Align: Virabhadrasana II

Virabhadrasana II, Warrior II Pose, is an asymmetrical standing lunge pose which emphasizes external rotation of the hip.

Functions of the Pose

Strengthen external hip rotators

For bodies which spend a lot of time sitting (especially if sitting is on a chair or couch), the deep external hip rotators, which include the piriformis muscle, are chronically short, but also weak, and this weakness can disrupt the function of other muscles in the hips. Warrior II is good place to explore and improve the function of this muscle group.

Strengthen core and pelvic floor

Bringing the legs far apart in a weight-bearing pose brings more awareness to the pelvic floor and its role in supporting the torso.

Finding the Pose

  1. Begin standing and bring feet wide, about as far as your "wing-span."
  2. Slightly inwardly rotate the left leg and foot.
  3. Lightly bend the right knee. Keeping the hips level, use the outer hip muscles to externally rotate the right leg as you bend the knee further, turning the foot out about 90 degrees.* Keep the right knee aligned with the center of the foot.
  4. Raise your arms out over the legs, so that the hands reach in opposite directions and arms extend in a line from the collarbones. 
  5. Turn your head to bring your gaze over the right hand.

* It may be necessary to adjust the left foot in order to keep the left knee safe. Proper alignment of the leg maintains a smooth line from hip to ankle, with the knee in line with the center of the foot.

Tips and Modifications

It can be challenging to reach the arms in opposite directions for extended periods of time. Especially for students with head-forward posture, the tendency to utilize the levator scapulae muscle which runs from scapula to neck can lead to strain. Focus on supporting the arms from below and between with the core, rhomboids and serratus anterior, and even the triceps brachii. The action of drawing the shoulder-blades toward each other and down can help relieve neck tension.

A popular modification of warrior II is to extend the front arm in "reverse warrior" or "exultant warrior." This variation is a side-bending variation for the spine, not a backward-bending pose. Practicing warrior II, especially in this variation, against a wall can bring more awareness to the alignment of the hips.

A chair can also be used to support the body so that less effort is required for balance and focus can be directed to the length of the spine, support from the core and lengthening the arms.

 Warrior II with the front thigh supported by a chair. Students may need blankets to bring the thigh high enough that the hips can be level.

Warrior II with the front thigh supported by a chair. Students may need blankets to bring the thigh high enough that the hips can be level.

 "Reverse Warrior" variation to lengthen the side body and mid- to upper-back, using an optional chair for support.

"Reverse Warrior" variation to lengthen the side body and mid- to upper-back, using an optional chair for support.

Muscle Actions

  • The muscles of the core (pelvic floor, transverse abdominus and multifidus) along with the spinal extensor and flexor groups work to keep the torso upright.
  • The muscles of the neck, especially the sternocleidomastoid and upper trapezius, turn the head to the side.
  • The serratus anterior, rotator cuff and biceps brachii, along with the triceps brachii, pectoralis major and minor, extend the arms to the side.

Benefits

  • Strengthen the core, hips and legs, shoulders and arms.
  • Improve balance.
  • Relieve neck and upper back tension.

Precautions

Although images of classical virabhadrasana II alignment show the front heel and foot in a line with the arch or heel of the back foot, for the average student, trying to reach this alignment can place a great deal of stress on the ligaments of the front knee, and potentially on the hip joint of either leg. Many students will be better off with the front heel aligned with ball or toes of the back foot.

The focus of work in this pose is in the external hip rotators (piriformis and friends). Weakness in these muscles or tightness in the antagonist muscles of the inner thigh will prevent external rotation of the front leg (which is needed to keep the knee in safe alignment with the center of the foot). Students should encouraged to use the hip muscles to place the knee and foot, rather than bring the foot in position and try to force the knee and hip to follow.

The line of the extended arms should run from the collarbones and pectoral girdle. If a student's torso isn't centered directly over the hips (if there is a slight twist in the waist or spine) or if the 

Sequencing Tips

Standing postures are typically practiced after some general movement to continue warming up of the body in preparation for postures which require more flexibility. Virabhadrasana I and II are often used in sun salutation B and C variations.

Keep in mind that the primary difference between Warrior I and II are the internal and external rotation at the hip and shoulders, respectively. If you intend to practice poses which require external rotation (such as triangle, extended side angle, pigeon, etc), warrior II is a very good place to awaken and strengthen the muscles which create the movement. It can be stressful to the joint and ligaments, however, to move from deep external rotation immediately to deep internal rotation, so try to come to a relatively neutral pose before dramatically altering the position of the hips.

The movement from virabhadrasana I to II can relieve tension in the shoulders and neck, as well as in the hips. As the head turns to gaze over the front hand and the back arm extends away, the upper trapezius and levator scapulae are both lengthened. Similarly, the movement of the acetabulum of the pelvis over the head of the femur when transitioning to virabhadrasana II helps to improve health of the ball and socket joint of the hip.

Additional Resources

Yoga Anatomy-2nd Edition
By Leslie Kaminoff, Amy Matthews