Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Focus Pose: Virabhadrasana I (Warrior A)

Time for another Focus Pose! For those of you who’ve just joined the blog, I’ve been gradually working my way through the Primary Sequence in the Ashtanga Series. If you use the search engine and type in focus pose you should be able to pull up the postures until now. Or use the “tag” feature on the left hand side.


For those of you who ARE familiar with the Primary Series, you might be wondering why am I breaking down the Warriors now, when, technically, we did 10 of them during the Surya Namaskar B? Well, yes, but there we moved into the pose with one breath, and then immediately exited. Now we have an opportunity to hold for five breaths and to stabilize and strengthen our foundation.

photo from YogaJournal.com pose finder
Over the last several years, I’ve learned there are two schools - so to speak - regarding foot placement. One group feels the traditional way is to keep the back heel down. The other group asserts that the back heel should now be kept up. Either way is fine, in my opinion, both offering a lovely stretch through the hip. Pick the one that works for you and your anatomy. But for today’s post, I’m going to go with the traditional variation of heel to floor.

From Yoga Journal: Virabhadrasana One (Warrior One) 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.
We’ve just finished Utkatasana (Chair Pose), moved through Chaturanga Dandasana (plank pose to updog) and are back in Adho Mukha Svanasa (Down Dog). From Adho Mukha Svanasa, step forward to a high lunge, pivot the back heel to the floor and solidify the foundation in a high lunge. When you feel stable, then inhale to standing if appropriate. Otherwise, just stay in high lunge, or bring hands to hips.

**One thing I have noticed is the student’s tendency to rush the inhale to standing, then they are wobbling all over the place. Plant the front foot, plant the back foot, then inhale. Don’t try and keep up with your neighbor. This is your practice. Not theirs.

The breath sequence:

INHALE right foot forward to a high lunge and establish your foundation; continue to inhale hands overhead. I prefer palms apart, shoulders moving away from the ears. Open heart center toward the front of the room. IF you have neck or shoulder concerns/issues, modify accordingly: don’t look up at fingers, use “cactus arms” or forgo arms altogether.


Picture from YogaJournal.com - Pose Finder

Do try to keep front knee over front ankle for all levels. Additionally, keep the knee in line with the toes (think ski’s: foot is on the ski, knee in line with foot and ski) and not rolling to inside or outside.

Keep back heel pressing into the floor. Actively press against the back foot to engage the whole leg and take some of the ‘weight’ off of the front leg. Try feeling the mat from your heel to your pinky toe.

Let go of any muscles that do not serve you in this pose.

Hold for 5 breaths.

INHALE straighten front leg, pivot to face the back of the room, adjust stance.

EXHALE into the pose on the left side.

Hold for 5 breaths.



Some benefits of Virabhadrasana One:

Strengthens and stretches: feet, ankles, legs, groin, abdominal muscles, chest and shoulders. Can help relieve backaches - conversely, it can also aggravate backaches if you are crunching into lower back rather than lengthening and opening through the front of the spine.


Again, there are several variations on Virabhadrasana I. Yoga Journal did an article on four or five styles - Iyengar, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Hatha, and I think one other - about a year or two ago.   The back heel can be up or down, depending on your hips and what you would like to stretch on any given day. Palms can be together or apart. You can look up or straight ahead depending on how your head, neck and shoulders feel on any given day. However, in all variations, try and keep the knee over the ankle and the knee moving in the same direction as the toes.

Below, a video showing Utkatasana, Virabhadrasana I and Virabhadrasana II 







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