Do you look this happy and open hearted in Warrior III?
Does your low back crunch in flying leg poses (a.k.a. balance poses, but really aren't they all)? There are two things you can pay attention to in order to bring balance to your posture and happiness to to your asana: core support via mula bandha and hamstring over glute work.
Do not undertake these practices without the advice or presence of a teacher if you haven't done these poses before or if you have any low back discomfort. Reading this will create greater awareness during your next yoga practice but nothing substitutes for live, professional care and guidance.
Practice Portion: To feel the connection between these two, between core and hamstring, take a mini-Sun-Salute down to a comfy forward bend. Remember to bend your knees enough to take all the rounding out of your low back. Breathe naturally for three breaths then take 10 kapalabhati breaths - rapid, energetic exhalations followed by passive inhalations. As you return to natural breathing, firm your low belly around your spine. Notice sensations in the back of your thighs where your hamstrings are. Good.
Come down to your mat in a prone position for a modified Locust pose and interlace your fingers behind your back to stabilize the chest in an open position. Your neck remains neutral and your face towards your mat Exhale and firm the belly around the spine. Turn your toes under like you're going to come up to Downward Facing Dog. Relax your glutes. With straight legs, lift first one heel then the other toward the ceiling. The motion will be subtle. Feel your hamstrings contract to create the lift instead of squeezing your glutes. Alternate sides moving with the breath for about 10 rounds. Rest.
One of two things - and often a synergy of both - create contraction, pain and tension in the low back in one sided leg flying poses: core disconnection or glute clenching. The direction of your toes in the flying leg is indicative of femur rotation, which in this position too often comes from squeezing the glutes and creating compression through the SI joints. This same squeezing can have the effect of releasing mula bandha - or lifting of the entire pelvic floor - and dumping core stability. The combination - lack of core support and compression from the back - is a recipe for hyperextension of the low back and is often the reason these flying leg poses cause pain.
Whether Warrior III or Half Moon pose, the toes should point in the same direction as the pelvis: in Warrior III, down to the floor. The "seat" of this pose are the bandhas uplifting action. While the glutes and their accessory muscles are active, the hamstrings have an important role to play in creating extension in the flying leg. The combination of core activation and hamstring firing balance tendencies to glute clenching and create length as well as strength. You'll use the same muscles you used in our modified Locust pose to subtly lift your legs as a unit and their help will relieve your glutes from trying to lift a long lever they really can't completely hoist.
Practice: Stand in Mountain and find your center. Exhale and sit back into Fierce Pose, weight over heels, and feel free to take a variation with your arms back. Start with your left leg as your standing leg and bring your center over your left arch. Exhale, lift your right leg into your chest as you bring your spine to or toward parallel to the ground. As you extend your right heel back, flex your right foot and spread the toes with the big toe pointed decidedly toward the ground. See if you can release any extra tension from your glutes and activate that muscle we found in our modified Locust.
What's your challenge in Warrior III? Leave a comment to share how you feel in flying leg poses!