet or herbs, are only secondary aids.
According to the yoga system, in the ordinary human state, which is rarely transcended except by sustained spiritual practice, the chakras are closed; that is, they do not truly function. The result of this is not disease, but ignorance. This ignorance consists of regarding the external world as the true reality and living without awareness of one’s true Self, which is neither body nor mind but thought-free awareness. One’s chakras can be closed and yet one can be healthy, emotionally balanced, mentally creative, and successful in many areas of life. The purpose of opening the chakras is not to improve one’s capacity in the ordinary domains of human life but to go beyond our mortal and transient seeking to the immortal essence.
Traditional yoga views the chakras as influencing physical functions only in a secondary way.
Today, the chakras are generally described as force centers within the physical body, with the sushumna nadi or central channel being identified with the spine. The chakras are related to various spinal centers and the physiological processes they govern, such as digestion, respiration, or reproduction. However, traditional yoga views the chakras as influencing physical functions only in a secondary way.
The current tendency to confuse the chakras with their corresponding functions in the physical body is based on a lack of understanding of the nature and function of the subtle body. The subtle body is the subtle counterpart of the physical body, and has a similar form. Yet it is composed of a finer matter than space in the physical world, and cannot be perceived by the physical senses. It belongs to another plane of existence, which we normally access only in dream states or after death. The subtle body allows the life force to enter into the physical body; without it the body could not even move. The subtle body is always active within the physical body, as the source of its vitality, though its activity is obscured by the veil of physical conditions.
The chakras are not part of the ordinary functioning of the subtle body. They take on a significant role only in states of heightened awareness or spiritual awakening. They represent the opening up or the mergence of the subtle body with the consciousness beyond it. While we can correlate physical and subtle body components and functions, we should realize that the two are not the same, and the spiritually opened astral or subtle body is something else entirely.
Kundalini If the chakras are to come into function, they need another, much higher source of energy than what the physical body can provide. This is the role of the kundalini or serpent power, which lies dormant in the subtle body. Kundalini is not a physical force, nor is it an energy that one can manipulate with personal power. Kundalini is the concentrated energy of awareness or attention. It is not an energy apart from consciousness, but rather the energy that manifests with consciousness when it becomes free from thought. Only if a person has one-pointedness of mind can kundalini truly come into action, because only then does one have the possibility of moving beyond thought.
The awakening of kundalini requires that prana or life force enter into the sushumna or central channel. This occurs when the prana is withdrawn from its fixation through the thought process on the external world. As long as our life energy is identified with the physical body and its functions, it cannot be withdrawn into the central channel. For this reason, arousing kundalini and opening the chakras involves a state of samadhi in which we leave ordinary consciousness. In the beginning this usually involves a state of trance wherein we become unconscious of the physical body. Later it can be done in the waking state, without any impairment of physical action, but at that stage, the physical body is no longer experienced as one’s true identity.
A more accurate yet simple way to name the chakras is after the elements they rule.
The Chakras and the Physical Organs Because the Sanskrit terms for the chakras are cumbersome, there has been a tendency to name them after their corresponding physical location: crown chakra, brow chakra, throat chakra, heart chakra, navel chakra, sex chakra, and root chakra. While this is convenient, it also heightens the tendency to confuse the chakras with the physical body. A more accurate yet simple way to name the chakras is after the elements they rule: earth for the base of the spine, water for the urino-genital region, fire for the navel, air for the heart, ether for the throat, mind for the third eye, and consciousness for the crown chakra.
However, it is the cosmic functions of these elements that the opened chakras give access to, not their ordinary roles as components of our personal existence. The opened chakras provide knowledge of the unity of the objective constituents of the universe (elements), along with the instruments of cognition (sense organs) and the instruments of action (organs of action), which are the subjective constituents of the universe. When the chakras are opened we experience the cosmic nature of these elements within our own deeper awareness.
To bring the subtle centers into function, the gross or physical centers must be put in a state of rest or equilibrium. That is why the practices of yoga develop stillness of body, breath, senses, and mind (asana, pranayama, pratyahara, and dharana). To properly open the water chakra, for example, is different than having a heightened sexual drive. On the contrary, it requires that the physical sexual organ go into a state of latency and that the sexual drive be sublimated.
Similarly, to open the air chakra is quite different than to be in a heightened, vulnerable, or overly emotional state. To awaken this fourth chakra we must go beyond mere personal emotions and understand the cosmic energy behind all emotional fluctuations. This requires an opening to the universal feelings of compassion and devotion, and contact with the universal life force.
Strictly speaking, therefore, there is no such chakra as the sex center, or heart center, or any other chakra as a mere physical function. There is a chakra located in the subtle body in an area that corresponds to the region of the sex organs in the physical body and which is its subtle counterpart. However, the properly opened chakra is not concerned with the functions of the physical sexual organs but with the cosmic element of water and its corresponding activities. To call it a sex center invites misinterpretation.
The signs of opened chakras include a corresponding control over and detachment from the physical elements and organs. As long as one is attached to the physical organs and their functions, the subtle organs cannot come into play. The awakening of the consciousness behind the subtle body involves being able to take off the gross body and its functions like a heavy overcoat which is no longer necessary on a warm summer day.
Signs of Chakra Opening
To give a sense of what occurs when the chakras are opened, let us examine the signs of opening, chakra by chakra. Note that these signs are general. Experience is variable, particularly as to phenomena or powers. The main experience is a deepening sense of the unity of the universe with one’s own Self-nature.
Let us examine the signs of opening, chakra by chakra.
Earth Chakra When the first chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic earth element and aware of the underlying unity of all solid states of matter as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One comes to experience the qualities of the cosmic earth element—like hardness, roughness, density, and texture—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may perceive various subtle or celestial fragrances. Similarly, one understands all formative acts in the universe as different workings of the cosmic earth energy in its capacity to produce and sustain form.
Water Chakra When the water chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic water element and aware of the underlying unity of all liquid states of matter as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One comes to experience the qualities of the water element—like softness, wetness, coolness, and flowing nature—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may perceive various subtle or celestial tastes as an essence (rasa) that emanates from all experiences. Similarly, one understands all purificatory acts in the universe as different workings of the cosmic water energy in its purificatory role.
Fire Chakra When the third chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic fire element and aware of the underlying unity of all radiant states of matter as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One experiences the qualities of the fire element—like light, color, heat, and illumination—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may also experience subtle sights and visions, and perceive the radiance or aura behind things. Similarly, one understands behind all appearances in the universe the workings of the cosmic fire energy in its power of illumination.
Air Chakra When the fourth chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic air element and aware of the underlying unity of all gaseous states of matter as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One experiences the qualities of the air element—like motion, changeability, subtlety, and penetration—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may also perceive subtle energy contacts, and feel the underlying vibratory energies of the cosmic life-force. Similarly, one understands behind all contacts in the universe the workings of the cosmic air energy in its energizing role.
Ether Chakra When the fifth chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic ether element and aware of the underlying unity of all space in the universe as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One experiences the qualities of space—like lightness, subtlety, pervasiveness, and clarity—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may also perceive subtle sounds, and recognize the underlying spatial structure of the universe. Similarly, one understands behind all vibrations in the universe the working of the cosmic ether element as their matrix.
Mind Chakra or Third Eye When the sixth chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of cosmic mind and aware of the underlying unity of all minds in the universe as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One experiences the qualities of mind—like perceptiveness, creativity, discrimination, and detachment—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One gains the ability to integrate all the cosmic elements and their respective organs and functions through the activity of the awakened mind. One gains mastery over the mind and comes to have a continual stream of divine perceptions. One realizes that all we think is a manifestation of the cosmic principle of mind.
Consciousness Chakra When the seventh chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the Self or pure consciousness as the sole reality and underlying substance of the universe. One experiences the qualities of consciousness—like infinity, immortality, peace, and bliss—as one’s own nature and the underlying nature of the universe. One gains mastery over consciousness and comes to abide in a state of Self-realization, seeing oneself in all beings and all beings in oneself. One realizes that all things are manifestations of the Supreme Self, which is the sole reality.
There are also general signs of the awakening of subtle energies and faculties, like the experiencing of subtle sounds, lights, visions of deities, and so on, generally in the region of the third eye. But such experiences may come long before any particular chakra is opened.
Psychic Experiences and Powers
Each chakra can give an awareness of corresponding levels of the universe or different worlds beyond the physical. The corresponding sub-planes of the astral universe, which are quite marvelous beyond anything in the physical world, may become available to our experience. We may similarly gain insights into the subtle workings of nature, the senses, the life force, and the process of cosmic creation and powers over them.
Each chakra can give an awareness of corresponding levels of the universe or different worlds beyond the physical.
Yet not all yogis choose to explore the worlds or the faculties that relate to the chakras. Many great jnanis, or yogis of the path of knowledge, strive to merge directly into pure unity or the Absolute. In their awakening they may hardly note the distinctions of the chakras and their functions. Ramana Maharshi typifies this view. For him there was only one chakra or center, the Self, from which all the phenomena of the gross and subtle worlds and bodies appeared like the images seen in a mirror or bubbles on the waves of the sea.
Premature Chakra Opening
Opening the chakras requires purity of body, heart, and mind. It cannot be done willfully or forcefully, nor can it be done in a state of emotional disturbance. Attempts to awaken kundalini without having first purified the body and mind often lead to side effects in which the mind or the pranic force becomes disturbed, which results in various illusory experiences. For this reason, traditional yogic literature has always stressed right living (like a vegetarian diet and control of sexual energy), and right attitude (such as non-violence, non-possessiveness, and the other observances and restraints embodied in the yamas and niyamas).
It is possible to have aberrant kundalini or chakra experiences, although most of the experiences labeled as premature kundalini awakening are actually nervous or mental disturbances of a more ordinary nature. If the mind is not purified, there still can be a heightened activity of the lower chakras, which is accompanied by an increase in corresponding physical urges. That is why yoga texts state that beings of asuric or highly egotistical natures can open the chakras up to the navel, but their experiences will be tainted, and the functioning of the chakras will be deranged.
The Limits of Healers
Certain healers may be able to affect the physical counterparts of the chakras with external aids or with psychic energies—which may be helpful for treating various physical or emotional imbalances—but the true awakening of the chakras cannot be accomplished for us by an external person. No external person, machine, or object can open your chakras for you on their yogic level of functioning. The use of certain diets, herbs, or gems can be helpful in preparing the way for the opening of the chakras but these are only external supports. They can no more open the chakras than can asanas of themselves produce meditation. A guru, or one in whom the inner consciousness is awakened, can provide guidance or initiatory experience but cannot do the work for us. The real opening of the chakras requires the adept practice of yoga, which may take years, sometimes lifetimes, to accomplish and which stems from deeper yogic practices of pranayama, mantra, and meditation along with a disciplined lifestyle.
No external person, machine, or object can open your chakras for you on their yogic level of functioning.
Above all we should understand that opening the chakras is not an end in itself, but part of the process of Self-realization, which occurs primarily either through surrender to the Divine (bhakti or devotion) or inquiry into one’s true nature (jnana or knowledge). The current tendency to focus on the technicalities of the chakras rather than developing devotion or wisdom shows that we have not understood what spiritual practice is really about. It is analogous to being more concerned with the physiology of the stomach than with the quality of the food that we eat. The chakras are maps. They show the road and indicate the side paths where one can go astray. What is important is to connect to that Goal wherein one goes beyond all seeking.
Yogic literature speaks of various siddhis, or yogic powers, like the power to levitate, or the power to become as large or small as one likes. As the chakras open, these corresponding powers in the subtle body may be experienced. These siddhis relate primarily to the subtle body, which as subtle matter is totally malleable. It is almost impossible to translate these siddhis into the physical body, gross and dense as it is, and in any case, this is not the aim of yogic practices.
In addition, there are many subtle energies that exist between ordinary physical consciousness and the true awakening of the kundalini and the chakras. We should not regard any extraordinary experience as an enlightenment or a kundalini experience. Visions, out of the body experiences, trances, channeling, mystical dreams, genius, inspiration of various sorts and other such states often originate in other parts of the mind and are not necessarily spiritual experiences. Even when they are legitimate, such spiritual experiences may still fall short of the real awakening of kundalini, and certainly should not be confused with Self-realization, which requires the full development of our awareness, not giving ourselves over to some entity or experience outside ourselves.
Shared from: yogainternational.com
The alarm goes off. I reach for my phone, turn off the alarm and switch on my phone. Within a second I am receiving emails, messages, alerts and status updates. I am ripped out of the present moment before I have even taken a deep breath. I check what emails I have received, plan my day and see what is happening on social media. The impressions I receive will often determine how I will feel for the rest of my day.
Whether it be a waking up in the morning, a yoga pose, a relationship, a job, meeting a friend or family we often forget to stop and appreciate the present moment. We so often rush and hurry through life without noticing what is happening right here, right now. We plan, schedule, rush and prepare without allowing ourselves time for what is to happen and fall into place. We wonder what else we should be doing and what we are missing. We get stuck in thoughts about the past and worry about the future rather than seeing what is happening right now. The physical place we are in, emotional state and where we are in our life. What we already have and what we are already doing.
Whatever you are doing find something to be grateful for: if you are with someone you love, enjoy it. If you are doing something that you like doing, be happy for it. If you are in a beautiful place, be thankful for it.
Even if you find yourself in a place that you don't like, it is a moment to appreciate. Do you wish things were different, do you wish you were somewhere else...Notice how you are feeling. Notice your body. Be ok with what is, live in that moment and know that that moment is just a small part of your life, for better or worst, but still a part of it. And think instead of all the things you have, all the things in your life that you can be grateful for.
If a change is what you desire, do not force change. When you desire and welcome change, change will happen. There is no need to push or rush as this will only force you to take a step back and do again what you missed when you were rushing through your day.
So, whether you are practising on your mat, doing the dishes or speaking to a friend find quiet, find presence.
I recently came across an article in the Swedish version om OM magazine about how to change your morning routine to start your day more mindfully and I decided to give it a go. I find that since starting my new morning routine I allow myself the choice of how I want my day to be. I allow myself to wake up more mindfully.
Try for yourself and let me now what you find.
The alarm goes off but rather than turning on the phone you simply turn off the alarm and put the phone down. Giving yourself and your body the time it needs to wake up. Allowing the first minute of your day to be just about you. Stay in bed, take a few deep breaths and notice how your body is feeling - from your toes to the top of your head. Notice the sounds around you. What sounds are inside your room, outside your window? Now imagine what you want your day to look like, what you wish to happen, how you wish to feel and what you wish to acheive. Focus on this and take a few deep breaths. Then return to the present moment, moving your fingers and toes. Notice how you are feeling in that moment. Thank yourself for giving yourself this time to wake up mindfully.
Enjoy your day!