The warrior poses are among the most well recognized postures in the Hatha yoga tradition. Standing poses that are accessible to almost everyone—Virabhadrasana I, II, and III—engage the entire physical body, while providing an opportunity to bring a powerful focus and attitude into the moment you are in. Just putting your body into these shapes brings about a certain attitude—one of strength, focus, and determination. Each pose has its own unique alignment and purpose; however, when grouped together, these poses can take your body and spirit through a full journey of the heart.
What’s in a Name?
It is interesting that these poses are named in sequential order, when they neither naturally transition into one another, nor do they seem to exist in order of difficulty. One explanation is that the number refers to the number of long lines that are created from the center of the pose (both arms up in Warrior I make one line, two arms out in Warrior II make two lines, and the arms, front, and back leg in Warrior III make three lines). However, a look into Hindu mythology provides deeper explanation.
Virabhadra (after whom the pose is named) was a powerful form of the lord Shiva; according to some traditions, each pose represents a stage in his journey.
- Warrior I represents the warrior’s arrival on the battleground.
- Warrior II represents the warrior taking aim at his enemy.
- Warrior III represents the warrior going into battle.
When approached in this way, the poses take on more meaning, since everyone is on a battlefield of one form or another.
Physical Alignment: From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your left leg back a comfortable distance—usually 3 to 4 feet, depending on the length of your legs. You should be able to have your back foot flat to the earth, so externally rotate your back leg as much as necessary to get the heel down.
Beginning with your hands on your hips can help you to align your foundation, before moving into the full depth and breadth of the pose. Widening your feet from right to left and shortening your stride are suggested solutions to any instability in the legs.
Once you feel stable, extend the arms upward. Keep the tailbone anchored down toward your front heel, while hugging your front ribs in.
Attitude: Symbolically, this pose is about moving forward into the depths of life with a confident and open attitude. Imagine your back leg firmly rooted in the present, and the bend in the front leg as your willingness to move deeply into what is ahead. Look courageously at your goals, and lean into them.
Your legs represent your groundedness and stability on the path, while your arms uplifted represent your connection to higher vibrations and elevated thoughts. Keep pointing your heart forward, as if you were shining a flashlight toward where you want to go. Soften your face to embrace the journey with grace.
Physical Alignment: The legs are wider in Warrior II—about as wide as your hand when you stretch your arms out horizontally. Turn your right leg out, and your left leg slightly in to set your foundation. Check to ensure that your front heel lines up with the arch of your back foot, and that you can evenly press down through all four corners of each foot.
Bend your front leg as close to 90 degrees as possible, without letting the knee move beyond the heel. Keep the back leg straight, while encouraging the top of the back thighbone to move toward the back plane of the body. With the arms outstretched, gaze over the fingertips of your front hand, while remaining vertical in your torso.
Attitude: Your heart represents the present moment. Can you remain there, even though your attention may be pulled in different directions? Your front arm points toward your future (and many people end up leaning too far forward in this pose), while the back arm (out of your line of sight) represents your past.
As you lunge into your front leg with strength and determination, stay steadfast in your awareness in the moment. If you notice your jaw clenching or brow furrowing, you may be taking life too seriously. This pose requires the strength of a warrior, but void of violence. So keep your attitude light, even when faced with a challenge.
Physical Alignment: Part of the journey of Warrior III is a smooth entry into the pose. Begin in Warrior I, and spin your back heel up. Push off your back leg and shift your weight into your front leg.
As soon as your back leg lifts off the ground, energize and engage it. Keep the toes pointed down, but keep the leg straight and strong. Root down through the base of the big toe on your standing leg as you straighten it, and reach forward with both arms. Keep your chest slightly lifted, and look forward.
Remain strong in the backline of the body, as the weight of the arms and legs can create an additional challenge for the spine. If you feel like you are collapsing, lift your chest a bit more, and consider bringing the hands to prayer position at your chest.
Attitude: Fly, fly, fly! If Warrior I is about having your eye on the prize, Warrior III is about actively going for it. Because this is a physically challenging pose that requires considerable effort and strength, it is vital to keep an attitude light enough to help you take flight.
Fly beyond limiting thoughts and beliefs that would keep you tied down. Surprise yourself with your ability to soar beyond distractions, obstacles, and uncertainty.
What Does a Warrior Mean to You?
The Oxford American Dictionary defines warrior as “a brave or experienced soldier or fighter.” What areas of your life are calling for you to bring more courage? In what areas can you use your experience to move beyond what seems to be dragging you down?
Practice the warrior poses to zone in on your strengths and use them to your advantage. Get clear in your intention, and let the poses work into your subtle body. Your warrior heart will serve you well.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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