Virabhadrasana is the Sanskrit name for the set of three Warrior poses. Named for the Hindu warrior hero Virabhadra, these poses are meant to increase strength in the legs as well as confidence and mental fortitude.
Tips: You can rotate your back foot forward a bit if it helps you find your balance in this stance. Your back foot should be completely flat on the floor, and you should feel your weight fairly equally distributed between the outsides of both of your feet. Don’t let your bent knee extend out over your ankle; widen your stance if that is an issue.
1. Beginning from Warrior I, lower your arms and stretch them out over your legs, parallel to the ground
2. Stretch the arms away from the the space between the shoulder blades, keeping your torso long and your gaze soft out over the front hand
2. Shift all of your weight onto your front foot as you straighten your front leg
3. Hinge from the waist and begin to drop the torso forward
4. As you drop forward, raise the back leg until both your torso and back leg are parallel with the ground. If you can’t keep your balance, a modified pose like the one shown above may be used.
On top of yoga being fun, relaxing, and making you feel absolutely awesome, there is a long and deep history of its use as well as a dense mythology behind the poses themselves. Now that you know how to do the warrior poses, consider their fabled meaning:
Shortly after their marriage, King Daksha threw a huge yagna (ritual sacrifice) and invited literally everybody in the world, except for Sati and Shiva. Upon hearing this, Sati suggested that she and Shiva attend anyway, and he declined, not wanting to further incite her father’s bad feelings toward him.
Sati decided to attend the yagna alone, and when she arrived, she and her father immediately got into an argument about her husband. Her father mocked Shiva and taunted Sati, much to the amusement of all of the other party goers. Humiliated by this public argument, Sati seethed silently as King Dashka continued to insult her husband and her decision-making in choosing him as a mate.
As her indignation grew, she became determined to cut all ties to this supposed “family” that would treat her so cruelly. When finally she spoke, she told her father that since he had given her her physical body, she no longer wanted to be associated with it. She then walked past her father and sat in a meditative pose on the ground. Closing her eyes, Sati fell into a mystic trance, where she increased her inner fire through yogic exercises until her body burst into flames.
When Shiva heard of Sati’s death, he was devastated, ripping out his hair and beating it into the ground. Out of this hair, he then fashioned a fierce warrior who he named Virabhadra. “Vira” means hero, while “Bhadra” means friend. He ordered Virabhadra to go to the yagna and destroy Daksha and all the guests assembled.
With swords in both hands, Virabhadra arrived at the party by thrusting his way up through the earth from deep underground; this is where the Warrior I pose comes from.
As he established his arrival for all to see, he set his sights on his opponent, Dashka, which is symbolized with the Warrior II pose. Moving with swiftness and precision, he took his sword and cut off the head of the cruel Dashka (Warrior III).
Shiva arrived at Daksha’s palace to see that Virabhadra had carried out his vengeful wishes. He absorbed Virabhadra back into his own form, and his anger was replaced with sorrow for the loss of his wife.
Looking at the bloody work of his warrior, his sorrow turned into compassion, and he brought Daksha back to life. Overwhelmed by this generous gesture, the now reanimated Daksha bowed in awe and humility to Shiva, which the other guests emulated to honor Shiva for his compassion.
We practice Virabhadrasana not to honor the practice of violence, but to fight our own ignorance and ego. The warrior that we emulate is the spiritual warrior or higher self (Shiva), who battles the prideful ego (Daksha) for the sake of the heart (Sati). Although the ego is forgiven for being selfish, the battle rages on until we reach enlightenment.
So the story goes.
What yoga pose would you like to see us explore next?