A standard pose in many vinyasa yoga classes, Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose) offers an opportunity to embody your inner warrior.
Virabhadrasana II gets its name—and inspiration—from Virabhadra, a fierce incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva. According to one story, Shiva’s love, Sati, threw herself in a sacrificial fire to get back at her father. Devastated, Shiva created Virabhadra to avenge her death. Sati is later brought back to life and her father learns his lesson.
While the name translates to “blessed hero,” it is typically taken to mean “warrior” in English. Warrior II Pose is the second of three poses dedicated to Virabhadra. The stance is one of strength and power, requiring you to distribute your weight evenly between both legs in a deep lunge, squaring your hips forward, and extending your arms toward the front and back of your mat.
“This pose looks like the mighty warrior Virabhadra emerging fearlessly from the earth and should be a big part of your practice,” says teacher and author Richard Rosen. “It increases flexibility and builds strength, physical endurance, and willpower—which will serve you well throughout your practice and your life.”
The pose strengthens and stretches your ankles, legs, hips, chest, and shoulders and increases your endurance, one bent knee at a time. If you hold Warrior II Pose long enough, you may start to feel the burn in the quadriceps of your bent knee or in your shoulders. Dig deep and lean into the discomfort—though never pain—to refocus your energy back to your center. Call upon your inner willpower to find balance and ease.Section divider
Warrior II basics
Sanskrit: Virabhadrasana II (veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-anna)
Virabhadra = the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs and wearing a tiger’s skin
Pose type: Standing posture
Targets: Hip flexibilitySection divider
This energy-boosting posture strengthens your core, including your abs and back muscles. In your front leg, this pose strengthens the front of your hip (hip flexor) and shin. It also strengthens and stretches your buttock (gluteal muscles), inner thigh, and ankle. In your back leg, this pose stretches the front of your hip (hip flexor, including the psoas) and may also stretch the back of your thigh and calf muscles. It also strengthens your back thigh and buttock (gluteal muscles).
Other Warrior II perks:
- Fights fatigue
- Builds confidence
- Improves posture and counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting
- Stretches and strengthens the muscles around your shoulder joint
- Face the long side of your mat, arms stretched out to the sides with your feet parallel to each other in a wide stance so your feet are approximately beneath your hands.”
- Turn your right foot and knee to face the front of the mat.
- Turn your left toes slightly toward your right foot. Line up your right heel with your left inner arch.
- Bend your right knee and stack it over your right ankle.
- Press your left thigh bone back while releasing your tailbone down.
- Keep the crown of your head stacked over your pelvis and your shoulders over your hips.
- Reach strongly through both arms toward the front and back of the mat and turn and look past your right fingertips.
- Hold for 5–10 breaths.
- To exit, press down through your feet on an exhalation, then use an inhalation to straight your legs and return your feet to parallel facing the left long side of the mat.
- Repeat on the other side.
Explore the pose
To ensure proper alignment as you reach through your arms, turn your palms and inner elbow creases to face the ceiling while you draw your shoulder blades down the back. Then keep your shoulder blades stable while you rotate only your wrists and palms to face the mat again.
Although it is commonly cued that your front thigh should be parallel to the mat, this is not essential. Simply bend your front knee as much as you are able and keep it in alignment with your ankle.
- Don’t let your front knee move forward of your ankle. Also, your front knee can tend to fall in toward the center of the mat. If you notice this, lean your knee slightly toward the outer edge of the mat so it is directly in line with your ankle. Instead, stack it directly over the center of the ankle.
- Also, avoid or modify if you have a hamstring or groin tear or injury, or if you have a hip injury or hip replacement.
- If you have poor balance, use a chair or the wall for stability.
Warrior II variations
Warrior II using a chair
Sitting in a chair, carefully move your thighs into the Warrior II position outlined in the step-by-step instructions above. This may mean sitting on the edge of the chair. Lift your arms up until they’re parallel to the floor, or keep your hands on your hips. Stay for several deep breaths, then slowly transition out of the pose. Repeat on the other side.Section divider
Preparatory and counter poses
To prepare yourself to engage and align in this pose, warm up your hamstrings, hips, and arms.
Counter posesSection divider
Your body in Warrior Pose II | Anatomy
This Virabhadrasana embodies the spirit of a warrior and conveys readiness, stability, and courage, says Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher. The focus of Warrior II Pose is to strengthen your front leg while opening the front of your pelvis and your chest.
It also creates length in a series of muscles, including the pectoralis major, biceps, front-leg hamstrings, and back-leg psoas and gastrocnemius and soleux complex. This lengthening opens your chest and pelvis.
In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.
Flex your front hip and knee; this activates the psoas and pectineus muscles and gives the pose its forward momentum. A cue for activating the front hip flexors is to attempt to lift your front leg off the mat.
There is a tendency in Warrior II Pose for the knee to drift inward. If this happens, bring it back by engaging the sartorius and tensor fascia lata. If the muscles of the front thigh become fatigued, partially straighten the front knee for a moment or two, and then return to the full pose.
The forward movement is balanced by a line of action through the back leg and heel that anchors the foot to the floor. Plant the back heel firmly on the mat and engage the quadriceps. Contract the gluteus medius by attempting to drag the rear foot away from the front. Stabilize the back hip by balancing the external rotation created by the gluteus maximus with internal rotation of the back thigh. The tensor fascia lata creates this rotation; it also synergizes the quadriceps and stabilizes the back knee. Press the back foot into the ground and attempt to draw it toward the midline. This activates the adductor magnus, which works with the gluteus maximums to extend the back hip and open the pelvis.
There can be a tendency to allow the chest to collapse and shift forward. Counteract this by straightening the arms and expanding the chest, expressing the inner strength and confidence that is cultivated in the pose. When you lift the torso, you engage the erector spinae. When you lift the arms, you engage the lateral and posterior deltoids. As you draw the scapulae toward the spine and spread the arms apart, you engage the serratus anterior. Engaging both these muscles stabilizes the shoulder blades and opens the chest. Remember to extend the back arm away from the body.Section divider
Put Warrior II into practice:
Ready to put this standing posture into practice? Here are a few flows to try:
About our contributors
Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.