Feel Like a Warrior
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
Practising Warrior I increases flexibility in the hips and strengthens and tones the legs, ankles and feet.
Working on Warrior I will improve all standing poses as well as hip openers. I teach this pose with the feet slightly wider than hip distance apart and allow the hips to relax meaning they normally point towards the corner of the mat (Think Warrior 1.5!) this allows for more stability in the pose and does not pull on the sacrum or lower back.
However, because of all these different elements this is a complex pose with a lot of different alignment cues to learn. Keeping all these in mind while staying with the breath can feel a bit like a juggling act. In my opinion its harder than Warrior II!
But this is Warrior Pose after all – named after the warrior Virabhadra, who is said to symbolise our inner ability to overcome ego and ignorance. The warriors challenge and test us but in doing so bring us strength, focus, confidence, and courage.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Warrior II requires lots of strength and stability, but also flexibility in the hips and upper body. This teaches us about one of the key principles of yoga asana practice, the balance of steadiness and ease. It also teaches us to involve the whole body in asana, and to remember that which is out of sight. In this case, keeping the back arm lifted and the back foot grounded.
Protecting your knees!
Warrior II is a good pose to learn about your own body in terms of the alignment of your knee and ankle. For most people the safest position for the knee joint is for it to be stacked over the ankle. Sometimes however, the knee can fall in towards the big toe side of the foot. To protect the knee and ankle joint you can check to see if the knee is pointing in the same direction as the second and third toe. Often the reason why the knee rolls inwards is due to the hips being drawn round to the long edge of the mat. This can easily be re-aligned by allowing the hips to relax and be more on the diagonal.
Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)
Warrior III pose trains our focus and works the small muscles in the feet and ankles. Keeping a slight bend in the knee can help with balance and prevent the knee from locking. Think about shooting energy out through your back foot to help lift the leg. This pose can be practised with the arms in different positions: parallel with each other in front, out to the sides, slightly pointing back or with the palms together.
To get a clear alignment and feel grounded in the pose I would highly recommend using two yoga bricks and then when you feel ready you can start to take one or both hands away from the props and work on your balance. In Warrior III the hips should be level with each other, the core engaged and the spine neutral.
The Story Behind the Warriors
The myth of Virabhadrasana begins with Daksha, a powerful priest, who failed to invite his daughter Sati and her husband Shiva to a ritual sacrifice. Sati decided to go to the ceremony nonetheless but humiliated by her father, threw herself into the sacrificial fire and died.
When the news reached Shiva, he was devastated, and out of rage tore out a lock of his hair and threw it into the ground. A powerful warrior named Virabhadra rose from the earth ready to fight for Shiva.
Sati’s husband sent him to destroy Daksha and the sacrifice, and after his revenge was accomplished retired into meditation to grieve. Later, Sati is reborn, and she and Shiva find love together again.
The pose Warrior I represents the Hero arriving at the ceremony with two swords in his hand. Warrior II represents the Hero focusing on his target and Warrior III represents the killing of Daksha with the two swords.
If we break down the Sanskrit name ‘Vira’ means hero and ‘Bhradra’ means auspicious, companion or friend. We can presume that this warrior represents a friendly, courageous hero, someone to help not harm, whose job it is to protect rather than provoke. So maybe next time you practice warrior poses in class it might mean a little more to you than it did before.