6.23.2011

Asana of the Week: Virasana

Virasana (Hero Pose) is a simple yet powerful seated posture, perfect for meditation, pranayama, or any seated activity.  Sitting in this position supports proper elongation of the spine and openness of the chest.  It is one of the only postures recommended for practice after a meal because it helps to alleviate fullness and aids in proper digestion.

Virasana, if practiced safely with appropriate support, is therapeutic for the knees and may help to alleviate arthritic pain in the joints.  The complete flexion of the knees lengthens tight quadriceps and the extension of the ankles stretches the front of the ankle and shin.  This posture also increases blood supply to the feet, softening hard heels and lifting the arches.  Virasana may be useful as preparation for a safe lotus position if one experiences discomfort in the knees and can free up the quadriceps and psoas to allow for deeper, safer backbends.  Five to 15 minutes per day in this pose will quickly release short quadriceps and boost the health of the knees. 

To practice Virasana, come to a kneeling position with the knees together and the feet slightly wider than hip width apart.  If possible, sit the hips down onto the floor between the feet.  Ensure that the heels point up and the feet extend straight out from the lower leg, rather than turning in toward one another.  If you experience discomfort in the knees or are unable to sit all the way down, place a block or folded blanket under the sitting bones for support.  If the quadriceps are shortened, the knees will tend to move away from one another.  In this case, a strap or belt may be used around the thighs to keep the knees together so that the adductors need not be overused.  Be sure to drop your tailbone and lift the belly to elongate the lumbar spine and reduce compression in the low back.  Keep the heart lifted and the shoulders back. 

Sensation in this position can be intense at first.  Be sensitive to your own needs and come out of the posture if you experience pain.  Though it is recommended that one spend several minutes at a time in Virasana, it is a good idea for those with tight quadriceps or sensitive knees to begin with a one-minute hold and build up to an extended stay over a period of weeks.  Always release the pose slowly and enjoy the rush of fresh blood to the knees.

2 comments:

  1. Oh, this pose makes me absolutely gasp with sensation in my knees!! In the class I am currently taking, we spend about 3-5 minutes each class in Virasana - absolute sensation overload. Sometimes I am able to stay the 5 mins without a block, most of the time on the block.

    I think it's good to mention that because of the way the blood flow to the knees gets restricted, it's important to come out of the pose slowly and gently. I find downward dog to be the best counter-pose, but it should be entered into very slowly and carefully, especially after a long hold in virasana.

    I love that this is such a simple posture and yet translated as Hero Pose. It gives a great counter measure to our modern culture which tends to value the more physically challenging poses as more "heroic". :)

    Hope all is going well with Swenson!

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  2. La Gitane - I agree, this pose is very intense. My experience is that for the first several breaths, it borders on discomfort. Then as the thighs begin to release, it starts to feel like absolute magic. It's definitely best to release the pose gently. I like to step slowly into a plank position and use the strength of the thighs to help move blood back into the legs.

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