Have you ever felt frustrated doing Virabhadrasana 2 – Warrior 2 Pose? You are trying to widen the stance, as teacher tells you, and dropping hips down deeper. Moreover, teacher wants you to have front knee pointing forward, not falling inside to the big toe side of front foot. But you cannot make it easily as teacher tells you. The more you sink the hips down, the more your knee collapses inside. You may try lifting the hips up, and it seems like that helps you managing your knee. But, once your hips come up, your teacher does not like it because your front leg is not bent enough as ideal Warrior 2 should be. Now you are being frustrated doing Warrior 2 and compromising your hips, knee and leg.
What Stops You
What makes your Warrior 2 so troublesome is a small muscle deep inside your hips – the piriformis. Piriformis is located underneath the gluteus maximus, which is basically the muscle of buttocks. Its origin is the lateral and anterior part of sacrum. From there, piriformis spans its pair-shaped muscle underneath the buttock, and then is attached to the posterior side of the greater trochanter, the knobby part at the head of femur or the thigh bone.
What piriformis primarily does when it contracts is to outwardly rotate the thigh. However, that is the function only when you are in an anatomical position, both legs straight down under the hip joints like what you can easily see in most basic anatomy textbook. Piriformis works the different way when you are in Warrior 2 Pose.
In Virabhadrasana 2, the piriformis of front hips is no longer the external rotator. When the thigh is sufficiently flexed, more than 60 degrees approximately, the line of pull of piriformis is changed, consequently it turns into the internal rotator and horizontal abductor of the thigh at the hip joint.
Considering this mechanism of piriformis, to align front knee with the toes of the front foot in Virabhadrasana 2 is challenging. With front thigh flexed, piriformis will inwardly rotate the thigh and likely result in the knee collapsing medially. So if you have tight piriformis or your other external rotators of the hip joints are weak, you probably have a hard time doing Warrior 2.
The Solution to Warrior 2
If your Warrior 2 sucks, I suggest these two modifications. The first solution is to shorten the stance. When the feet come closer in Warrior 2, hips will rise up a little bit, resulting in less flexion of the front thigh at the hip joint, decreasing the effect of the reverse function of piriformis. However, do not make your Warrior 2 with too small stance; do not forget that you still want to work on the muscles of your inner thighs. Also, remember that shorten the stance is different from straighten the front leg; you still need your front knee bent and stacked over the ankle of front foot in Virabhadrasana 2.
The other way is to turn your pelvis slightly forward in order to decrease the distance between the origin and insertion of piriformis, alleviate its tightness. All these modifications of Virabhadrasana 2 you need to experiment on your own to find the right degree of adjustment where you can get the knee in the right position, preventing it from being distorted, and still maintain your Warrior 2 active and alive.
Nevertheless, to improve your Warrior 2 and other asanas that also challenge your piriformis, you better work more on this tricky muscle. Many hip opener poses like Pigeon Pose, Ankle-to-Knee Pose, Eye-of-the-Needle Pose, for example, are good for piriformis stretching. Give your piriformis some time and be patient. Always be gentle and mindful when you doing it.
Model: Ann in Virabhadrasana 2