Warrior one is one of those poses that beginners can have a good stab at, but is quite difficult to perfect. Releasing the glutes and external rotators on the posterior hip of the back leg, and engaging the medial line to create internal rotation and square the hips forward, can be difficult for many and can create compression in the SI joint, due to restriction in the psoas and piriformis.
Why is this? Personally I don’t put it all down to tight psoas, weak adductors and tight external rotators; it comes back down to foot position of the back leg. Traditionally, we are told to diagonal the back foot to an angle of between 45o – 60o. 45o creates an easier balance but is more difficult to square the hip. 60o can be a little easier on the back, but the balance may not feel as stable.
Many teachers cue the back foot to 45o and then adjust their student’s hips to square forward. However this alignment creates an incongruity between the direction of the foot and the knee, which in my opinion is not healthy neuro-muscularly.
The compensation pattern called Pronation Distortion Syndrome involves the foot pointing out laterally, while the knee squints medially, creating internal rotation through the leg and hip. This pattern creates a valgus knee which in turn pronates the inner arch of the foot. The similarities between this compensation pattern and the universal cues we use for Warrior 1 are obvious.
The lateral positioning of the foot, combined with the medial rotation of the leg, places an inappropriate amount of stress on the knee, especially the ACL. It also creates a muscular imbalance on the lateral chain. The fibulari on the outer calf can become excessively tight as they try and square the knee forward. Leg tightness can continue up through in the inner and outer thigh, through the adductors (medial thigh) vastus lateralis (lateral quadricep), the biceps femoris (lateral hamstring). These lateral chain muscles eccentrically contract to create stability in the knee joint and maintaining balance of these muscles with the other leg and hip muscles is essential for healthy alignment.
The muscle imbalance involved in Pronation Distortion Syndrome can also continue up into the hip and spine, creating bursitis, facet and disc pain, lateral pelvic tilt and even at an extreme scoliosis.
Pronation Distortion Syndrome patterning can be prevented on your yoga mat by following the simple rule that, whether it be for standing poses, squats, lunges, seated poses or backbends, the knees should follow the direction of the toes and of course allowances should be made for individual postural holding patterns. For Warrior One, you can allow the hips to tip out the side a little, diagonal the back foot from 45o to 60o and widen the feet from a tightrope to a train track to create more space for the SI joint. Or, if like me you want to have the back foot off the diagonal altogether and completely aligned in accordance with the hips, use Crescent pose instead.