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5 Ways to Practice Warrior 1 Pose

Ever feel like it's challenging to find "correct" alignment in this common standing pose? Here's how to find your alignment.

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I remember being utterly confused the first few times I was taught Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 Pose) in a yoga class. I felt as if I was being given the impossible task of finding opposing actions simultaneously. Bend deeply into my front knee so that my thigh is horizontal but lengthen my spine out of my pelvis. Root down into the little toe edge of my back foot but keep my hips aligned and my pelvis facing forward. Reach my arms high above my head but draw my shoulder blades away from my ears.

As the weeks progressed, I slowly found myself developing the subtle art of balancing these opposing energies in my body. I eventually learned how to take this aspect of my asana practice into my everyday life. The skill helped me feel more grounded while I was creative and allowed me to find a sense of stillness even while I am withstanding my most chaotic moments.

You’ll often hear teachers cue the traditional look of Warrior 1, which is one foot positioned several feet behind and directly in line with the other foot, with the front knee bent 90 degrees, the pelvis facing forward, and the arms reaching up toward the ceiling. These opposing actions can be challenging for anyone, especially if you have balance challenges or limited hip, knee or ankle mobility.

Only when we feel anchored and steady in our foundation can we explore feeling open and expansive in our upper body. Exploring the following variations can enable you to experience similar shapes, actions, and benefits as in the traditional version even as you respect your individual needs.

However you practice it, Warrior 1 strengthens your hip flexors, simultaneously strengthens and stretches your hamstrings, and stretches your gluteus maximus in your front leg. In your back leg, the pose strengthens your gluteus maximus and hamstrings while stretching your hip flexors and calf muscle. Warrior 1 stretches the latissimus dorsi as we raise our arms and strengthens the musculature at the front of the shoulder. The pose develops our balance, focus, and resilience.

5 ways to practice Warrior 1 Pose

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Preparation

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) and Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose or Intense Side Stretch) help prepare your legs for Warrior 1 Pose. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) and Utkatasana (Chair Pose) help to prepare your arms and legs.

Man standing on a yoga mat practicing Warrior 1 Pose with his arms alongside his ears
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

1. Warrior 1 Pose with a shorter stance

This variation can work well for anyone who struggles with their balance or experiences limited mobility in their ankles and hips.

From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your left foot back a few feet, keeping your feet at least hip-distance apart. Bend into your front knee. Press your left heel into the mat and angle your left toes out toward the side. Gently try to square your hips toward your front leg, stepping your left foot further to the left if this feels more comfortable for your ankle, knee, and hips.

Lift your arms as if to bring them alongside your ears but only to a position that feels comfortable in your shoulders. You also have the option to place your hands on your hips or in prayer position in front of your chest.

Tip
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t inherently bad to let your front knee move in front of your ankle, as long as this feels comfortable for your knee. Flexing your knee to this degree is a natural movement that we experience everyday when we get out of bed, walk up stairs, get in and out of our car, etc.

Man standing on a yoga mat in a variation of High Lunge
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

2. Warrior 1 Pose with the back heel lifted (High Lunge)

This alternative pose can stand in for Warrior 1 and is ideal for anyone who has somewhat limited mobility in their ankles and hips.

From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your left foot back a few feet, keeping your feet at least hip-distance apart. Bend into your front knee. Staying on the ball of your left foot, keep your hips facing forward. Lift your arms as if to bring them alongside your ears but only to a position that feels comfortable in your shoulders. You also have the option to place your hands on your hips or in prayer position in front of your chest.

Man standing on a yoga mat in front of a chair with his hands on the back
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

3. Warrior 1 Pose in front of a chair

This variation may work well for anyone who struggles with their balance.

Place a chair about a foot in front of you with its back facing you. From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your left foot back a few feet, keeping your feet at least hip-distance apart. Bend into your front knee. Either stay on the ball of your left foot or lower your left heel to the mat and angle the foot out to the side. Keep your hips facing forward as you rest your hands on the back of the chair.

Man in chair practicing Warrior 1 Pose
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

4. Warrior 1 Pose seated in a chair

This variation creates the same shape as Warrior 1, but from a seated position. It’s ideal for anyone who struggles with their balance or has issues rising from a seated position.

Sit sideways on a chair toward the edge and step your left foot behind you. Either stay on the ball of your left foot or lower your left heel to the mat so that your foot turns out at an angle. Lift your arms as if to bring them alongside your ears but only to a position that feels comfortable in your shoulders. You also have the option to place your hands on your hips or in prayer position in front of your chest.

Man sitting on a chair practicing a variation of Warrior 1
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

5. Warrior 1 Pose in the upper body seated in a chair

This particular seated variation can be ideal for someone who has limited mobility in their hips and ankles.

Sit toward the front edge of a chair. Step your feet further apart with your toes angled slightly out as if you were in Goddess Pose. Gently turn your chest to face toward your right leg. Lift your arms as if to bring them alongside your ears but only to a position that feels comfortable in your shoulders. You also have the option to place your hands on your hips or in prayer position in front of your chest.

See also: Different ways to practice common poses, including Downward-Facing DogTree Pose, and Child’s Pose.

About our contributor

Andrew McGonigle has studied anatomy for more than 20 years. After initially studying to become a doctor, he moved away from Western medicine to become a yoga and anatomy teacher. He shares his knowledge of the body and the ways it moves in yoga teacher training courses throughout the world and leads his own Yoga Anatomy Online Course. His second book, The Physiology of Yoga, was published in June 2022. To learn more about Andrew, check out doctor-yogi.com or follow him on Instagram @doctoryogi.