If you’ve been to a yoga class, you’ve probably heard the instructor call for at least one of the warrior poses (if not all three of them back to back). Warrior I, warrior II, and warrior III are a sequence of standing postures that require the proper combination of balance, physical strength, and mental steadiness. These postures are a cornerstone of most yoga classes and are often incorporated as part of a warm-up routine or the Sun Salutation series.
Warrior 1 is the ultimate heart-opening posture. This effective beginner’s pose allows you to stretch the muscles in your upper arms, shoulders, chest, and torso while strengthening your lower extremities. While warrior 1 helps to open up the chest, warrior II (also a beginner’s pose) functions as a deep hip-opening posture. It provides a powerful stretch for the groin region as it simultaneously works to tone and tighten your thighs and glutes. Last in this sequence is warrior 3; this intermediate-level balancing pose is the most challenging of the warrior postures. You’ll find that this particular pose builds physical and mental toughness as maintaining it for any length of time requires balance, awareness, determination, and full-body coordination.
In Sanskrit, warrior pose is known as Virabhadrasana (veer-uh-buh-DRAHS-uh-nuh). It is the combination of three words—vira, meaning “hero,” bhadra, meaning “friend,” and asana, meaning “posture,” “pose,” or “seat.” Students are encouraged to personify the spirit of a warrior as they stand strong in the three variations of this pose. In Indian culture, warrior 1, warrior II, and warrior III are spiritually significant postures—they are named after the mythological Hindu warrior, Virabhadra, who is an incarnation of the god, Shiva. Indian storytellers paint Virabhadra as a powerful and fierce figure; he is tall, dark, and unpredictable with hair and eyes made of fire. He follows Shiva’s every command, including beheading one of his nearest acquaintances. As you hold each of the warrior poses, envision yourself as Virabhadra—harness his intensity and willpower as you maintain correct posture and build up your stamina.
How to Do Warrior I Pose
Follow these six steps to gradually master warrior I pose:
Begin in mountain pose. Now move your legs apart into a comfortable straddle. Inhale and rotate your body at the waist so that you are looking over your right foot. Point your pelvis and right foot toward the top of your mat.
Exhale and pivot your left foot at a 45-degree angle so that it’s slightly behind you. Be sure to align your right heel with the arch of your left foot.
Continue to face your pelvis toward the front of your mat, keeping your hips parallel. Inhale and place your hands on your hips and bend your right knee until your knee is directly over your right foot. Now exhale and rotate your pelvis under your body so that your tailbone is pointing down toward the ground.
Inhale deeply and lift both your arms straight overhead, maintaining a slight bend in the elbow, palms facing inward and fingers outstretched. You may also choose to press your palms together in prayer position or interlock all of your fingers except the pointers and the thumbs (positioning your pointer fingers as if you are aiming an arrow in back of you). Refrain from raising your shoulders as you lift your arms. You may point your chin up, however, as much as you desire to gaze upward at your fingertips and find the most comfortable hold for your body.
Push your energy down out of your feet and up out of your hands. Continue breathing deeply and hold the pose for 3–5 breaths (or up to one full minute for well-practiced yogis).
To release this pose, step forward with your back foot and stretch your arms out and back down to your sides. Now turn to the left to reverse the position of your feet and repeat this pose the opposite side.
How to Do Warrior II Pose
Just like the warrior I, start off in mountain pose. As you exhale, step or jump so that your feet are 4–5 feet apart. Place your right foot at a 90-degree angle so that your toes are aligned with the top of your mat. Pivot your left foot inward at a 45-degree angle so that it’s positioned behind you and perfectly aligned with your right heel.
Extend both arms to the sides so that they are parallel to the ground, palms facing down. Actively reach out from the ends of your left fingertips to the ends of your right fingertips.
Bend your right knee and align it over your right ankle. Now activate your core muscles as you sink your hips to the ground a few inches, making your front thigh parallel to the floor. Be sure your knee does not move forward past your ankle as this can put unnecessary strain on the knee joint. Press the outer edge of your left foot firmly into the floor, keeping your back leg nice and straight.
Turn your head forward to gaze out at your right middle finger. Feel the deep stretch run through your collarbones and shoulder blades. Activate your tricep muscles and drop your shoulders to lift and lengthen your chest.
Hold for 3–5 breaths then release the pose by pressing down with your left foot and straightening your right leg and bringing it toward your body. Now turn to the left to reverse the position of your feet and repeat this powerful posture on the opposite side.
How to Do Warrior III Pose
Follow these five steps to gradually master warrior III pose:
To release from warrior III, bring your hands to the floor on either side of your right foot. Then exhale and lower your left leg to the floor, placing it adjacent to your right leg. From this position, you may transition into forward fold or downward-facing dog for a few breaths. To wrap up this impressive balancing pose, go back to warrior 1 and shift your weight to your left leg. Now repeat warrior 3 on the opposite side to bring balance and harmony to your entire body.
Benefits of Warrior Poses
When you first begin practicing the warrior poses, you may feel more like a flamboyant flamingo than a bonafide warrior. And that’s okay. It takes practice and plenty of patience to get these postures right. Once you are able to move in to these postures more naturally, you may find that you want to do them more and more. Warrior poses are a great way to improve circulation and energize the entire body. Additionally, these poses activate your muscles (especially those in your core, lower back, arms, and legs) using only your body weight as resistance—so you have the freedom to practice them just about anywhere.
Several studies have explored how standing yoga postures can impact joint mobility, range of motion, stability, and rehabilitation efforts. In a 2013 study published in the BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine journal, researchers followed 20 older adults for 32 weeks as they participated in twice-weekly, 60-minute Hatha yoga classes. Using electromyographic analysis, researchers collected various net joint moments of force (JMOFs) throughout the study as participants performed popular standing yoga poses, including warrior II. Following the 32-week yoga intervention, researchers noted that “There was a significant main effect for pose, at the ankle, knee, and hip, in the frontal and sagittal planes.” Their findings also indicate that regular practice of warrior II pose positively impacts hip and knee abduction (the movement of a limb or other body part away from the body’s midline) and improves range of motion in the ankle. If results like these were achieved in just a six-month period, think of all the health benefits warrior poses can do for you.
Some other body benefits of practicing the warrior pose sequence regularly include the following:
- Opens the hips, groin, and shoulders simultaneously
- Increases stamina, especially in your lower body
- Activates your abdominal obliques (a tricky muscle group to target with standard exercise)
- Tones your core and glutes
- Improves balance, posture, and coordination
- Strengthens your arms, ankles, and thighs
- Stretches your chest and shoulders
The Do’s and Don’ts of Warrior Poses
As with any pose, you should always maintain correct posture for the Virabhadrasana sequence and be able to modify it as necessary. Follow this do’s and don’ts list to make the most of each warrior pose:
- Do fix your eyes on a single point to keep your balance and maintain good posture, especially in warrior II and warrior III.
- Do shorten your stance in warrior II if you have tight hips.
- Do keep your neck relaxed in warrior III. It should never feel tight, stiff, or compressed in this posture.
- Do drop your tailbone toward the floor during warrior I to help lengthen and strengthen the muscles in your lower back.
- Do modify warrior II by placing your hands on your hips instead of extending them on either side of you if you have an acute shoulder injury or are still building your upper body strength.
- Do place your hands on your hip bones in warrior 1 before raising your arms overhead to ensure your hips are squared.
- Don’t be afraid to lose your balance or fall out of warrior III—just take it slow and have confidence that your stability will improve over time.
- Don’t allow your abdominal muscles to collapse in warrior III—keeping your core activated will help protect your lower back as you hold this pose.
- Don’t move your knee forward past your ankle in warrior II as it can put unnecessary strain on your knee joint.
Follow-up Poses for Warrior Pose Sequence
In yoga, it’s all about the flow. Once you master warrior I, warrior II, and warrior III, give these related postures a try:
1. Extended side angle pose (beginner’s level):
From warrior II, slowly lower both hands to your sides. Then bring your right palm down and place it in front of the arch of your right (front) foot. If you are unable to place your palm on the ground, spread your fingertips wide and press them firmly into the ground. Now anchor your left (back) heel to the ground to lift your groin deep into your pelvis. Firming and broadening your shoulder blades, extend your left arm up straight overhead as if were trying to touch the sky. Be sure that your left palm faces your head. Now turn your head upward to gaze at your left hand. Inhale deeply and feel a deep stretch run through your groin, spine, waist, chest, and shoulders. To deepen this posture, let your left arm drape over your left ear, lengthening the left side of your body. Keep looking upward, this time gazing at your left arm instead of your left hand. Continuing to ground your left heel to the floor, exhale as you lay the right side of your torso over the top of your right thigh. Breathe. Hold this posture for 30 seconds to one minute. To release, push both heels firmly into the floor, press into the floor with your right hand or fingertips for leverage, and using your core strength, bring yourself to a comfortable standing position. Repeat for the same length of time on the opposite side.
2. Downward-facing dog pose (beginner’s level):
From warrior III, release your hands from their outstretched position in front of you and lower your left leg. Now step your left foot forward to meet your right so that you are in a comfortable standing position. Take a few breaths then slowly lower your torso to the floor and stretch your arms out in front of you. Bring your palms to the floor to form an upside-down V. Be sure to distribute your weight evenly across both hands. It can be helpful to spread your fingers wide to better support yourself. Next, turn your toes, exhale deeply, and lift your knees away from the floor. Then lengthen your tailbone by pressing into the floor and lifting through your pelvis. Engage your quadricep muscles and rotate your thighs inward as you continue lifting your pelvis and sit bones toward the sky. Breathe deeply and hold this posture anywhere between one and three minutes. When you’re ready to release, bend your knees to the floor, exhale, and sink into child’s pose for some much-needed rest and relaxation. You may also choose to bend your knees, press into the ground with your hands, and transition into mountain pose (a standing posture).
Each of the warrior postures has its own set of health benefits as they target different muscle groups in your body. Warrior III, for instance, is known for strengthening and toning the entire back side of the body, especially the shoulders, hamstrings, and calves. Each warrior pose is an effective form of resistance training on its own, but when the three poses are practiced together in sequence, you can attain the full set of perks that these postures offer, including physical and mental stamina and even spiritual enlightenment.
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