Vīrabhadrāsana, or Warrior Pose, is a asymmetrical, lunging pose which emphasizes mobility of the upper back, shoulders and hips, as well as back and leg strength.
Warrior Pose is named after the fearsome warrior Vīrabha, created bythe god Śiva to destroy Lord Daksha, whose actions had caused the death of Śiva consort. Vīrabha is recounted in Indian mythology as a fearsome super-being: his tall body reached the high heavens, he was dark as the clouds, with three burning eyes and fiery hair; he wore a garland of skulls and carried terrible weapons.
Functions of the Pose
Length and Strength
This pose particularly focuses on lengthening the front of body and strengthening the back and legs.
Mobilizing hips and shoulders
Warrior pose brings the hips into full extension on the back leg and flexion in the front. The classical pose also brings shoulders into full flexion. These positions help improve mobility and health of the joints, especially for bodies that spend the majority of time in a seated position.
Finding the Pose
- Begin in samasthiti, standing with feet together and arms by your side.
- Take a step forward with the left foot. The left foot will point directly forward. Turn your right foot out as needed to an angle that is comfortable for your hips. The back heel remains on the floor.
- As you inhale, simultaneously bend the front knee and extend the arms forward and overhead. Palms are forward and arms are straight, and fingers interlace with palms pressing up at top of inhale.
- As you exhale, lower the arms and straighten the leg.
- Repeat #3-4 as directed, then step the left foot back to meet the right.
- Beginning in samasthiti, repeat the entire sequence on the other side.
Tips and Modifications
The appropriate distance between the feet depends on the student (and can change day-to-day), and the best way to find the foot spacing is to simply take a large step forward. You should feel balanced and steady, and there should be no strain in the hips, lower back or back knee in this initial stance. Many students will want feet about hip width apart to allow more freedom in the lower back. If shortness in the calf of the back leg prevents the student from bringing the heel down, a shorter stance is recommended. Over time, as the student gains strength and flexibility, the stance may become more narrow and longer.
In addition, the placement of the arms will depend the individual student. Although the classical instructions call for palms together directly overhead with arms next to the ears, most students will not have this range of motion in the shoulders and upper back, especially in the beginning. Students should bring hands wide enough at the top of the inhale that they can achieve a full breath, and the upper trapezius should appear broad and relaxed. Other variations for improving mobility in the upper back and shoulders include leaving the arms down and focusing on the inhale lifting the chest, bringing arms into a "goalpost" position with elbows bent, and beginning with the hands at the center of the chest and opening out to the sides on the inhale.
For students with poor balance or knee pain/injury, I often recommend leaving the front knee straight or bending it less. I will sometimes have students place the back heel against the wall for added stability as well. Vīrabhadrāsana with straight legs is also a good modification to bring more focus to the expansion of the upper body.
- The spinal extensors and abdominal muscles lengthen the torso upward. The psoas major contracts to prevent hyperextension (especially as the arms lift overhead).
- The serratus anterior, middle and anterior deltoid, pectoralis major and biceps brachii bring the arms overhead with adduction and inward rotation.
- The hamstrings, gluteal muscles (maximus, medius and minimus) and external hip rotators maintain the lunging position and balance of the pelvis. The muscles of the lower leg, especially the peroneals, alternately strengthen to support the ankle and lengthen.
- Strengthens the entire body in a way that encourages balance between mobility and tone for the front and back lines of the body.
- Standing poses provide an opportunity to improve foot mechanics, using pada bandha.
- Improves core awareness and balance.
- Energizes and builds stamina.
In all standing poses, safe alignment of the knee is crucial to protect that joint, but this is especially important in poses which emphasize mobility over the hip while the feet are grounded. Tightness in the hip will transmit torque to the knee, which can injure the ligaments of the knee. The knees of both legs should be in alignment with the feet, meaning that if one were to draw a line from hip to knee, that line would continue over the middle of the foot and to the second or third toe. Students whose knees have a tendency to hyperextend should begin in a smaller version of virabhadrasana and allow the pose to grow more dramatic as long as no sensation of pulling is present in the knee.
Likewise, for students who are hypermobile in the lower back, effort should be made to lengthen the spine and strengthen the pelvic floor, hip adductors, psoas major and transverse abdominus to protect the curve of the low back.
For students with osteoporosis or other disorder which makes falling very risky, standing poses should be practiced near a wall or with a sturdy chair or other piece of furniture that will prevent a fall. Standing poses can also be adapted to seated postures to ensure student safety.