In your Virabhadrasana Two (commonly know as Warrior Two) pose (see image), "the front foot should be pointing straight ahead through the top of the mat, and the back foot should be turned out to 90 degrees".
Ever heard that in your yoga class?
Or you might hear that the back foot needs to be turned out at 45 degrees.
They tend to be the two options of angles of the back foot in these warrior postures, which is quite mathematically technical right? Very particular and often challenging on the brain. In the middle of concentrating, sweating, burning and breathing we have to start thinking about maths?
I don't worry about the angle of the back foot. Radical I know.
The front foot and front knee will probably feel best if they are lined up in the same direction as this will reduce strain on the medial ligaments of the knee. But with regard to my statement about the back foot, In this article I want to explain why the angle does not really matter.
The feet and the hands are at the ends of your limbs. The shoulder sockets and hip sockets connect to the primary aspects of the body. The shoulder and hip sockets are hugely variable from person to person. However because we do not have x-ray vision to peer inside the body and see, the hands and feet often get cued in yoga to be in identical alignment positions with the assumption that identical alignments will be occurring in everyone's shoulder and hip joints.
A room full of yogi's will never have the same thing happening in their shoulder and hip sockets, because their bone shapes and orientation are so different to begin with! Yes I'm talking once again about skeletal variation.
Here is an example of what I am talking about. Two yogis practicing in a class, both follow the instruction of turning the back foot out to 90 degrees in their warrior pose. The first yogi finds this position very easeful in their hip socket and has no tugging sensations on their knee and is very easily able to push the outer blade of the foot down into the yoga mat.
The second yogi has her back foot turned out to 90 degrees, but is feeling some kind of hard pinching sensation deep inside the hip socket of her back leg, and a tugging sensation on the medial side of her back knee. Her body is giving very clear sensation messages that some things are being compressed too hard and other things are being pulled too hard. As an experiment, if she were to try turning her back foot in slightly, some of these sensations may ease off. If she did that, then she has probably closer to finding the foot alignment that works better for her body than a rigid idea of 90 degrees.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, there is not enough exploratory cueing happening in yoga classes for people to be able to find the alignment that works best for them. A good start is a teacher saying to the class "find what works best for your body," but this often lacks the follow up of what specific things a student could do with the posture in order to find out for themselves.
I very much echo the teachings of Paul & Suzee Grilley and Bernie Clark when I say that the hands and feet should be the last things that you set in a yoga posture. Why not get the shoulder socket and hip socket feeling comfortable first and then rearrange or reset the hands and feet second to that? And if the angle does not quite happen to be 45 or 90 degrees does it really matter? I don't think so.
The strict degrees, angles, and placements of limbs and alignment was birthed from a formula designed to give a small number of cues to a large group of people and get them into a posture fairly quickly. These strict alignment cues also made it easier to train a large group of people to become yoga teachers and give them the steps for each posture in a efficient way.
But the roots of yoga came from a much more therapeutic place. Teacher and student. Guru and disciple. Yoga therapy. The practice and the postures were tailored for the one student being guided into the practice. It is much harder to individualise a practice when you have 30 people in the room.
The more that I teach and have these kinds of conversations with my students, the more we all agree that we need to wind back how we cue, how we teach, and simplify things to enable students to understand their own bodies in the practice, rather than forcing themselves into painful end ranges of motion when their bones and joints protest.
"Ok, so how would you cue Warrior Two Karina?" I hear you say...
It would probably go something like this:
Assume you are in a lunge position, right leg is in front, and you have your hands on the floor, on either side of your front foot.
"From your lunge position that you are now in, start to let the heel of the back foot (left foot) roll down to touch the floor until your foot is flat on the floor. The foot will be turned out slightly. Play with this a little bit until you can find a position where you can press the foot flat without discomfort.
Now pressing down firmly through both of your feet to engage the muscles of your legs, float your hands off the mat, and let the left arm, your back arm, begin to pull you up to standing. Keep raising your arms until they are level with your shoulders as you continue looking in the direction of your front leg. Let the shoulders soften a little as your reach the arms outward from your body until they arrive at the height that does not feel like too much of a strain for your upper body muscles.
Being your awareness back to your pelvis and hip sockets, wiggle and move around slightly to see where your pelvis feels most comfortable. You may need to bend your knees a bit to do this, and you may notice that in order to do that, your back hip could do to roll forward slightly or a lot. This might mean you have to adjust your feet, so please allow that back foot to turn in enough so that your pelvis and hip sockets don't feel too "jammed" or compressed.
Bring the awareness back into your breath, and take a few breaths here feeling into the position you have created with your body and see how it feels."
How was that?
Permission to move differently and set up your shapes differently according to what you feel. And always come back to the intention of the pose. What does it offer the body? What do certain positions of joints and limbs do for the body, rather than the angles being the measure of the shape being done correctly.