Virabhadrasana I - TINT Yoga

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Virabhadrasana I Warrior I

    Quick Facts

  • Sanskrit (Original): Vīrabhadrāsana I
  • Etymology: Warrior (vīra), friend (bhadra), pose (āsana)
  • Fun Fact about the pose: Virabhadrasana I is traditionally practiced with the back heel on the floor. However, nowadays the more accessible version with the heel lifted is practiced across many yoga styles.
  • Asana Type: Standing
  • Main length muscle groups: Spinal extensors; intercostals; front leg: abductors, glutes; back leg: psoas major, hamstrings, articularis genu, vastii, peroneus longus and brevis
  • Main strength muscle groups: Rotator cuff; serratus anterior; front leg: quadriceps; back leg: gluteus maximus, quadriceps, muscles of the feet
  • Vinyasa Breath: Inhale and exhale possible

How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step

  • 1 Start in a standing position such as Tadasana and step one foot back into a High Lunge position.
  • 2 Bend the front leg and make sure the knee is stacked exactly above the ankle.
  • 3 Slightly bend the back leg as well and lift up the pubic bone.
  • 4 Then straighten the back leg and lift the heel up.
  • 5 Internally rotate the back thigh to square the hips. Ideally, your hip bones face forward like headlights.
  • 6 Open your ribcage and push the ribs forward and up.
  • 7 Also lift the shoulders up and back before you raise your arms up.
  • 8 Externally rotate your arms and engage them all the way up to the fingertips.
  • 9 Lift the chin slightly so that the neck is long while, at the same time, pushing the chest further up toward the ceiling.
  • 10 Notice the engagement of the entire body in Virabhadrasana I.

Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose

Learn about common mistakes and teaching perspectives of the pose in our Asana Tutorials.

  • Opt for a High Lunge: The traditional Warrior I is practiced with the back heel on the floor in a 45-60 degree angle. The problem with this alignment is that most practitioners do not have enough range of motion to keep the hips squared in this position. In an attempt to turn both hips forward, the rotation then happens in the knee joint. However, the knee is not meant to rotate so that you risk torning the ligaments surrounding the knee. Instead, lift the back heel up and rotate on the foot rather than at the knee. This is more like a High Lunge.
  • Internally rotate the back thigh: Internally rotating the back thigh makes it a bit trickier to keep your balance. However, this action helps you to square the hips and is much healthier than rotating the knee joint.
  • Keep the heel lifted: A common cue is to push the back heel and down. Note that this will cause compression in your lower back. Rather lift the back heel up as if you were wearing high heels. Also, keep the entire leg engaged by pushing the back thigh up and back.
  • Draw the shoulders up: Another common mistake is the alignment of the shoulders. You may have heard the cue to draw the shoulders away from the ears. However, it’s actually much healthier to pull the shoulders up towards the ears (due to the so-called scapulohumeral rhythm). Also, externally rotate the arms and lift the chin up so that the neck is neutrally elongated.

Adapting The Pose Through Modifications

Simplify

  • If you feel unstable in Warrior I, let your back knee rest on the ground for Mini Warrior (Anjaneyasana). This pose is easier accessible especially if practiced in the context of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar).
  • Although Virabhadrasana I is traditionally practiced with the feet in one line, the pose is easier accessible to many practitioners if they separate their feet to either side of the mat a bit more as if standing on train tracks. This separation allows the hips to square more effectively.
  • Take a shorter stance if this feels more stable. This also allows you to stay more upright.
  • Keep the hands either on your hips or on the front thigh if extending the arms up to the sky causes shoulder problems or results in a loss of balance and stability. This way, you can focus more on the leg work.

Level Up

  • Play with different arm positions in Warrior I. You can, for example, extend the arms to the sides like an airplane, bring the palms together in Anjali Mudra, or intertwine the arms into Eagle (Garudasana) arms. There are so many different options – so let your creativity run free!
  • You can also increase the backend in Virabhadrasana I by opening the ribcage even more. To avoid sinking into the backbend, interlace your thumbs and pull them away from each other. This will activate your back muscles and give you more stability. At the same time, focus on pushing the back thigh up.
  • For a dynamic strength workout, alternate between straightening and bending both legs. The most intuitive option is to straighten both legs on an inhale and bend them to around 90 degrees on the exhale, without the back knee touching the ground.

Benefits of Virabhadrasana I

  • Practicing Warrior I strengthens the shoulder muscles and the spine as well as the legs and feet while at the same time increasing the flexibility in these body parts.
  • As it works and engages the whole body it increases your core strength and improves focus, balance and stability.
  • Virabhadrasana I is a whole-body stretch from your neck, shoulders and arms to your belly and groins, and even down to the legs and ankles. Since it opens your hips, chest and lungs, this asana encourages circulation and respiration and, as a result, energizes the entire body.
  • Since Warrior I is a gentle backbend it’s a great pose for stretching the entire front body while strengthening the legs and glutes as well as the core and upper body muscles.
  • Warrior poses in general are essential for building strength and stamina in your yoga practice and are, thus, a great booster for your confidence.

I don’t know whether I have ever practiced a class without Warrior I. Since there are so many options for the position of the arms it's a perfect allround pose where you can focus on different aspects depending on the aim of your yoga class.

Doreen

Content Manager at TINT | Passionate Yoga Teacher

FAQ: Common questions about this pose

The Warrior Poses consist of three different types of archetype poses. In Warrior I, as described in this article, the hips are closed. Warrior II, on the other hand, is a great hip opener pose. For Warrior III the hips are again closed. Its emphasis is focused more on balancing, since the back leg is lifted up into the air. All Warrior Poses are very foundational poses, because the practitioner is able to develop a lot of leg strength, grounding and stability, which is important to prepare the body for backbending poses.

The Warrior Poses have their names from Virabhadra, a powerful warrior figure in the Hindu mythology. The story of Virabhadra is a story of love. Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of Dissolution, created Virabhadra as a reincarnation of himself to avenge the death of his wife Sati (or Shakti). When Sati and Shiva married, Sati’s father did not approve and cut her off from the family. In her grief, Sati eventually killed herself and Shiva created his warrior-friend to take vengeance. As in most mythological stories, there are always different ways and perspectives to tell a story, so there is more than one explanation to this question. If you are curious to read more about it, you can find out more here and here.

To be honest, the answer to this question can not be separated into black and white. Many parameters play a relevant role in finding the answer. The first one would be on the capacity of your body's structure to perform both poses. For most people naturally one is harder to perform than the other because of habitual movement patterns. For example some students are more familiar with rotating their thighs inwards, so Warrior II would be harder. For the practitioner more familiar with external rotation of the legs, Warrior I can be really hard. Also, both positions can be really challenging, depending where you are on your yoga journey and for how long you have been practicing. The second parameter is based on what you want to practice and what movements you want to integrate. From this perspective, both poses can be equally challenging. Probably in different aspects, but both demanding, since you are working the pose in detail. There is never an end to a pose and every day on the mat is different. So the answer is never simple. ;)

Traditionally, Virabhadrasana I is practiced with the back heel on the floor in a 45-60 degree angle and the heels in one line. The problem with this alignment is that most practitioners do not have enough range of motion to keep the hips squared in this position. In an attempt to turn both hips forward, the rotation often happens in the knee joint. However, the knee is not meant to rotate so that you risk torning the ligaments surrounding the knee. If you opt for lifting the back heel instead, you more easily rotate your back thigh inwards and use this action to square the hips. This is also called a High Lunge and not a traditional yoga pose. However, it’s more accessible for most practitioners nowadays.

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