June 22, 2020

Why You Cannot Square Your Hips in Warrior I or Warrior II

From my earliest days of practicing yoga, I heard teachers instructing “Square your hips” in Warrior I (virabhadrasana I) and Warrior II poses (virabhadrasana II).

[Scroll to the video at the bottom of this page to see the essence of this blog post in video format].

I repeated this phrase in my own yoga teaching for most of a decade (2001-2008-ish) before looking up close at the structure of the hips and pelvis in a grad school cadaver lab.

The structure of the hips

The hip sockets, which sit on either side of your pelvis, are shaped like shallow bowls. (“Acetabulum“, the name of the hip sockets, comes from Latin, and means, little bowl for (olive) oil.)

The sockets face downward and outward – more or less – at an angle of 45 degrees. The boney edge, or rim, of each acetabulum serves as a hard stop on your hip’s range of motion. (This is a good and natural thing).

In addition, the shape of your thigh bones (your femurs), and in particular the femoral angle, influence how much hip range of motion you have.

Yes, your range of motion can also be limited by soft tissue, like muscle and fascia, but in yoga asana we address those. We don’t always acknowledge their limits.

Very rarely does one’s hip structure allow for “Squaring” of the hips. When your skeleton does allow the hips to be “squared” in these poses, there is a very real question of whether you should square your hips.

Boney Limitations and Knowledge limitations

Generally, yoga teachers do a poor job of recognizing natural skeletal limitations. Instead of recognizing that our range of motion will be limited by boney stopping points, we say things like:

“Practice and all is coming”

“Keep working on your flexibility, and you’ll get there”

“Just line up your foot to the edge of the mat. Keep trying. You’ll get it.”

When Reverence Goes Wrong

Yoga asana is a physical practice, but it is learned in largely the same way as an oral tradition (with more visuals).

Like an oral tradition, it is passed down person-to-person (or individual to group). Because yoga asana — at least as I have been exposed to it — is embedded with a sense of reverence to teacher and lineage, we yoga practitioners tend to accept answers from yoga teachers at face value.

We ask questions, sure, but we rarely question the answers.

We also rarely seek to test our understanding of yoga against knowledge outside of yoga.

Those teachers we would call gurus, however, were extraordinarily innovative, and changed their minds over the course of their lives. I believe they would readily accept scientific information as it is revealed.

Back to Squaring the Hips

For the second decade of my teaching career, I’ve spoken to hundreds, maybe thousands, of students and teachers about why the hips can’t be squared in Warrior I and Warrior II, and I’ve taught about this boney limit in multiple classes (see my YouTube channel).

Yet many yoga teachers continue to teach with this hyper-geometric language and still say “square your hips”.

Warrior I and II are Spinal Twists

The rotation in Warrior I and Warrior II has to come from somewhere. When your feet are planted with your toes facing one direction but your chest facing another, something somewhere must rotate.

In a healthy, anatomically reasonable Warrior I or Warrior II, the rotation comes from a spinal twist.

In Warrior I, with the right foot forward, on most people the pelvis will face 45 degrees to the left. If you try to square the pelvis, you will rotate at the knee joint of the back leg.

The thigh bone will turn, will rotate relative to the tibia (the shin bone). Forcing this position doesn’t sound healthy, and it’s not.

If you instead focus on simply facing toward the front leg, your spine will rotate, likely from the upper lumbar and thoracic regions. You’ll be able to square your shoulders, but not the pelvis.

Let’s talk Warrior II

Warrior II already requires a fairly extreme range of motion for the back hip (another blog post for another time). Attempting to square the pelvis to the long edge of your yoga mat will transfer intensity from the back leg to the front hip or knee.

Instead, again try allowing your shoulders to square. This brings the rotation into our spines, which can naturally accommodate 45 degrees of rotation over its many segments.

Healthy Hips

Last bit on this topic: I’ve seen too many yoga students-turned patients with hip injuries. If it is not already clear, this cue “square the hips” is harmful. It could lead to femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) as bone hits up against bone, to hip labral tears, ligament injuries in the hips or knees and a cascade of other issues.

Let’s fully recognize that Warrior I and II are spinal twists. Share this post with your yoga teachers, or yoga teacher communities, and spread the word.

To see this blog post in video format, hit play.

We welcome your questions and thoughts in the comment area below.

31 Comments on “Why You Cannot Square Your Hips in Warrior I or Warrior II

September 27, 2020 at 3:07 am

Dear Ariele,
thank you for sharing your knowledge. You gave me few tips and one question. Regarding tips, your philosophical remark opened my eyes a bit: in the oral tradition there is really a norm not to question what is given. Moreover, when doubt comes, we are ashamed and we supress it as soon as possible (maybe it’s just me, haha). Furthermore, thank you for the anatomical demonstration, great way to explain and teach.
So, my questions.
1. Point of warriors is not to work on your hips, but to work on your spinal twist?
2. I understand and agree with warrior 1, but I have doubts about warrior 2. With pushing the front knee outwards, there is a nice stretch in the front hip and adductors. So I didn’t understand – should we not be doing it?

Thank you 🙂


Dr. Ariele Foster
September 27, 2020 at 2:40 pm

Hi Gabrijela, I’m so glad this statement about oral traditions resonated with you.

To answer question 1: it depends. You can emphasize different physical aspects of different poses. A more shallow warrior pose with core and spinal twist emphasis will have a completely different feel vs. a warrior pose where the emphasis is “depth” and hip stretching. Neither is better or worse — just appropriate for the situation.

As far as #2 – I’m not quite sure what you are referring to. Generally I recommend the front knee stays in line with the third toe, or sometimes I’ll emphasize the pinky toe, so that the student keeps outer hip muscles (horizontal abductors) active. But alignment has many limitations, and we often get caught up in desiring the perfect understanding of alignment we can forget our greater purpose in that moment or not “see” the student’s body in front of us. I’m not against “coloring outside the lines” for a purpose. But I do believe in understanding the “why” behind what we teach. Hopefully that answers your question?

Patrick Jackman
November 18, 2020 at 9:14 pm

I am wondering how old you are, how long you have practiced yoga, and if you have done any other form of physical discipline like dance or gymnastics? I have not practiced yoga very long, but have danced for almost 30 years. In any case, I have learned that every body is different, and every body can be trained differently. Some people have hips that tend to be more open, some more closed. Regular practice in different forms can alter the body’s limits to a degree, and my body is much more flexible and has more mobility than it did 30 years ago. While your explanation may be true for you, it may not be true for someone else. As I understand, yoga is not a ‘perfect’…it’s a practice, and again will be different for everyone, but still there are ideals to strive for. Your Warrior 1 may never be perfect (as I struggle with it as well) but I believe the practice should still aim for square hips. I have learned a lunge is an acceptable variation when a square hip warrior 1 is not accessible (although not in strict yoga practices). Also, as I understand, Warrior 2 is not a square hip asana, it’s in the open hip category and is a different feel. I identify with your challenges and agree it’s important to understand your own body and it’s limits.

Dr. Ariele Foster
November 24, 2020 at 6:03 pm

Yes, every body is different. However, humans without hip dysplasia nor acetabular retroversion cannot square their hips. There is literally bone stopping 99.9% of us.If you force beyond that, at a minimum, compensations will take place. Over time, true injury can occur.

I do not teach just to the 0.1%, nor should those individuals necessarily square their hips just because they can.

While my age and yoga experience (both of which are ample) have no impact on this knowledge, my doctorate, decade+ working in physical therapy (physiotherapy) and 3 months spent dissecting in a cadaver lab do inform this blog post.

Perfectionism — including with yoga poses — is poisonous.

Opinions about cues and subtleties between “open” hips and “square” hips, are less important than facts about the human body. People are hurt from a practice that is intended to heal, and we need to get real about that.

Patrick Jackman
December 12, 2020 at 9:55 am

Thank you for your reply, but I will disagree with your assessment. Warrior 1 is properly done with square hips, which are more than possible, and there is no spinal twist.

Warrior 2 I can see your logic only due to the gaze looking over the front fingertips, meaning there is a slight twist in your neck, but your hips are open anyway, not square, and since all twists are done from square hips, it doesn’t really fall into a twist category for me.

If I were to apply your logic to other skills it doesn’t help your ideas. If I were making a soufflé and it didn’t rise like it should and I know many other people have trouble getting their souffle to rise, I’m not going to claim that a souffle doesn’t rise. I’m going to understand that I have done something incorrectly, because that is the reality. A souffle that doesn’t rise is not a proper souffle.

Anyone practicing yoga should already understand that perfection is NOT what you are striving for. Yoga is not a perfect….its a practice, and should be treated as such. If there is any poison it is certainly not coming from yoga philosophy or a good practice.

Dr. Ariele Foster
December 14, 2020 at 12:39 am

When you are ready to understand acetabular (hip socket) structure, femoral version, average ranges of motion, collagen types and how hypermobile type collagen can contribute to arthritic changes, I suggest you look into our Online Yoga Anatomy Mentorship ( Understanding underlying skeletal structures and physiological variations will help you to better understand this blog post.

Nola Petrucelly
January 22, 2023 at 7:17 pm

I agree with you. If the hip of the back leg is appropriately lengthened with the glute activated and the calf/ankle/foot myofascia is unrestricted, square hips with NO spinal twist is absolutely possible and preferred.

Dr. Ariele Foster
February 7, 2023 at 6:41 pm

How can you be so sure? Have you performed Xrays while in this position?

February 17, 2021 at 8:53 pm

I’ve always said that anatomically it’s very difficult to square the hips in Warrior I. I invite participants to pivot the back foot and have the toes face the upper corner of the mat instead of off the the side. It’s much easier that way. Most importantly people need to feel what works best for them in their body and not strive to acneiche an “aesthetically” perfect Asana

Dr. Ariele Foster
February 18, 2021 at 3:08 pm

Absolutely agree about aesthetically perfect asana. I would change the word “difficult” in your statement to “impossible for the vast majority of humans”. Direction of the toes (which is largely about the degree of external rotation of the hip in its socket) has only a minor change on pelvic orientation with the legs far apart (as in warrior 1 or 2).

February 9, 2021 at 5:58 pm

Thank you for this! I was never able to follow the cue to square my hips in warrior I. My back knee always felt terrible when I tried this and I now understand why. Great post and clear, helpful information!

Dr. Ariele Foster
February 18, 2021 at 3:08 pm

I’m so glad this helped, Jade.

February 21, 2021 at 4:48 am

Do you have any thoughts on the need to square the hips in front splits? The only comments I can find about this online is that it’s anatomically healthier to keep the hips squared when trying to do splits, something about balancing hip flexor and the hamstring flexibility, as well as being able to use active strength to stabilise the pelvis. However, wouldn’t the same reasoning of skeletal limitation as well as concerns about iliosacrum stability apply for front splits / hanumanasana? I’m really confused about this and I would be really grateful for your views!

Dr. Ariele Foster
February 21, 2021 at 4:46 pm

No need to square the hips in front splits. Splits are not about health or healthiness either way, but squaring the hips goes against one’s own skeletal anatomy.

April 5, 2021 at 2:22 pm

Hi. Could you elaborate a bit on why you said that splits are not about health / healthiness. I’m
so so far from splitting, so it would be reassuring. Infact I’m conflicted about how much alignments should govern my practice and if I practice without the alignments would that be worth practising at all. Please do help here.

Dr. Ariele Foster
April 12, 2021 at 11:46 am

I suspect you already know for yourself: when you have been the healthiest, did your health have anything to do with the splits? Probably not. If you are far from being capable of doing the splits, that is a cue from your body that you can let it go.

Alignment is a whole other issue, and I teach about it significantly in my anatomy mentorship: — but there is a LOT of value in yoga, yoga classes, and yoga asana-type movements beyond alignment. Try our sliding scale drop in classes to see that in action:

September 20, 2021 at 6:07 am

Thank you for this – it’s been really insightful. I’ve been doing yoga for several years but have never been sure about the warrior poses. They have always felt awkward – like I’m doing something that goes against what my body is physically designed to do. As I’ve got older I’ve noticed discomfort in my hips after doing these poses so have decided to give them up and do more core strengthening exercises.
As a ‘student’ we assume our yoga teachers are giving us safe and healthy guidance.This area is certainly something we should be having more discussions about.
Thanks for sharing.

Dr. Ariele Foster
September 20, 2021 at 1:38 pm

Right! Good on you for giving those poses up, focusing on what your body needs. This statement about assuming yoga teachers are keeping us safe is so true. It’s why yoga anatomy academy focuses on continuing education for yoga teachers, not creating more teachers through teacher trainings.

November 27, 2021 at 2:45 pm

I agree with what you are saying – I’ve been taking classes and workshops with Doug Keller and this is what he is saying as well. Also he mentions that many standing poses are twists such as triangle pose and extended side angle. When I teach I always mention that you can square your hips with crescent lunge and the lunges because the back feet are also pointed forward just like the front foot. As soon as you point the back foot out diagonally the hip has to rotate away from being squared to the front. In Warrior 1 I like to put my thumbs underneath my armpits and rotate the chest forward to emphasize that the chest is forward but the hips are rotated to the side and there is a twist.

January 23, 2022 at 8:05 pm

I so appreciated this! I am a yoga instructor and I have been telling students for years to try to bring the hips in line, “even though it’s not really possible.“ The spinal rotation makes perfect sense 🙂

Dr. Ariele Foster
January 25, 2022 at 7:27 pm

Glad we can make sense of it for you!

Tin Won
November 12, 2022 at 9:58 pm

Thanks you for the article! Could you elaborate on the possible injuries that can be caused? My wife was injured when she was egged on to go “deeper” in warrior pose by an incompetent yoga instructor. It has been a few years and still doesn’t improve. If you have any suggestions on possible injuries I’d be very appreciative…

Dr. Ariele Foster
November 15, 2022 at 11:50 am

I’m going to say something pretty intense: 99% or more of yoga teachers are ignorant of basic anatomy and skeletal structure (as in, don’t understand the variation in hip sockets or spines), and could therefore fall under the category of “incompetent”. This yoga teacher was simply repeating what they knew to be “true” from the teacher who taught them warrior II.

Re: your wife, I’m guessing this is a hip or knee injury, but it could also be something to the pelvis / sacrum or other location, depending on 1000 factors. The list of potential injuries could be quite long, but I’ve personally seen acute hip injuries from Warrior II.

What has your wife done to get it better? Sometimes passage of time helps an injury, but that is usually a matter of a few days to a few weeks. Years passing means she needs trained help. Has she seen a physical therapist / physio?

January 14, 2023 at 5:05 pm

Hi Ariele, I’m in full agreement with you. Thanks for writing this article. I’m interested to hear your views on whether the hips can be squared in Pyramid pose / Parsvottanasana (assuming they’re hip distance apart and the back hip has about 45 degrees of external rotation). I’ve heard conflicting views from two different teachers who both claim to have a lot of anatomy training so I’m curious to hear your input if you’re happy to share it.

Dr. Ariele Foster
February 26, 2023 at 1:45 pm

sorry it took me a minute to respond to this! I wanted to create a public response because I thought it was a good question. The short answer is yes, basically, and i go into more detail on Instagram:

February 28, 2024 at 7:13 am

Thank you for your videos and help on this, it’s much appreciated. So in Warrior 1, if we cue a shorter distance between front and back foot, a wider stance, and back foot placement at 45-60 degrees so that the foot positioning is identical to Pyramid, would it then be anatomically possible to face the hips to the front of the room?

Dr. Ariele Foster
February 28, 2024 at 11:04 am

No, it still won’t be possible for the pelvis to be fully “Squared” to the front of the mat — for the vast majority of people.

Natural biomechanics of the low back / pelvis mean when the legs are more than, say, walking distance apart front to back, the pelvis naturally turns a little toward the back leg. (EDIT: I realize that pyramid pose is much wider than walking distance, but the difference between that and warrior I is that the front knee in warrior I is bent, effectively increasing the angle of difference between front and back hip positions — which is what pulls on the pelvis — more than pyramid pose with the front knee straight.)

That is not a bad thing!

We need to better examine why we have so much geometric cuing in yoga. The body is not geometric. We need to understand that the source of this cuing is dubious, non-anatomical and is actively creating harm because someone will want to be a “good student” and will try their hardest to do something their bones do not want them to do.

February 26, 2024 at 2:33 pm

Thanks for this article! I love warrior poses but this has me wondering whether it’s useful or healthy to include them in every class if the “proper” alignment is anatomically impossible for most people. I have SI joint pain and I know yoga is contributing to it. Do you think they are useful poses, and if so what would you use them for?

Dr. Ariele Foster
February 26, 2024 at 3:09 pm

Warrior I and II are variations of lunges. Lunges are not inherently harmful, in fact can be a great movement for engaging the muscles of our legs. It’s the focus within yoga on highly particular, unnecessary and supra-anatomical* cuing and “alignment” in yoga that can harm. By harm, I mean, contribute to things like SI Joint pain. By “Supra-anatomical” I mean demanding of our anatomy abilities and ranges of motion that our joints simply don’t have or shouldn’t be pushed into.

April 8, 2024 at 1:19 pm

Please do not copy (warrior) Virabhadrasana 2 foot placement. This is totally incorrect alignment for the back foot. Warrior 2 or Virabhadrasana 2 foot placement allows the hips the correct alignment. No twisting of spine needed.

Dr. Ariele Foster
May 2, 2024 at 5:53 pm

Curious how you are measuring the “correct” alignment of the hips. Do you mean pelvis? Because the hip joints can be externally or interally rotated to a degree independently of spinal rotation. Movement of the pelvis as a whole cannot be independent of spinal movement.


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