The Wheel In My Warrior

IMAGERY abounds in yoga.

The asanas alone make a fantastic tableau of creatures: camels and crows, cats and cows, locusts and baby grasshoppers, dolphins and seals, and many others whose ancestors must have once had the good fortune to find rest in Noah’s ark. Add to this the other glories of Nature—the trees, the mountains, a solitary lotus, even the geometry of triangles and side angles.

The gurus and ascetics of yore in the long, rich history of yoga must have dreamed up these shapes and figures in response to the oum and vibrations of Nature. The warrior poses, those tongue-tripping Virabhadrasanas, on the other hand, must likely have been conceived as a natural impulse to the warring themes in the Bhagavad Gita

But the wheel, why is there a wheel in my warrior?

Here, I’m not talking about the yoga wheel, that intense inverted-U backbend, but a figurative wheel. Visualize it spinning forward, or backward. Forward’s better, of course. Think progress, courage, and bravery.  Alas, that’s exactly what we were lacking that Tuesday morning in our Hot Hatha class several weeks ago.

“Look here,” our teacher said, interrupting our Warrior II with a demo. Our eyes turned in the direction of his mat, towards his slim, sinewy, slightly hairy legs. Bending his knees with what he likes to call “quick action,” he showed us the pose he envisioned: thigh parallel to the mat and perpendicular to the calf; his bum earthbound, not heavy but light. Perfect geometry, if you will.

“The reason why all of you aren’t sitting low enough,” he said, half-complaining, half-scolding, “is because your wheel is going backward not forward.” Here, his index finger traced a huge invisible circle around his right hip, beckoning us to picture an imaginary wheel spinning forward with a speed and bravado that naturally coaxes the knee to bend more—bravely and amply.

Then, by way of contrast, to emphasize how ours fell short of his expectation, he mimics our wheel, the dismal, diffident back-sliding one. “You see why if you do this,” he continues, “there’s no way you’re going to go down like a warrior.” The pose is frozen, devoid of that freeing, forward motion, and then you see it. Of course, if you put the brakes on your wheel, or worse, send it on reverse, there’s no way but for the hips and knees to look like rusty, stubborn joints.

“Of course, I see,” your mind lights up. But just as quickly, the wheels in your mind begin their hesitation: “Of course, if I sit lower, I’ve got to work my thigh, and yes, my ass!”

Then you smile a little at that jiggle of the head so characteristic of Indians when they speak or press a point. You understand the jiggle, you feel the sweat slick your shoulders, trickle down the back of your neck and your knees, oh, everywhere!

You send the wheel forward, trying as best as you can to sit low like a low-C.G. sports car, hoping this Iyengar man wouldn’t let you hang out there like you were cruising in a Ferrari. You know his usual routine of fussing and fixing poses mat by mat. There’s plenty of love in this, so don’t complain. He knows how to take his time, just like those in-the-moment ascetics of yore, whose concept of time is an incomprehensible kind of stillness where no wheels exist.

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Find out how “juggernaut” is connected with the Indian god, Krishna.


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