Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III) strengthens your ankles and legs, shoulders, back, and abdomen. The pose is unique in that it has both backward- and forward-bending elements. While it is muscularly and intellectually challenging, it also offers an opportunity for play and lightness in its “up in the air” style. In other words, Warrior III makes you feel almost as if you are in flight.
While practicing Virabhadrasana III, you’re seeking harmony: Discovering a balance between contracting (grounding down through your standing leg for steadiness) and expanding (radiating out through the crown of your head, your tailbone, your feet and your fingertips), explains Power Yoga creator Beryl Bender Birch. “You find yourself pulsating: expanding, contracting, expanding again, over and over,” she explains. “Everything falls into place as you drop into the organic, eternal rhythm of this pulsation.”
In this impressive-looking pose, what sometimes matters more than anything is your ability to believe in yourself—confidence can make the difference between being able to balance those opposing forces in the air, and coming right back down to earth.
“When I first started practicing yoga, I struggled with Virabhadrasana III. One day, a teacher told me, ‘You can do anything for 10 seconds.’ That made sense to me. I tried again, and I found that advice to be true—I also found that once you believed you could do something for 10 seconds, the next time you could maybe do it for longer,” says Yoga Journal contributing editor Gina Tomaine. “It was about strength, but more so about mentality.”Section divider
Warrior III basics
Sanskrit: Virabhadrasana III (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: Full-body strengthSection divider
Warrior III improves your balance and strengthens your core. On your standing leg, this pose stretches the back of your thigh (hamstring) and buttock (glute) while strengthening the front of your thigh (quadriceps) and ankle. On your lifted leg, this pose stretches the front of your hip (hip flexor), including the psoas, and strengthens the back of your thigh (hamstring) and buttock (glute).
Other Warrior III perks:
- Helps counteract the effects of sitting too much
- Can be helpful for recovery after sports
- Begin in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I) with your right foot forward.
- Root down firmly with your right heel to lift your lower belly, drawing the abdominals in and up and releasing your tailbone down.
- Firm your right outer hip into your midline as you straighten your left leg.
- Energize your arms to draw more length into your side body.
- Turn your left inner thigh toward the ceiling to roll your left outer hip forward, then pivot onto your back toes so your back leg is in a neutral position.
- Inhale to lengthen your spine.
- Exhale and tilt your torso forward, and reach your arms out ahead.
- Shift your weight into your front foot, and move forward as you lift your left leg until it is parallel to the floor.
- Your upper arms frame your ears, and your head, torso, pelvis, and lifted leg to form a straight line.
- Continue to turn your left inner thigh to the ceiling so your leg remains neutral and your pelvis is level.
- Continue to engage your right outer hip to provide stability for your standing leg.
- Push back with your left heel while extending forward with your arms, the crown of your head, and your sternum.
- Tone your lower belly, and direct your tailbone toward your left heel to provide support for your lower back.
- Hold for 5–10 breaths, then carefully bend your right knee and step back with your left foot, returning to Virabhadrasana I.
- Exit, and repeat on the other side.
Explore the pose
There’s a common tendency in Warrior III to roll your torso slightly over to your standing-leg side, or to drop your shoulder, arm, and hand on that side. Work to internally rotate the thigh and the whole torso to be parallel to and directly facing the floor.
To straighten your back leg, bend your standing knee slightly to create one long line of energy from your head to your back foot. Keep your foot flexed to engage your quadriceps.
When you straighten the standing knee by pushing the head of the thighbone back, imagine that the same-leg calf is resisting forward against the shin. These two opposing movements prevent the knee from locking or hyperextending and further stabilize the position.
- Don’t lock (hyperextend) your standing knee. If you feel strain around your standing knee, slightly bend it. The stretching sensations are safest felt in the centers (bellies) of the hamstrings/backs of thighs rather than in the joints.
- Avoid overarching your low back, a common mistake with beginning practitioners. Protect your low back and practice extending from your back leg to your crown.
- If you are new to this pose or your lower back hurts, bring your palms together at the center of your heart, instead of extending your arms in front of you.
Warrior III variations
Warrior III with blocks
For added stability, bring your hands to blocks at any height rather than the floor.
Warrior III against a wall
If balance is elusive, place your palms on a wall, using it to help support you. Your leg may or may not be lifted high, and that is OK. Stay as long as you can, then slowly transition out of the pose. Repeat on the other side.
Warrior III with a chair
Position the back of a chair in front of you, near the edge of the mat. When you stretch your arms forward, take hold of the top of the chair. As you rise up into the full pose, slide the chair away from you, using it to support your arms as lightly as possible. As you lift one leg behind you, stop anywhere along the way that feels comfortable. Stay as long as you can, then slowly come out of the pose the same way you came into it. Repeat on the other side.Section divider
Preparatory and counter poses
Stretch your hips, your entire back body, and your shoulders prior to coming into Warrior III.
Counter posesSection divider
Your body in Warrior III | Anatomy
Warrior III converts the potential energy stored in Warrior I into movement, projecting your body forward into balancing on your front leg, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher.
The main story of the pose is the rotation of your pelvis forward and flexion of your torso over your standing leg. The back story in Warrior III is the balancing act. As with all balancing poses, become aware of your center of gravity and use it to your advantage. Bend your standing leg and/or lower your lifted leg to descend the center of gravity and make the pose more stable.
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.
Central to the balancing act is the quadriceps of your standing leg. You can use it to lift your torso by straightening your knee. Press the ball of that foot into the floor and turn your thigh inward. This activates the peronei on the side of your lower leg and the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius of your standing-leg hip.
Remember that stability originates from the large muscles of the pelvic core—the psoas and the gluteals. The gluteus maximus, synergized by the adductor magnus, extends the raised hip and tilts the pelvis backward. Engage the gluteus maximus and adductor magnus by contracting the buttocks. Activating the gluteus maximus also externally rotates your leg; counter this by engaging the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius muscles to internally rotate your hip.
Note the interrelations among the erector spinae, trapezius, and deltoids. Observe how these muscles can be used in combination to lift your chest and raise your arms while drawing your shoulders away from your neck. Straighten your elbows to engage the triceps. Bring an external rotation of your shoulders by engaging the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff.Section divider
Put Warrior III 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.