Warrior I — Virabhadrasana I (veer-uh-buh-DRAHS-uh-nuh) — is a standing yoga pose named after a mythological Hindu warrior, Virabhadra. An incarnation of the god Shiva, Virabhadra was fierce and powerful, with a thousand arms and hair and eyes of fire. Warrior I transforms the intensity of this deity into a pose that builds focus, power, and stability.
Benefits of Warrior I Pose
Virabhadrasana I stretches the whole front side of the body while strengthening the thighs, ankles, and back. This is a powerful standing pose that develops stamina, balance, and coordination. It tones the abdomen, ankles, and arches of the feet. This pose also stretches the chest and lungs, improving breathing capacity and invigorating the body. It can be therapeutic for sciatica. It also encourages greater flexibility, strength, and range of motion in the feet, increasing circulation as it warms all of the muscles.
Beyond the physical posture, Warrior I creates deep concentration. Focusing on your foundation and building the pose from the ground up reduces distractions and hones your energy. Your mind becomes focused, calm, and clear.
To achieve the mood of a warrior is not a simple matter. It is a revolution. To regard the lion and the water rats and our fellow men as equals is a magnificent act of a warrior's spirit. It takes power to do that.
Do not practice the full version of the pose if you are experiencing high blood pressure or heart problems. Those with neck injuries should keep their heads in a neutral position (in step 8) — do not look up at the hands. Those with shoulder injuries should keep their raised arms parallel to each other or even wider (in step 7). Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), standing with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Let your thoughts settle. Focus on the present moment. Breathe deeply and evenly, calming your mind. Draw your awareness inward. Turn to the left.
- Exhale as you step your feet wide apart, about 4 to 5 feet.
- Turn your right foot out 90 degrees, so your toes are pointing to the top of the mat.
- Pivot your left foot inwards at a 45-degree angle.
- Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot. Keep your pelvis turned toward the front of your mat.
- Press your weight through your left heel. Then, exhale as you bend your right knee over your right ankle. Your shin should be perpendicular to the floor. Lift through the arches of your feet, while rooting down through your ankles.
- Reach up strongly through your arms. Broaden across your belly, lengthen the sides of your waist, and lift through your chest. Keep your palms and fingers active and reaching.
- You can keep your arms parallel, or press your palms together.
- Gently tilt your head back and gaze up at your thumbs. Keep your shoulders dropped away from your ears. Feel your shoulder blades pressing firmly inward.
- Press down through the outer edge of your back foot, keeping your back leg straight.
- Hold for up to one minute.
- To release the pose, press your weight through your back heel and straighten your front leg. Lower your arms. Turn to the left, reversing the position of your feet, and repeat for the same length of time on the opposite side.
Modifications & Variations
If you're looking to deepen the pose or lighten the level of exertion, there are simple modifications you can make. Try these changes to find a version of the pose that works best for you right now:
- If it's difficult to keep your back heel grounded, place the heel on a sand bag or firm blanket.
- If your hips are very tight, step your front foot toward the outer edge of your mat, so your heels are aligned (instead of heel-to-arch). Step your feet as wide apart as necessary. This will give you more room to square the hips as you work on gaining flexibility.
- If your shoulders are tight, keep your arms shoulder-distance apart, or wider, when they are raised.
- Place your hands on your hips if you have a shoulder injury or if you are using this pose to build strength and flexibility in your lower body.
Warrior I requires focus on various points of alignment. There is a lot to remember to execute the pose correctly, so keep the following information in mind when practicing:
- Build the pose from the ground up. Work on getting the foot and leg placement first. Orient your feet, then adjust your legs. Finally, align your hips.
- Place your hands on your hip bones to determine whether they are squared to the front of your mat. Draw the hip of your front leg back, and the opposite hip forward.
- Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor, rather than dipping your pelvis forward. This allows for greater length in your lower back.
- Press back firmly with the top of your back thigh before bending your front knee. This helps to stabilize and root down through the outer edge of your back foot. Keep that stabilization as you bend the front knee.
- Keep your weight even across the three points of both feet: The center of your heel, the ball of your big toe, and the ball of your baby toe. This will help keep your arches actively lifting.
The Way of the Warrior
Warrior I can be a powerful way to build concentration, balance, and focus. It creates strength in all areas of life — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Practicing this pose regularly will help you to face the challenges of daily life with equanimity and poise.