Warrior 1 (Vīrabhadrāsana)
Warrior 1 is the first āsana in a series of three standing poses that embody the mythic warrior Vīrabhadra from ancient Vedic texts.
This core standing pose is commonly included in the western expression of sun salutations and vinyasa flow practices. Providing both grounding and upliftment, it beautifully exemplifies the concept of sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease) as taught in the Yogasutras of Patanjali (Chapter 2, sutra 46: sthira-sukham āsanam). Warrior 1 represents the harmonious balance of opposing forces – grounding and elevation, ease and effort, and opposing alignment.
This versatile posture can be practised in seated positions, with the support of a chair or a wall, and can be modified to suit practitioners of various levels of experience and ability.
Benefits of Warrior 1:
- uplifting & energising mentally & physically.
- strengthens the legs, back, shoulders, arms and core.
- opens and stretches the front of the body.
- builds balance.
- develops mental and physical stamina
- improves the ability to find ease in effort.
How to practice Warrior 1:
- Stand at the back of the mat with feet comfortably apart (about 2 fists width
- Turn one foot out at approximately a 45-degree angle, and step the other foot forward.
- the distance between the front and back feet when you step forward will be about one leg’s length
- maintain the lateral distance between the left & right foot when you step forward
- keep the outer edge of the back foot firmly grounded
- let the pelvis orient itself naturally, i.e. don’t try to square the hips to the front. This generally keeps the low back & sacrum more comfortable, and avoids torquing of the back knee.
- Lengthen through the spine and exhale , engaging the core
- Inhale and while maintaining the stability of the back leg, bend the front knee and raise your arms, above the head. Gently moving into upper spine extension (back bend) as much as is comfortable
- Exhale and straighten the front leg, by pressing into the front foot, while lowering the arms
- Move in and out of the posture a few times, with your breath and then experiment with staying.
- ensure you keep your shoulders engaged, but relaxed.
- as you inhale, try increasing the upper back arch comfortably, and as you exhale soften and relax the shoulders and upper back. This will give the added benefit of mobilising the spine.
Note: if you choose to step backwards into the warrior stance, e.g., when adding into a vinyasa, be mindful that you step the foot back maintaining lateral distance between the feet.
Please remember, if you have any pain or discomfort in any of these variations, come out of the posture straight away.
Personalising the posture: making it your own:
1) Warrior 1 on a chair
This version of Warrior 1 is useful for people who are working on developing strength and steadiness in the lower body, and find the standing version too challenging for their current ability.
It also is useful for changing the emphasis of the pose to working with the hip flexors of the back leg. For this purpose it may be useful to come to the ball of the back foot and press the heel into a wall.
Pressure can be taken off the arms and shoulders with various hand positions e.g. anjali mudra (as shown), hands on the hips or thighs. The arms can also be taken over the head as in the classical pose, which will increase the stretch on the front body.
2) Using a chair as support:
Rather than sitting on a chair, standing behind a chair and resting the hands on the chair creates a stable platform to work with improving stability and strength in the legs and balance.
In this version, we need to be careful that the weight through the hands to the back of the chair is minimal. Make sure the chair feels sturdy; having it at least partially on the yoga mat is a good idea, so that doesn’t slip.
3) Arm Positions:
Various arm / hand positions are accessible in this posture. Some will require more effort and others will reduce the effort required, especially from the shoulders. This is especially useful where there is tension in the neck & shoulders. Some examples are:
- arms above the head with hands in anjali mudra (classic)
- arms above the head, with hands apart – reduces effort on the shoulders
- arms in cactus position – opens across the chest
- hands in anjali mudra – reduces effort on the shoulders, and is useful for mental focus
- hands in reverse anjali mudra (behind the back) – opens across the chest and collar bones
- arms raised above the head with the hands clasped and palms turn up to the ceiling – elongates the spine
- Sacroiliac joint instability
- Recent injuries to the back, knee, ankle or shoulders – may be suitable with a modification to the pose
- Recent hip or knee replacement – must discuss practice with rehab specialist or surgeon before practising.
Practice & Teaching Tips:
- It is important to maintain strength and steadiness through the back leg and foot when practising Warrior. To do this, we neeed to press the back foot into the floor, keeping the outer edge of the foot in contact with the floor, rather than pronating.This ensures that the weight is evenly distributed between the feet and the knee is kept stable. It can be useful to train this by, practising with the rear heel pressing into a wall behind you.
- Squaring the hips will contribute to the knee of the back leg torquing and can bring discomfort to the low back and sacrum. Allow the pelvis to orient naturally.
- Be careful not to overarch in the lower back, think lengthening through the spine and allowing the inhalation to extend the upper spine into a back arch.
- Be careful not to hyper-extend the neck to look up. The back arch and lifting of the sternum is key to taking the head back, just lifting the chin will strain the neck. It is also perfectly fine to keep the neck position neutral with the gaze straight ahead or slightly down. This is my preferred option where there is neck and shoulder tension.
- Keep a lateral distance between the feet, about 2 fists width apart, or even hip distance. This will make the posture much more stable. Working with the feet in close alignment can be beneficial for training balance, but this would be an intentional choice, rather than habit. Most importantly if you do occasionally practice with the feet close together, ensure that there is no strain in the low back and sacrum.
Warrior 1 is a wonderful and very versatile posture to incorporate into your practice. It can be practiced as an individual posture, or added into a longer vinyasa, and can be modified to suit energy levels, experience and physical ability. It is one of the best postures for building confidence and lifting from low moods. Enjoy!