Asana Column: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II)
The Power of Yielding
As you explore, you'll become more and more familiar with the physical and emotional characteristics of each pattern. In the pattern of "push and push" or "prop," muscles tend to grip the bones, creating hardness in your tissues. This pattern impedes your circulation. When you're pushing too hard you'll tire quickly and waste products will build up in your muscles, making them feel heavy and sore the next day. In addition, whenever you hold yourself apart from your breath and the Earth, you create a frozen, isolated, defensive state of mind.
In the pattern of "collapse," muscles hang from the bones, joints lack integrity, and force is unable to travel through you efficiently. Your bones become like misaligned railroad tracks: When a train of force moves through you, it moves from side to side or completely off the track, rather than in a powerful, unbroken line.
By contrast, when you yield in your relationship with gravity, force can transfer smoothly from bone to bone, and your muscles can work with maximum efficiency. You may notice that when you let the Earth hold you up, you can stay in the pose a great deal longer than you can when you're pushing the Earth away. With some practice, you can feel all the muscles in your body moving with your breath in an undulatory rhythm.
In Virabhadrasana II, your leg bones will actually migrate away from and back toward your pelvis, becoming a part of the breathing process. In fact, when we get out of our own way, no part of the body is held separate from the breath. When you allow yourself to be moved by the breath as it rebounds from the Earth, your mind becomes open and receptive, returning to its naturally inquisitive nature. But all of this will only happen if you let it happen: You cannot achieve yielding through effort. It can only happen when you begin to let go of effort, balancing intention with release.
My own discovery of the power of yielding came through illness. Some time ago I was chronically ill for more than a year, and during this time I became terribly thin, losing much of my muscle bulk and strength. Previously I had been given to effortful and highly controlled practice, but after my illness I no longer had the physical capability to hold myself up in my old way.
After many months of practicing nothing but restorative postures, one day I tentatively stepped onto the mat to do a standing pose. Trembling with the effort and astounded at my weakness, I paused for a moment and stood very still. Taking a deep breath, I asked if there was something else that could hold me up. And then, as I exhaled, the Earth answered.
Donna Farhi is a registered movement therapist and international yoga teacher. She is the author of The Breathing Book (Henry Holt, 1996), and Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness (Henry Holt, 2000).