Most yoga practitioners, even the most beginners, know the Warrior Pose, or Virabhadrasana. In any of its three main variations, it is an excellent pose for strengthening legs and arms simultaneously. This is why they are a common sequence in yoga classes of all kinds. However, what you may not know is the story behind this asana, which is rooted in a myth from the Hindu tradition.
The story behind the Virabhadrasana
According to the story, Sati, daughter of King Daksha, was a great devotee of Shiva. Such was his devotion that to impress the ascetic god. He decided to retire to the forest, giving up his life of luxury for a more austere life. Impressed by her strength, Shiva answers her prayers and agrees to marry her.
Daksha did not approve of her daughter’s marriage. She decides to celebrate a yagna (ritual ceremony) and invite all the gods, leaving her daughter and husband. Sati decides to attend despite not having been invited. Upon arrival, she is disowned by her father and relatives, who question Shiva’s virtues. Sati, enraged and humiliated, decides to cut all connection with her father, leaving behind the body that he had given her. According to some versions, he immolates himself by throwing himself into the flames of ceremonial sacrifice. In others, he goes into a deep state of meditation until eventually, his body bursts into flames.
Upon learning of Sati’s death, Shiva is consumed with grief and, enraged, plucks a lock of her hair and throws it to the ground. From one of the strands, a terrible warrior emerges whom he names Virbhadra (etymologically, Vira = hero, Bhadra = friend). At the command of Shiva, Virbhadra appears in the yagna to kill Daksha.
The three variations of Virabhadrasana arise from the following moments:
Virabhadra performs at the ceremony, breaking through from the depths of the earth. Wielding his swords with both hands ( Virabhadrasana I )
Locate Daksha and set his target ( Virabhadrasana II )
With a subtle and precise movement, he beheads Dakshna with his two swords ( Virabhadrasana III )
Upon arriving at the scene, Shiva’s anger gives way to compassion. He resumes Virbhadra back into himself and brings Daksha back to life, replacing his decapitated head with a goat.
Why do we do this posture?
It can be strange that a yoga pose has its origin in what looks like a violent act of revenge at first glance. The explanation is as follows: Virbhadra’s is not violence without motive; just like Shiva, “destroy to create.” What is evoked in this asana is the spiritual warrior. By raising our arms, we wield the swords with which we can destroy the true enemy. The ego and ignorance, just as Virbhadra cut off the source of Daksha’s arrogance, her head.
Beyond their religious origin and symbolic value, the three warrior postures are extremely vigorous. Requiring great concentration and the ability to focus on several factors at once. In addition, involving several muscles simultaneously and by the fact that each side of the body is executing different actions. It helps us register where our weaknesses are, our strengths, and where we carry tension. In a complementary way, the Warrior III pose is one of the best balance asanas!
You should start from Tadasana, standing with your feet hip-width apart. With an exhale, spread your legs so that there is a distance of about one meter between them. Rotate your left foot 45-60 degrees to the right and your right foot 90 degrees to the right. Line up your heels. With an exhale, rotate your torso to the right.
Bend the right knee so that the shin is perpendicular to the floor. Ideally, your leg is at a 90-degree angle, with your thigh parallel to your mat. Rotate the right side of the right hip back and the left side forward so they are as aligned as possible. More than the alignment of the hips, however, what is important is that the torso is well oriented forward.
With an inhale, raise your arms so that they are parallel to each other, perpendicular to the floor. The palms are facing each other and the fingers are extended. Make sure to keep your shoulders low, so you don’t compress your neck.
As for Warrior I, start from Tadasana and spread the legs.
Rotate the right foot 90 degrees. If necessary, you can rotate your left foot slightly in the same direction.
Take a moment to set your feet flat on the floor, pressing down from all supports.
With an inhale, bring both arms up to shoulder height to parallel to the floor, palms facing down. Make sure to keep your shoulders low and your neck long.
Turn your head to look to the right.
With an exhale, bend your right knee. Check your alignment: both heels must be aligned, both hips must be at the same height. The right ankle must be aligned with the right knee; the knee mustn’t exceed the ankle.
Begin in the Tadasana position. Place your legs shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides of the body. Move your right foot about two feet apart and keep your weight on your left leg. Inhale and place your arms over your head with your palms facing each other and perpendicular to the ground. Straighten your right leg and begin to bring your torso to a position parallel to the ground.
Continue to bring your torso forward to balance your left leg by lifting it and extending it back. Finally, both the torso and the left leg should be parallel to the ground simultaneously. Find a spot on the floor and focus your gaze on it to keep your balance. Keep your neck relaxed, making a natural extension of the spine.
Try stretching your legs and arms so that your body looks like the letter “T” on the side. Keep your hips level and pointed toward the floor as you fully extend your left leg. The hips tend to grip, so keep pointing to the ground. Bend your left foot and keep your toes pointing toward the ground.
Bring your arms around your body when you feel confident. Hold this position as long as possible, optimally, 30 seconds to a minute. To release, exhale and slightly bend your left knee, bringing your right leg to the ground. Drop your arms to your side when you get up and finish in the Tadasana position. Reverse your feet and repeat each step with the other leg.
Warrior posture variations
If you find it difficult or painful to keep the heel of the back leg supported in the Warrior I pose. You can use something to keep it supported with a slight elevation. If you can stretch your arms even further without contracting your neck, you can bring your palms together. Raising your chest further, lean back slightly. You can also bring your palms together when practicing Virabhadrasana III.