The Warrior Poses

Written by Mandy Haynes January 24, 2020

As I mentioned in September’s article on Vinyasa Flow Yoga, I will often base and theme a class around a certain set of poses. One of the most common groups poses used in yoga are the Warrior poses. They have some of the basic foundations of a good, solid asana practice. From squared hips, to wide stances, to balance; from your core, to your legs and your upper body, these poses have it all. Another great quality to these poses are their accessibility – they're approachable for most bodies and are less intimidating than some of the more “advanced” postures while still being brilliant for building strength, confidence and body awareness.

The Sanskrit word for Warrior is Virabhadrasana (Veer-ah-bah-drahs-anna). There are three primary Warrior poses; I, II and III, and then variations thereof.

These poses are aptly named after a fierce warrior from Hindu mythology, Virabhadra, who is said to symbolize our inner ability to overcome ego and ignorance. The poses challenge and test us but in doing so bring us strength, focus, confidence and courage. 

These poses can be practiced as stand alone postures or synchronised from one to another (directly or with other poses in between) in a vinyasa flow sequence. 

The fact that they are so common in most people’s practice means that the “correct” alignment and benefits of these poses often get overlooked or taken for granted. 

In particular, Warrior I and 2 can be held for long periods of time – they are more or less full body poses that can work nearly every muscle you’ve got. Instead of being complacent in these poses, they can be used as a practice in finding ease within effort. One of the key principles of yoga asana is the balance of sthira (meaning steadiness and effort; being strong and active in a pose) and sukha (meaning ease; finding softness, comfort and joy within a pose) and the Warrior poses can teach us this. When holding these poses it gives us the opportunity to practice finding where you can release or dissolve excess tensions as you continue to hold what needs to be held for stability and integrity within the pose. For instance, if tension starts to build in your neck and shoulders in this pose, can you release it as you continue to hold the powerful lunge position of the legs.This can work on a mental level as well as the physical one – are you holding onto any unnecessary stresses or tensions in your life? Where can you learn to relax, while you hold strength in other areas? 

Physically, these poses strengthen the feet, hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteus, build core power and work the chest, shoulders and arms. They are energising and powerful. Emotionally they are great for opening the heart (Warrior I) and developing courage and inner strength. 

Warrior III is all about balance and stability and is therefore often a challenging pose for many people. Physically, your standing leg will be working super hard as you balance all your weight upon it, you’ll be accessing the muscles along your spine to hold your upper body long and straight and engaging your core muscles. How well you balance in this pose could change on a daily basis as it doesn't just rely on strength. Your mood, emotions and hormones can all affect your focus and ability to balance. The balance aspect of this pose on the physical level can also be mirrored on an emotional level – it can teach us to stay balanced with our emotions and practice staying emotionally poised in the midst of challenge.

Two other Warrior poses to mention are Reverse Warrior and Humble Warrior.  The physical benefits of Reverse Warrior are that it strengthens the lower body whilst providing a deep stretch for the side body and improving flexibility in the spine. In Humble Warrior, as well as physically being a deep hip and shoulder opener, we are being allowed to turn our attention and focus inwards and taught to surrender as we bow into the pose.

Next time you move into one of these poses in your yoga class, maybe you’ll be reminded of the physical and mental benefits of these powerful, confidence building poses and look to find that balance of sthira and sukha.

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