This seemingly simple pose is actually wonderful for a full body stretch while strengthening! There's a lot going on, which is why I love to not just throw it into classes, but really take the time to talk my students through Virabhadrasana I.
Traditionally, the heels are aligned in one straight line, not hips-width apart like many of our other yoga asanas. This creates the need for hip mobility and back/lower body flexibility, stretching out the iliopsoas for the back leg while contracting it on the front leg. I recommend a shorter stance if you're struggling to square up the hips. Slowly deepening your stance will help support the bodies structural system as the leg muscles learn to stretch it out and safely support the skeletal system.
It's easy to create an anterior tilt of the pelvis here, but resist the urge! Sticking the tailbone back splays the ribs open, creating an UNsafe backbend. To keep the back safe, think about melting your tailbone to the earth and wrapping the muscles around the ribs. This will naturally engage the core, creating a nice, neutral spin.
Did you know that your traps are attached to your shoulders? Many big, bulky, body-builder types struggle to reach their hands overhead because their traps are too tight. We must stretch out the back body in order to get the arms overhead, without creating the crunched up turtle neck. Instead of bringing the arms around and up, try bringing the arms forward and up while holding a strap, rope, etc.
Full Body Stretch & Strengthen The front body is working hard on staying strong and active in this asana, which allows the back body to safely stretch it out. This creates the "hurts so good" sensation we should be feeling in Warrior I! Lifting the back kneecap keeps the back leg strong and active in this deep stretch. Tucking the tailbone and activating the core keeps the front body strong, keeping the back body safe as it stretches towards the sky.
Patience, Patience, Patience
One of my favorite things to do in class is make students hold poses. I'm known for my fast paced teaching style, so when I slow it down and have my students hold, it's so interesting to see their faces! Sometimes they get frustrated that I'm making them sit in an uncomfortable pose. Sometimes they assume what's next and thoughtlessly flow into whatever pose they assume will be next. Virabhadrasana I is not meant to be comfortable. It's meant to challenge the body and mind. Next time you hit this pose, take a moment to play here! Shorten or widen your stance. Physically hold your hips square as you play. Play with the arms. Find what feels good, what feels challenging!
Although this pose seems challenging, there are plenty of modifications we can make to give your body what it needs. Hit me up if you want to try out some of those modifications and have some Warrior I play time!