The classic hero pose is the perfect lower extremity stretch for beginning to intermediate yogis. This seated posture stretches your feet, ankles, knees, thighs, and hips. Because the tops of the feet are flat to the floor, you can expect to feel a lengthening sensation in your calves and thighs as you ease into this pose. With practice and proper posture, the hero pose even allows you to stretch your lower back muscles (a common problem area for many people).
In Sanskrit, the hero pose is known as Virasana (veer-ASH-uh-nuh). It is the combination of two words—vira, meaning “man,” “chief,” or “hero” and asana, meaning “posture,” “pose,” or “seat.” This traditional and well-known pose has been practiced for thousands of years and is commonly used during meditation and breathing exercises (pranayama).
How to Do Hero Pose
Follow these seven steps to gradually master hero pose (Virasana):
Start by kneeling on the floor. Now put your hands on the floor and use this leverage to slide your feet apart, placing them just to the sides of your hips. Be sure your knees are together and your thighs are parallel.
Point your feet directly backward, not turning in or out. Then press the top of each foot to the floor, distributing your weight evenly.
Sit between your feet, leaning your torso forward slightly. Now slowly lower your hips to the floor.
Sit straight. Rest your hands on your thighs and close your eyes. You may also wish to move your hands to prayer position. Now breathe deeply.
Lift up and extend your chest, relaxing your shoulders back and down away from your ears. Then lift or lower your chin until your head feels perfectly balanced.
Sit quietly and continue to breathe deeply. When you first practice this pose, aim to hold it for 30 seconds to one minute. As you improve your flexibility and technique, you may extend your hold for up to five minutes.
When you are ready to release the pose, press your hands to the floor and lift your buttocks up over your heels. Now cross your ankles beneath your buttocks, stick your legs out in front of you, and move yourself to a comfortable seated position. When seated, try gently bouncing your knees on the floor a few times to relieve any pressure in your feet, calves, and thighs.
Benefits of Hero Pose
Studies show that knee strengthening exercises, such as the hero pose, can help to reduce pain and increase mobility. Even older adults and patients with degenerative knee diseases, such as knee osteoarthritis, can benefit from these types of seated, strengthening postures. When study participants in these groups focus on individual poses over more integrated protocols, including breathing and meditation exercises, researchers say they are more likely to have significant reductions in their pain levels over time.
For those suffering from knee pain and knee stiffness, it is important to start slow, know your limits, and always practice under the care and guidance of a licensed yoga instructor.
Some other body benefits of practicing the hero pose regularly include:
- Increased flexibility in the lower extremities
- Lengthening of the feet, calves, and thighs
- Improved muscle soreness after exercise
- Reduced tightness in the legs
- Strengthening of the arches in the feet
- Improved posture due to the upright spinal alignment maintained during this pose
In addition to these benefits, Virasana can lead to a greater awareness of your body when practiced over time. Sitting quietly in this position for several minutes allows you to feel your breath moving in and out of your torso, producing a calm, focused energy that can help optimize your yoga routine.
Tips, Tricks, & Things to Avoid
As with any pose, you should always maintain correct posture for Virasana, be able to modify it as necessary, and know how to release from the position should you experience any pain. Here are some specific tips, tricks, and things to avoid for the hero pose:
- Need more padding for your ankles or knees? Roll up a few hand towels and place them in the areas you feel extra pressure.
- Use props like yoga blocks to sit on or rest your shins on if you are unable to sit on the floor easily. You can use one, two, or several blocks to find the height that best supports your body. Be sure to use thin blocks between your shins so your knees are not positioned wider than your hips.
- Release the pose immediately if you feel any pinching or jolting pain. Remember to cross your legs beneath your buttocks, stick your legs out in front of you, and slowly move to a comfortable seated position of your choice.
- Do not try the hero pose if you have an acute knee or ankle injury for which you are being treated.
- Do you want to maximize the spinal benefits of this pose? Ask a partner to grasp the base of your head with their thumb and index finger and pull upward firmly. Now press your tailbone down into the floor to feel your spine elongating from the lower lumbar region all the way up to your skull.
- Many beginners find that the tops of their inner feet press more firmly into the floor than the tops of their outer feet in this pose. Want an easy fix? Press the bottom of your palms along the outer edges of your feet then gently push your pinky toes to the floor.
- This position may be uncomfortable for those with tightness in the thighs and groins. This is normal. You may choose to try another pose until the pain subsides. Or you can move into the pose slowly and hold it for only short, 30-second intervals at a time.
Follow-up Poses for Hero Pose
In yoga, it’s all about the flow. Once you master the hero pose, give these related postures a try:
1. Bound angle pose (beginner’s level):
After releasing hero’s pose and transitioning to a seated position, bring the bottoms of both feet together, bending your knees to the sides. Now interlace your fingers around your toes, press your hips down to the floor, and lift the crown of your head toward the ceiling.
2. Reclining hero pose (intermediate level):
Start off in Virasana and slowly lower your upper body to the floor, extending your arms behind your head and interlocking your fingertips. Take extra care not to put any strain on your knees.
3. Thunderbolt Pose (intermediate level):
From hero pose, place the soles of your feet together in the back of your buttocks. You may keep your hands rested on the tops of your thighs or you may choose to move your hands to a reverse prayer position.
Although hero pose may feel awkward at first, with time and dedicated practice, you may find that this peaceful posture can help alleviate pain and reduce stiffness in the lower back, hips, and legs. You can easily transition to more difficult floor poses for this position, including reclining hero pose and thunderbolt pose, and you can even flow into bridge pose.
Keep in mind that hero pose is also considered a go-to posture in several meditation and breathing exercises, so allow yourself to feel empowered and aware as you sharpen your focus and control your breath, invoking the soul of a hero.
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4. American Council on Exercise. The benefits of yoga beyond flexibility. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6561/the-benefits-of-yoga-beyond-flexibility. Updated September 2017. Accessed December 14, 2017.
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