How long have you been practising yoga? Whatever length of time it is, whether months or a decade or more, one experience common to everyone is how many times you repeat common poses. In the vinyasa style sequencing is more creative than the set Ashtanga sequence for example, but even so many poses crop up in almost every class. Think about how many times you’ve done Downward Facing Dog or Warrior 2 or Child’s Pose. Not to mention ending in Savasana every time.
Does this mean the common poses get boring? I’d never thought of it like that, until a student asked me recently how I practise Warrior 2. Yes, the question was about how — she was curious about what I could still find of interest here. The implication behind the question was that I must surely have exhausted my enquiry into this pose and want to move onto other things that might be newer and more exciting. Actually I am still fascinated by Warrior 2, even after spending literally hours in this pose over the years of my practice. There’s always something new. Yoga poses evolve with us, our experience of them is ever-changing.
I still have vivid memories of the first time I tried Warrior 2 when I went to yoga class with a friend at university. The teacher and her assistant both helped me. They adjusted my stance, moving my feet with their hands, they supported my pelvis and encouraged me to reach out to the sides with my arms. Hey, I was doing the pose! Then they let go and stepped back and I simply fell over. They might have helped me form what looked like the Warrior 2 shape, but I had no foundations. I couldn’t yet stand on my own two feet — quite literally.
As the years passed I have accumulated much more experience of Warrior 2 and I have studied this pose deeply with my teacher, refining the physical actions and honing my attention so that I perceive the pose more fully. These days I’m much less distracted by learning to lift the arches of my feet or how to stabilise the front knee in good alignment. My experience of Warrior 2 has ceased to be a series of instructions aimed at engaging major muscles groups and turned into a more subtle, less physical experience. My current focus (to answer the student’s question) is on the drishti, the gazing point. How to orient my eyes towards the fingers of my outstretched hand (the middle fingernail, to be precise) not so much with my seeing eyes, but how to soften my eyeballs, so that I am looking inward as much as outward, merging myself with a sense of past, present and future… The outer form of my pose might not look so different but the inner experience shifts.
My Warrior 2 arises from all my accumulated experiences (on and off the yoga mat), from the willingness to pause repeatedly on my journey, to get down into the details and examine them closely and lovingly. There’s no rush to arrive; there’s just always more to discover. The yoga practice keeps in step with us and reveals more as our capacity for seeing develops. We are always exactly where we need to be. That’s why yoga works as a mixed-ability class. The same pose is different every time, and different for every body.
Warrior 2 photo credit: Ania Ready