Somewhere along the way Yoga became synonymous with stretching, and the poses (asana). This breaks my heart a little .
The asana are simply one of many Yoga tools to help create awareness. The postures are great, one of my favourite tools, but there’s a lot that gets missed when the pose is about stretching or gets used ‘incorrectly’ to get us into a downward dog; the function of the body and the pose are glossed over.
Even in the small duration it takes to get ‘into’ a yoga posture, there are many things that skipped over. It’s become about the destination, not the journey – and each asana is a journey unto itself. A beautiful exploration, adventure, and mirror about what’s real for us.
If you find yourself having to adjust or being adjusted in Warrior 1 (or any pose, really) once you are in there, you’ve gone for the destination and skipped part of the journey. Being adjusted can look like a teacher telling you to tuck your pelvis, or bring your ribcage in, pain, inability to breath…
Often in Yoga we are taught to go for the end pose, or the pose looks like this shape – instead of focusing on what the movements truly are for.
The cues, compensations, whispers, and signs of the body are overlooked in order to get to the beautiful shape.
Compensation means that something else is doing the job of something else, like the knee moving more than the hip, or leading the movement (this is where knee injuries come from). We do them so often in Yoga asana, and even in daily life, that many of us don’t recognize when we’re doing them. We may even feel that something is off and then try to strengthen over top of the compensation or unsupportive movement patterns.
It may feel great for a bit but eventually that compensation will reappear in a different way. In this scenario your outside gets stronger, and your inside (or core – the muscles closest into the body) get weaker.
There isn’t ONE cue that will be appropriate for every body in a class. It’s just not reasonable to think that everyone needs the same movement.
Here are some common signs that compensation is happening. If you are:
*achy after class (even the day after). And I’m not talking about the good sore that comes from using muscles well,
* find yourself having to move to “get the kinks out’ or to get the stiffness out after being still,
* have cyclical or reoccurring tension/pain/achiness; be it SI joints, shoulder issues, knees, hips, ankles,
* feel strong on the outside but have to put a lot of effort into things like balancing, holding the arms up, breathing whilst being in the pose,
* you’re struggling to be peaceful in the pose. It’s interesting to note that asana is only mentioned in the sutras as sukasana (easy pose) – no where are there directions to force or that somehow the end expression of the pose is more yogic,
* a desire to stretch something; it feels good for a bit but doesn’t actually create long term release. For those SI joint and hip pain suffers really feel into this next time you’re achy,
* You’re using your arms a lot to move your body parts to ‘get’ them into position (example: using your arms to lift your leg into tree pose).
The cliche holds up quite well in Yoga postures – it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. How we move in to, through and out of the postures makes a huge difference in creating deep stability in the body. When there’s stability in the core, there’s space to just be and breathe.
So here’s 5 common compensations I see in Warrior 1:
1) Pain – this one can be said about most asana or movements. I often see/hear people blow past pain – saying things like “It hurts here but if I just keep going it stops hurting – see”; and then they’ll demonstrate how it hurts their knee, or back, or hip but if they keep going further in the movement it stops hurting past a certain point.
This is blowing past the signals of the body, and going into compensation. It’s the equivalent of running a red light.
EXPLORATION: Stop before the pain, get curious about it – is it because the knee is turning in, is the ribcage popping, is the knee leading the movement. What is really going on here? Why do I feel the need to push past the pain?
2) Lower back over arching – Often in warrior 1, a teacher will come along after the student is in the pose and say “Your back is arching, tuck your tailbone”, or “Bring your tailbone to the ground” with the guise that this will support your sacrum and lower back. This is a compensatory movement over an unsupportive movement. This will create less function and stability in your body.
EXPLORATION: Only move so deeply into the Warrior 1 lunge that allows you to keep the pelvis quiet and from moving into the arch.
3) Shoulders at the ears when the arms are up, or more correctly in the attempt to bring the arms up the shoulders lift up to the ears. The common response to this movement is for a teacher to suggest that you bring your shoulders down to ‘create space’ between the ears and the shoulders. Again, this doesn’t create better function in the body, it encourages a pattern of compensation that can and often does lead to tension.
EXPLORATION: Try bending the elbows into cactus arms before straightening them, letting the shoulders and blades be quiet.
4) Ribcage popping up. Yup, this happens A LOT. Many people aren’t even aware that this is happening because it is their normal or it happens so slowly it doesn’t register in their awareness.
The cue that follows to ‘correct’ this often, is to bring the ribcage down, but it’s too late at this point, the pattern has been reinforced.
EXPLORATION: At what point does the ribcage pop up? Does it happen at the same time as something else (like lifting the arms up), does it only happen when the arms lift or is there space to lift the arms a little bit before the ribs pop out.
5) The knee is leading the lunge. The knee bending is a result of the relationship between the hip, the ankle and the knee. Often there will be cues about not moving past the toe (or ankle, depending on the teacher) but this movement has so much more going on than simply where the knee is in regards to the ankle.
EXPLORATION: What happens before you get that deep into the lunge. Are you aware of the angle of the hip or ankle as you move, how is the knee moving, are you tightening your back in order to move into the lunge.
Warrior 1 has a lot to offer. If done with the purpose of creating better function in the body. With better function comes increased stability in the core, ability to breath, space to play, more ease in the body and awareness of your own personal movement patterns that are creating tension, pain, instability.
*I am aware that the post picture is not Warrior 1.