Asana Column: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II)
Now that you've correctly aligned the foundation of the pose, let's see what happens when you collapse. Allow your torso to deflate and lean over the front leg. Your abdomen will become heavy, decreasing the space in your hip sockets, and your back knee will drop toward the ground. Feel yourself being overwhelmed by gravity. Don't stay long, for most assuredly this is not a good way to practice: Collapsing places tremendous, potentially injurious pressure on your joints and ligaments.
Bend your front knee again, while continuing to extend through your back leg. Instead of collapsing, begin to push down through your feet, and maintain a constant push away from the Earth for as long as you stay in the pose. Notice what happens as you hold the pose by pushing the Earth away: Your muscles work relentlessly, your breath tightens, and fluid circulation decreases throughout your rigid tissues.
Now, before you get too tired, try yielding. Exhale deeply and allow the weight of your lower body to flow into the ground. Without collapsing, give yourself to the Earth and let it hold you up.
After a moment of yielding, you'll feel a rebounding force travel back through your legs, into your pelvis, up your spine, and through your head. Let this force move through you.
As you remain in the asana, notice how yield and rebound alternate in a rhythm intimately related to your breath. You cannot breathe fully unless you yield, and you cannot yield unless your breathing is open. Let yourself be curious and explore how breath, yield, and rebound interact: Where in your breath cycle do you feel the rebounding force most strongly? There is no right or wrong answer to this question; your personal, ongoing process of inquiry and discovery is what makes this practice yoga.
If you are having difficulty feeling the "yield" relationship to gravity in Virabhadrasana II, get help from a couple of trustworthy yoga friends. Have one person place her hands firmly around your back thigh while the other person holds underneath the front thigh close to the hip joint.
As you breathe out, have your friends give strong traction to the thigh bones. Make sure their pull directly follows the line of the bones—the diagonal of the back leg toward the back foot, and the horizontal line of the front femur towards the knee.
As you inhale, sense into your lower body. If you are listening and allowing the natural movement to happen, you'll feel your legs actually retract slightly back into your body as a result of the pulse rebounding up from the Earth. Ask your partners to follow this rhythm. As you inhale, they draw strongly out on your thighs; as you exhale, they maintain firm contact with your legs but allow the thighs to retract back toward your pelvis. If you get confused, go back to the pattern of "push and push." Then, on an exhalation, release the tension in your muscles and again listen for the rebounding flow of energy coming back from the Earth.
When you're ready, try Virabhadrasana II to the left. On this side, continue to explore the three relationships to gravity. How much can you yield before it turns into collapse? How much can you support the rebound before it becomes a rigid propping? Coordinate your exploration with your breath. As you breathe in, think of yourself as a glassblower, breathing life into the form of the asana from the inside out. As you breathe out, release from the center of your abdomen, allowing the release to travel along both legs and into the ground.
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