Asana of the Week: Virabhadrasana I

"Daksa once celebrated a great sacrifice, but he did not invite his daughter Sati nor her husband Siva, the chief of the gods. Sati, however, went to the sacrifice, but being greatly humiliated and insulted threw herself into the fire and perished. When Siva heard this he was gravely provoked, tore a hair from his matted locks and threw it to the ground. A powerful hero named Virabhadra rose up and awaited his orders. He was told to lead Siva's army against Daksa and destroy his sacrifice. Virabhadra and his army appeared in the midst of Daksa's assembly like a hurricane and destroyed the sacrifice, routed the other gods and priests and beheaded Daksa." -- Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar.

What's the moral of the story? Double check your invitation list next time you throw a party. But seriously, folks, the hero Virabhadra was not messing around. He was loyal, obedient, and fierce, and the asana named in the warrior's honor embodies this ferocity. As Virabhadra rose up from Siva's severed hair thrown to the ground, so too does the power of this pose arise from the strong grounding action of the feet and legs, drawing energy up from the earth and sending it skyward, infinitely higher.

While warrior I is a highly familiar and commonly practiced pose in the yoga world, it is not an easy one. There's a lot going on here: you're grounding down through the legs, sitting deeply in the hips, but lengthening the spine straight up and out of the pelvis... and just when you think you've got it, you learn there's more work to be done. Once the necessary strength in the legs has been developed to be able to bend into that front knee while anchoring into the outer edge of the back foot, the challenge becomes squaring the hips and shoulders to face forward. Once you think you've got the hips and shoulders nice and square, you learn that the tailbone must be tucked under the body and the ribs must be tucked into the torso to prevent compression in the lower back.

A week or so ago, I wrote about some enlightening adjustments I received in my warrior poses which illuminated some of my weaknesses and revealed to me the extensive work of this pose that I've been missing out on. Tuck the tailbone, tuck the ribs, lift the chest. Rinse, repeat as necessary.  In order to bring the work into my core, I have been shortening my stance slightly to allow for better tailbone tucking action, but I still tend to seek that opening in the front body that I'm apparently not supposed to be feeling here. My tendency is to want to spread my rib cage and open my heart to the sky, to lean back and expand from my very center, but this is burdensome on the back.

One of my teachers beautifully described the action of tucking the ribs as "keeping something for yourself." Don't give it all away. Don't pour the energy from the heart. Instead, draw it up the spine and send it out through the crown of the head. This is my work, my warrior's challenge. What's yours?


  1. It is a joy to see you in this pose. I always teach Vira 1 with a shorter stance and with the hips pointing forward. I usually come into it from Tadasana too, stepping forward. How are you finding the shortened stance?

    I'm always amazed by how often this is taught to beginners. It's not a beginner's pose by any means!!

  2. Rachel - The shorter stance works a little better for me right now because I have extremely short achilles tendons and generally messed up ankles. Bringing the back foot in allows me to find a stable base in order to focus on the all-important action of the core. I'm thinking long term, here: do I want to look cool in Vira I, or do I want to have a healthy, strong back for the rest of my life? Easy choice.

    I agree that Vira I is definitely not a beginner's pose in it's full expression, but starting from a very short stance, slight bend in the front knee, and working from there seems like an okay way to introduce this pose to beginners, though I do find that "tuck the tailbone" and "square the hips" don't mean much to someone with very little body awareness, i.e. most beginning yogis.

  3. I'm not a fan of "tuck the tailbone". I get what it means but most beginners just rock their entire pelvis in the most bizarre way! I prefer to just get them to point their hips to the front of the mat and the rest takes care of itself when doing a short stance.