Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or just starting out on your yoga journey there’s no doubt you’ve cut the shape of a “Warrior” every time you’ve stepped onto your mat. The warrior poses a.k.a. Virabhadrasana I, II and III are the cornerstone asanas in many a practice across all styles of yoga. But what do they mean? Why do we have fighting associated postures in our peaceful practice? Who is Virabhadra and why does he show up all the time?
If you are into fantastical tales of magic and mayhem you must read the story of Shiva turning one of his dreadlocks into a fierce warrior (Virabhadra) with flaming eyes and wrath like no tomorrow. There’s romance, plot twists, murders and revenge. There’s sorrow, forgiveness and something for everyone whether you like “Days of our Lives” or “Game of Thrones” Hindu Mythology caters for all. Read the story here….
As with all mythology, questions and answers of morality are at the heart. We know that yoga is a multilayered practice of which the physical is just one small aspect. Yet, with the physical we can express many of the deeper layers and tap into the psyche of yoga and the myths that build the practice. We can become Warriors both on and off the mat when we find our personal representation of Virabhadra who is really the slayer of ego, and all the “stuff” we seek to cut free from.
The biggest physical challenge with the warrior poses is often alignment. You’ll hear so many cues, directions and miniscule adjustments to make in each pose. This can make the practice frustrating, destabilising and sometimes annoying. But here lies the magic. When you notice what comes up for you in each challenge, particularly in these fierce and strong standing postures you are getting information about what stands in your way. Your duty then is to be courageous. Like a Warrior standing ready to strike his opponent. There may be fear but there is focus. The ego must drop away. The stories we tell ourselves about what we can and can’t do must disappear and we must be grounded in our truth.
Whether you read the full story or not the following 3 points will give you insight into these postures so that you may experience them in a new way, separate from any emotional issue that may arise during the practice. Virabhadrasana I – Here (complete with vintage image of the late and great Iyengar) the Warrior rises up through the ground. Building from the base, feet, legs, hips, torso: ACTIVE. Chest pushing forward, shoulders back, arms raised. There is nothing loose, or slack. This form spells “R-E-A-D-Y”. You are ready and you are strong enough.
Virabhadrasana II – The Warrior, opens out, drawing a sword. The base is as grounded and strong as before, no wavering, no retreating. The gaze over the front hand marks its target. And in the back hand is the metaphorical weapon. (Be aware that it is not dropping down towards the ground but holding horizontal, in place.) Look your “opponent”: your ego, your drama, your story, your fear, dead on. Here our inner warrior stands for tensity of “F-O-C-U-S” .
Virabhadrasana III – As the Warrior steps up to balance on the front leg he slices the “sword” forward through the air to strike his target. Cutting through our darkness, the stuff we do and say that keeps us playing small requires balance, skill and strength of character. We cannot cut through the crap if we don’t acknowledge it exists. So the most challenging of the 3 postures is also the most rewarding. Despite the terminology, it doesn’t have to represent violence or anger, striking out or cutting through are courageous acts. As we balance out there on one leg, unwavering we can experience gratitude that our readiness, our aim and our focus have enabled us to “S-T-R-I-K-E” down what holds us back.
Can you see now how the terminology can affect our interpretation and experience? Warrior I, II and III with all their variations produce a base for meaningful sequences. All of yoga is entwined with all of life and this is how the light you find in your practice will follow you throughout your journey.
Namaste. Rhy xx