Anyone can do yoga — and you don’t need to go to class regularly to start seeing the benefits. All it takes is ten minutes of your time, in the comfort of your own home, or you can slot it into your exercise regime. This week: How warrior II can improve stamina… and help you accept your limitations.
Last week I had four male students turn up for class. Four! This is a very big deal. Men don’t normally flock to my classes in such numbers. There are usually one or two, but it is women who fill the studio.
Yet yoga is as beneficial to men as it is to women — I’d wager to say it might even be more so. It strengthens, stretches and helps to prevent injury. But it is its psychological effect that really gets the guys. Finding a way to relieve stress and calm the mind is of particular importance for men — you only have to look at our soaring male suicide rates to realise how important it is for Irish men to find a way of beating depression and anxiety.
All of which brings me to warrior II. Its Sanskrit name, virabhadrasana II, comes from virabhadra, a fierce male warrior and an incarnation of Hindu god Shiva. This pose demands strength and stamina. You cannot hold it too long before the thighs get shaky, which can feel humbling — it’s a great way to learn your limits and to accept them. And to learn how to keep your feet firmly on the ground as you run through life.
HOW TO DO IT
Stand on a non-slip surface or a yoga mat in mountain pose, bare foot for a proper grip. Focus on your breath. Feel the way it fills your body before swooshing out, like the ebb and flow of the tide.
Keeping your attention on the breath, take your feet roughly 3½ to 4ft apart — you want a fair distance between your feet, so you are stretching a little, but don’t feel unbalanced. Turn your right foot out to 90 degrees to the right and turn your left foot in slightly. Align the right heel with the arch of the left foot. Make sure you roll your right thigh outwards, opening the hip, so the kneecap is in line with the toes of the right foot.
On an exhale, bend the right knee. You’re looking to get a right angle here, with the shin perpendicular to the ground. Make sure the right knee stacks on top of the right ankle — pressing into the outer edge of the right foot helps you to do this. Now engage the left leg and press into the foot, especially the outer edge, rooting down into the ground.
Inhale, then on an exhale, raise the arms to shoulder height. Stretch the fingers out, away from the body, so you feel as if they grow a few inches. Relax the shoulders well away from the ears and turn your head to the right, to look over the fingers of your right hand. Don’t ‘chase’ your front hand by leaning the torso forward — keep shoulders stacked over hips.
Press into the feet to keep the hips open and the right knee in the correct position. Come back to the breath. On an inhale, feel your breath travel up from the ground into the feet and through the body to the crown of the head; on an exhale, feel it root you back down to the ground.
Stay here for up to ten breaths. To release, straighten the right leg and reverse the feet to repeat on the other side.
CAN ANYONE HAVE A GO?
Be careful with your knees in warrior II. Make sure the bent knee is over the ankle and isn’t rolling inwards, especially if you have knee issues. If this happens, you need to straighten the leg slight and back off.
For those of you who are pregnant or who don’t have the strength or flexibility to hold this pose, try using a fitness ball or chair to support the bent leg. And if balance is your problem, try warrior II against a wall.
Published in the Irish Daily Mail, Tuesday June 23, 2015