Accessible to most of us; Virabhadrasana 2 is one of the most widely used standing postures in many yoga sequences. The name of this asana is derived from ‘Virabhadra’, a mythical warrior created from a lock of the God, Shiva’s hair. (In Indian philosophy, Shiva represents the ‘higher self’ / ‘the true universal energy’.) Shiva created this warrior to seek revenge against Daksha (A mythical god who represents the ego), after the death of his wife-to-be, Sati or ‘Shakti’ (who represents the heart, or feminine energy).
The Sanskrit word ‘Vira’ means ‘Hero’, and the word ‘Bhadra’ means ‘Friend’, so this warrior represents ‘fighting’ for a good cause; to overcome the ego. And we all know what the ego is, even if we’re not familiar with these texts – the ego is that voice in our mind that allows us to think limiting beliefs about ourselves; casts thoughts of doubt, and judges ourselves and others, essentially separating ourselves from who we could truly be without all of this underlying rubbish.
The postures warrior 1, 2 and 3 all represent different actions of Virabhadra;
Virabhadrasana 1: The warrior rising up from the earth, grasping swords in both hands
Virabhadrasana 2: Virabhadra sees his opponent, Daksha (who represents the ego)
Virabhadrasana 3: This aspect of this asana is the warrior’s move as he cuts off Daksha’s head with the swords; destroying the ego.
The fact that we ‘do’ this posture a lot in a yoga practice means it’s even more important to look deeper and become aware of what we’re actually experiencing here. Postures are not merely shapes; each asana is made up of breath, body and mind, and reminding ourselves how important each posture is can allow us to have new experiences of something we may tend to take for granted.
To initially warm, open and strengthen the body; move through a few rounds of surya namaskar A and B, focussing on grounding through the feet and breathing fully and deeply.
I often include this posture in a ‘flow’ sequence, linking each movement with each breath as we transition fluidly from posture to posture, so we’ll approach Virabhadrasana from Downward Facing Dog here as many people may experience it.
- From downward facing dog: Raise the [right] leg, extending out of the ball of the foot and finding length through the body, allowing some weight to drop in to the left leg in order to lengthen the calf and hamstring muscles. Keep the weight in the hands even, and continue to press the fingertips forward, cultivating ‘hasta bandha’ just as you would in downward facing dog.
- On an exhale; bring the [right] leg forward, placing the foot between the hands – a little closer to the [right] hand. When I say place the foot down, I really mean place it, too! Often we forget that the transitions in and out of poses are just as important as the postures themselves. (Pulling the knee to the chest and then placing the foot down mindfully and slowly will not only help to build strength, but will set you up for a stronger Virabhadrasana position overall).
- Ensure the front knee is directly over the front ankle
- When the front foot is down, bring the back heel to the floor, with the outer edge of the foot parallel to the back of the mat. It’s important to set your foundations up before coming up in to the pose, and to keep pressing in to the outer edge of the back foot just as much as the front foot.
- As you next inhale, windmill the arms up and out so the arms are parallel with the floor and in line with the shoulders. Reach strongly out of the fingertips as you consciously relax the shoulders.
- Keep the back kneecap lifted to engage the quadriceps, and keep pressing through the feet actively. The stronger and more stable the lower body is, the easier the breath will be able to travel freely through the upper body. This asana is great for learning the importance of the combination of ‘sthira’ and ‘sukha’ or ‘steadiness’ and ‘ease’ that we’re looking to cultivate in all asanas.
- I often like to remind everyone in class that ‘warrior is called warrior for a reason!’ So keep your gaze steady, body strong and the mind still.
- If you’re the sort of person who tends to over-think things, plan ahead, rush in to situations or become impatient easily – you may find yourself leaning forwards over the front leg, and Judith Lasater has a beautiful way of reminding us to keep the body centered; ‘Imagine that the front arm represents the future and the back arm the past. When you equalise the stretch between this future and past, you are focussed on remaining in the present. Learning to be present with the pose and the moment are the root of yoga’.
- Stay here for 10-20 breaths, maintaining the strength of the body and ease of the breath.
- To transition out and back in to downward facing dog; windmill the arms to the ground either side of the front foot as you tuck the back toes under. On an exhale; step the front foot to the back of the mat and come back in to your downward facing dog.
Remember that this posture represents destroying the ego; with every practice we’re overcoming the obstacles that keep us from being our true selves and moving towards who we know we really are – so don’t take any posture for granted, no matter how often you may find yourself in it!