Asana, the physical practice of yoga, is the third of the eight limbs of yoga in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Of the 196 sutras, the first of three that discuss asana says that the physical posture should be “steady and comfortable,“ or “firm and soft.”
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose) expresses a perfect balance of dynamic grounding and buoyant ease. In Warrior I the lower body roots strongly into the ground, while the upper body rises up to the sky. This dynamic combination grounds and stabilizes as it generates an uprising energy that nourishes the spine and clears what I call mental “cobwebs.”
The Sanskrit name, Virabhadrasana I, comes from the story of Shiva’s violent revenge in response to the fiery death of his wife, Sati. But in yoga practice, we can think of the pose as symbolizing a peaceful warrior—much like the warrior Shiva became after seeing the destruction he’d wrought.
Practicing Virabhadrasana I stretches the chest and shoulders, and strengthens the back, legs and ankles. In addition, it stabilizes the hip joints and promotes good balance. If you are pregnant, or have low back, hip or sacroiliac problems, practice with a narrower stance than is suggested below. Try two feet instead of three feet.
How to Practice Virabhadrasana I
- Begin by standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet hips-width apart at one end of a nonskid mat with most of the mat extending back behind you.
- Feel how your feet connect with the floor. Do you feel even weight across the feet—from right to left, from inside to outside, from the balls of the feet to the heels? Assess your energy: What are you bringing to the pose? Do you feel heavy or light in the body? Do you feel an upward or downward flow of energy? Is your energy agitated or calm?
- Step your right leg straight back about a leg length (three feet or so). Make sure your right foot is facing mostly forward, so that your toes are only slightly angled to the right. It’s okay if your right heel doesn’t reach the floor—let it lift, but keep the right knee straight and extend strongly back through the leg. Now let your kidneys soften back into the low back so that the bottom ribs move back and your low back expands. As your lumbar area releases back, extend your right heel down a bit more.
- With your hands on your hips, press down into your hipbones, encouraging the legs to feed into the feet, and the feet to ground into the floor. Root strongly through the legs as you reach your arms up toward the sky, taking care not to jut your lower ribs forward as you raise your arms.
- Bend your left knee into a square, keeping the knee aligned over the lower leg so that it doesn’t roll either in or out. Keep bending your knee until it is directly over your heel.
- Make your lower body—from your pelvis to your feet—very heavy and grounded, and from that grounding, let the upper body—from the waist up to the fingertips—rise up and reach for the sky.
- Take five to ten deep, relaxed breaths.
- Press the feet into the floor to straighten the left knee. Step your right leg forward and return to standing with your feet hip-width apart. As you stand, note what has changed in your body as a result of practicing the pose.
- Repeat the process on the other side.
With its combination or grounded strength and lightness, Warrior I is the perfect pose to help you stay focused and calm as you meet your daily challenges. Practice Warrior I when you feel tired, sluggish or nervous. And don’t forget to breathe slowly and deeply in the pose, so that the warrior you become in the pose is a peaceful one.
Updated article from March 15, 2010
Warrior I is always a different experience each time I come into it. Depending on my energy level that day, and what leg is stronger. I just always remind myself to find a place where I can feel strength through my back leg, but at the same time a lightness through the upper body, relaxing the shoulders from the ears. Smiling helps and a compassionate attitude towards my limitations.
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Thank you Charlotte for the article, very informative post. Definitely something to remember.