It can be very tempting to focus solely on the legs during standing poses. And, these poses are great for both strengthening and stretching the large muscle groups of the legs.
But, asana is a whole body practice. Every muscle in your body is affected by the poses. Muscles are strengthened or stretched. Sometimes they are active; other times they are passive. When you practice asana, its footprints can be found over your entire body.
So, take note of those footprints. These two standing poses provide a great opportunity for you to balance your awareness between the action of the lower body and that of the upper body.
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I)
Begin by stepping your feet approximately 4 feet apart. In the fullest expression of this pose, the space between the feet should equal the length of your one of your legs from heel to hip. But if you feel unstable, slightly decrease the distance between the feet until your balance improves.
Turn your right foot out (90 degrees) and your left foot in (at least 45 degrees). The right thigh should be externally rotated, so the center of your right kneecap points out over your outer right foot.
Inhale your arms overhead, exhale and turn your torso to the right.
Inhale as you press downward through the back heel. Exhale and bend the right knee. The knee should be directly above the ankle and in line with the pinky toe. If you’re right knee moves beyond the ankle, walk the right foot forward a few inches, so that the knee is directly above the ankle.
Hug the muscles of the back leg in towards the bone, keeping the leg straight.
Draw the left hip and shoulder forward, so they are in the same plane as their counterparts on the right. You may need to turn your left foot in a little more to accomplish this.
Turn the belly, ribs and chest up toward the ceiling as you reach upward through the hands. Avoid letting the head drop back. Keep your neck in line with the rest of the spine.
Take several breaths in the pose before inhaling and straightening the right leg. Turn the feet and torso toward the center and repeat on the left side.
Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
Begin by stepping your feet approximately 3 ½ feet apart. Turn your right foot out (90 degrees) and your left foot in (approximately 70 degrees). If you feel unstable, try bringing your feet closer together and/or moving your right foot out a few inches to the right.
The classic hand and arm position for this pose is reverse prayer. But, you can also clasp the wrists or elbows behind the back. In any of this arm positions, draw the shoulder blades in toward the spine and down toward the pelvis.
Turn your torso toward the right. Draw the right hip back and the left hip forward, so the pelvis is parallel to the front edge of your mat.
Inhale as you hug the muscles of the legs in towards the bone, keeping the legs straight. Press down through the outer heel of the back foot and the ball of the front foot.
Exhale, bend forward from the hip joints (the place where your top thighs meet your torso) instead of the waist so as to keep the spine in its neutral curves.
Just as in Uttanasana, it is NOT important that you lower all the way down (to the right thigh, in this case.) It is, however important that you do not round the back. Remember, the belly should touch the thigh if the head is touching the shin.
Take several breaths in the pose before inhaling up and repeating on the left side.
P.S. This post is part of a series on the basics of many of the most common poses. Look here for additional posts in this series.
Are you able to be aware of both the upper and lower body in these poses? What footprints to do these poses leave on your body?