Author: Sarah Loker
The Warriors are a group of standing yoga poses, or asanas, that build strength, flexibility and stamina in the body and mind. These yoga asanas also induce feelings of power and courage, helping us to tap into the warrior within us and to step into our true power and strength, on and off the yoga mat.
The Sanskrit name for the Warrior poses - Virabhadrasana - highlights this on a deeper level. In the ancient teachings of the yoga tradition, Virabhadra is the name of a fierce mythical warrior. When approaching the Vibradhadranas in yoga - Virabhadrasana I, II, III (as well as the variations of Reverse Warrior and Humble Warrior) - we are being asked to cultivate the mind and attitude of a spiritual warrior. Staying focused in our yoga practice, holding on in the midst of fear and intensity, the spirit of the warrior Virabhadra helps us to discover the strength and humility to explore challenges in our yoga practice, and off the yoga mat in our everyday lives, with greater courage and determination.
These asanas are the ultimate power stance yoga poses, boosting our mental as well as physical strength. We’ve all heard how the way we hold and move our physical bodies has an impact on our psychology through the power of body language - consider the difference between standing up tall with your shoulders down, chest puffed out and looking straight ahead, compared to rounding the shoulders and looking down at the floor… The Warrior asanas make us stand up tall, take up space on the mat, and hold ourselves with intent and strength. This physical power equates to a mental and emotional resilience, going beyond the yoga mat and having an impact in all areas of life.
The Virabhadrasanas are not, however, solely about building as much strength as physically possible. These asanas highlight the importance of a balance between effort and ease, or sthira (stability, intent and strength) and sukha (comfort, ease and openness) - in yoga and in life, we must strike a balance between working hard (sthira) and going easy (sukha), and the Warrior asanas are wonderful at teaching us this balancing act. The way the Warrior asanas encourage this is by entering each pose with intention, activating the required muscles, readjusting to find safe alignment, and then, once there, finding an ease and comfort through the smooth and uninhibited flow of the breath.
We will now explore the 5 Warrior poses in depth, detailing how to correctly move into each pose with correct alignment principles and discussing the key benefits of each:
Warrior One / Virabhadrasana I:
Stand in Mountain Pose (feet hip distance apart, hands by side) and step one foot back, making sure your hips face the front edge of your yoga mat (you can place your hands on your hips to make sure of this). Turn out the toes of your back foot to the side of the mat, grounding your heel and outside edge into the mat, pressing it into the mat hard so the leg is active and straight. The front knee is bent, with your knee stacked over your ankle joint or slightly further back, with the toes of your front foot facing the front of the mat. Bend your knee until your thigh is parallel with the mat. Feet are hip distance apart for a stable and solid foundation. Reach your arms out in front and above your head, keeping hands shoulder distance apart, releasing shoulders away from your ears with shoulder blades rooting down your back, and gently looking up at the hands. If you can keep your arms straight with the shoulders down, try bringing the palms together above your head.
Improves balance and posture
Stretches and strengthens the feet, ankles, calves and thigh muscles
Lengthens the side of the body
Improves mobility in the shoulders and hip joints
Opens the chest and lungs
Warrior Two / Virabhadrasana II:
Stand in a wide legged stance, facing the long edge of the yoga mat. Turn front foot so toes are pointing to the top edge of the yoga mat, with your back heel and outside edge of the foot grounding into the mat, toes pointing to the side or to the top corner of the mat. Bring your front foot to the centre of your yoga mat, with a straight line of energy from your front heel through to the centre of the arch of your back foot. Bend into your front knee, stopping when your thigh is parallel to the ground. Your hips are open to the long side of the yoga mat. Gently squeeze your belly button towards your spine, with your chest open to the same side as your hips. Extend your arms to the front and back of the mat, reaching fingertips in opposite directions. Lower shoulders away from the ears, lifting through the crown of the head. Gaze over your front fingertips.
Opens the hips, shoulders and chest
Stretches and lengthens the inner thighs and groin
Strengthens the legs, abdominals and arms
Warrior Three / Virabhadrasana III:
Beginning in Warrior One / Virabhadrasana I pose, take your hands to your hips. Squeeze elbows towards each other behind your body, shoulders releasing away from your ears. Have a slight bend in your front knee. Hinge from your hips and bring your weight forward as you lower your chest and upper body to parallel with the ground, at the same time pressing out through your back heel strongly and lifting your foot off the mat. Squeeze your belly button in towards your spine to keep your core strong. Keep hinging from your hips until your back leg is at the same height as your torso, straightening your front leg but avoiding locking your knee. Your gaze is straight down at the mat. Once you have stability through your grounding leg, take the hands off the hips and take them out wide like wings for balance. Eventually, try bringing your arms in front by your ears, reaching fingertips so there’s one line of energy from the fingertips through the arms, through the torso, to the lifted leg and out through the heel.
Strengthens the legs, arms, back and core muscles
Works the small muscles of the feet and ankles
Improves balance and focus/concentration
Teaches body awareness as you learn to adjust your own position in space
From Warrior Two Pose, slide your back hand on to your straight back leg. Inhale and reach your front arm forwards and up to the ceiling with your palm facing towards your body, looking up at your hand. Maintain the stability of your legs and feet, keep bending into your front leg.
Opens the chest and side body, helping to release tension in the intercostal muscles (muscles between your ribs)
Strengthens the legs
Increases mobility in the hips
Stretches the inner thighs
From Warrior One Pose, interlace your fingers behind your body - you can use a yoga strap if you find it hard to interlace your fingers. On an inhale breath, slide your hands down your back, drawing your shoulder blades down and lifting the centre of your chest. Then on an exhale breath, fold forwards, bowing your head to the inside of your leg, whilst you keep squeezing arms together and interlacing hands, taking the hands up towards the sky as you fold. Maintain Warrior One Pose legs and root into your back heel, keep lifting your hands as high to the sky as you can.
Opens your hips
Strengthens your legs, glutes and core
Improves balance and stability
Stretches the hamstrings, chest, wrists and spine
Releases the shoulders and upper back
In this pose the head is lower than the heart, meaning your brain is flooded with oxygenated blood
Explore the Warrior asanas in more depth and unleash your own inner warrior in Strength of a Warrior Workshop with Sarah. In this workshop we will deep dive into all 5 of the above Warrior asanas, learning key alignment principles and activation techniques. Each warrior asana will then be explored through a strengthening yoga flow sequence - expect to feel strong and powerful, and harness the warrior within.
Saturday 22nd April, 12-1:30pm at The Studio, Bartlow. £35 for non-members/£30 for members.
The Psycho-Physical Lab: Yoga Practice and the Mind-Body Problem, by Ohad Nachtomy and Eyal Shifroni, p165
Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations & Techniques, by Mark Stephens, p104
Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations & Techniques, by Mark Stephens, p173
Yoga: A Manual for Life, by Naomi Annand, p42
Yoga: A Manual for Life, by Naomi Annand, p39