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Why Keep the Body forward in Warrior I Pose?

August, 2020

When doing yoga with a Gokhale Method filter, we use specific adjustments to maintain healthy posture and avoid unnecessary injury. Note the distinct lack of curvature in my lumbar spine.

A general tenet of the Gokhale Method approach is that micro-level adjustments can lead to macro-level results. Like the world we live in, the human body is a complex, interconnected system. So it is not surprising that attainable tweaks in how we use our bodies can have beneficial effects on our function and well-being.

Yoga is no different. If you have an established yoga practice, you’ve probably discovered for yourself that small adjustments are not so small in the aggregate!

Even when practicing yoga, we would do well to refrain from swaying our lower backs. Image courtesy Elly Fairytale on Pexels.

Warrior I and healthy posture
Take Warrior I Pose (Virabhadrasana I), for example. This pose is one in which yoga models (a group that used to count me among its numbers, decades ago in India) often demonstrate a vertical upper body above their hips.

By keeping her upper body vertical above her hips, this yogini is predisposing herself to lumbar curvature. Image courtesy Sigurdas on Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0.


If you look carefully at her silhouette, you’ll see that this yogini’s lumbar sway is quite visible, putting undue pressure on her delicate spinal discs and nerves. Image courtesy Mor Shani on Unsplash.

However, when I practice Warrior I today, I make sure to keep the upper body leaned forward rather than vertical. Why is this?

The story connects with L5-S1 mobility. This special “saddle joint” is a cylindrical disk in quadrupeds. In bipeds (that would be us, humans!), it’s wedge-shaped. In spite of this baseline shape, the joint is actually capable of quite a lot of healthy variation in shape.

The L5 vertebra, one of the two elements of the L5-S1 (lumbosacral) joint, as depicted in Gray’s Anatomy. Public domain image.

B.K.S. Iyengar famously demonstrated extreme L5-S1 mobility, surely the result of his practicing yoga intensively for 8-ish hours a day over decades of his life. His remarkable L5-S1 mobility facilitated extreme (and still healthy) backbends as well as verticality in poses like Warrior I.



Of course, we’re not all built like B.K.S. Iyengar! Most of us have limited L5-S1 mobility. One can cultivate additional mobility in this saddle joint, but it takes time, dedication, and expertise to do it safely.

A forward-projecting upper body in Warrior I protects the lumbar spine from swaying.

In one of our upcoming Gokhale Premium workshops this month, I’ll apply the Gokhale Method filter to all the poses of the original Sun Salutation sequence. You are invited to join me! I’ll also be offering new Free Online Workshops on topics including:

What are some tiny posture adjustments you’ve made that have made a big difference in your life?

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