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Virabhadrasana I may be one of the more common yoga poses. It may also be one of the most challenging. Warrior I Pose requires you to push past your perceived physical, mental, and emotional limitations to move into a deeper expression of the asana. It’s an opportunity to focus and practice determination.
It may seem strange to name a yoga pose after a warrior; after all, aren’t yogis known for their non-violent ways? But remember that one of the most revered of all the yoga texts, the Bhagavad Gita, is the dialog between two famous and feared warriors, Krishna and Arjuna, set on a battlefield between two great armies preparing for an epic fight.
What’s really being commemorated in this pose’s name—and held up as an ideal for all practitioners, is the “spiritual warrior,” who bravely does battle with the universal enemy, self-ignorance (avidya), the ultimate source of all our suffering.
Warrior I Pose is filled with opposing alignments, but when all of the opposing movements work together, the pose offers a full-body experience. You will stretch the ankles and calves, strengthen the quadriceps and back, lengthen the psoas, and stretch your upper body and arms. There’s almost no body part that doesn’t reap the rewards of holding Virabhadrasana I.
Warrior I basics
Sanskrit: Virabhadrasana I(veer-uh-buh-DRAHS-uh-nuh)
Pose type: Standing posture
Targets: Full body
Why we love it: “Warrior I has a reputation for being a basic, vanilla pose—no sprinkles or syrup. But it is a pose that helps you really focus on alignment and positioning,” says Tamara Jeffries, Yoga Journal’s senior editor. “Are the hips facing forward? Is there space in your lower back? Where is your center of gravity? How are you grounding with your feet? If you’re holding it for a while, it’s a real power pose—in more ways than one. It takes some strength, yes, but the pose is very heroic and victorious.”
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Warrior I stretches your chest, lungs, shoulders, neck, belly and groin. It also strengthens your shoulders, arms, and back muscles, as well as your calves, ankles, and thighs.
Warrior I: Step-by-step instructions
- From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), step your right foot forward so your toes are in line with your fingertips, and shift your foot slightly to the right.
- Bend your front knee 90 degrees. Your thigh should be approximately parallel to the floor, your knee stacked over your ankle, and your right outer hip pinned back.
- Pivot your left heel to the floor so your foot forms a 45-degree angle to the side of the mat. Align your left heel with your right heel, or place the feet slightly wider for more stability.
- Press your left thighbone back so your left knee is straight.
- As you inhale, raise your torso and reach up with the arms, hands shoulder-distance apart and palms facing each other. Allow your shoulder blades to open out and up, away from your spine and toward your outer armpits. Rotate your biceps back, and firm your triceps into your midline. You may bring your palms together and look up at your thumbs.
- Keep pressing your left femur back while releasing your tailbone toward the floor. Draw your lower belly back and up away from your right thigh.
- Hold for 5–10 breaths.
- Release your hands to the floor, step back to Downward-Facing Dog, and repeat on the other side.
When bending the front knee, beginners have a tendency to tip their pelvis forward, which duck-tails the coccyx and compresses the lower back. As you practice the pose, be sure to lift your pubis toward your navel and lengthen your tailbone toward the floor. As you bend your knee, continue to lift and descend these two bones, keeping the top rim of your pelvis relatively parallel to the floor.
Teaching Virabhadrasana I
These tips will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:
- Beginners may find it difficult to keep the back heel grounded and the lower back lengthened in this pose. As a short-term solution, advise students to raise their back heel on a sand bag or other height.
- If you’re teaching students with shoulder problems, have them keep their raised arms parallel (or slightly wider than parallel) to each other, rather than bring the palms together. Alternately, they may want to keep their hands on their hips.
Variation: Warrior I with a shorter stance
Take a shorter stance so your feet are closer. You can still keep your feet hip-distance apart for balance. This will keep you more upright. Make sure your front knee is either directly above your ankle or behind it (not in front of it). If this position is not comfortable or possible for your back foot, try tucking your toes under and lifting your heel as you would in High Lunge.