Years ago, I modeled Warrior I after what I believed a warrior to be. I forced my body to the Pose and fought against the resistance I felt in my shoulders and low back. I held a vision of victory and spent years trying to defeat my body’s obstacles and become a warrior. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a place where the asana was easy or accessible.
I taught and shared Virabhadrasana 1 with my students. I often called it “one of the most difficult asanas.” Slowly, however, I became tired of the struggle to master the form and began to gain a better understanding of what being a warrior meant. The practice of Warrior 1 is now profoundly empowering for me. I’ve carried these discoveries into my asana practices. It’s now a posture that expresses grace, possibility and not fight or struggle.
Warrior, I require the lower body to work hard to maintain pelvic stability, bend the spine backward, and raise and safely rotate your arms externally. The shoulders should be protracted and flexed when performed correctly. This requires strength in the Serratus anterior. It also requires flexibility in the front chest, the pectoralis minor, and significant. This relationship implies a willingness to “be vulnerable” in the space around the heart and trust in the power to lift and support the spine and chest.
The spinal flexors contract in the low back, creating a sense of stability and strength. The hip in the back is extended, allowing for length and lift in the spine. The front leg is hip and knee extension and adduction. This activates all the muscles that support it. Contracting requires a concentric effort, which can be difficult in cases of weakness.
The pull of gravity allows the muscles to contract and lengthen simultaneously in our legs (eccentric contraction), which keeps us balanced, upright, and stable. The knee flexion, pelvic balance, and other aspects of the Pose will naturally unfold when we surrender to the strength and support that our bodies provide. When we have an external goal as our asana point, we can overwork, overextend and fatigue our support structures, compromising our safety and authentic experience.
Virabhadra is traditionally the ” personification for righteous anger and noble impulses to defend innocent” and is the terrifying form of Shiva. Virabhadra rose from Shiva’s hair, defended Shiva, and punished him for his grief. Anger and grief are universal emotions. These feelings can lead to a reaction or retaliation in today’s society. In self-reflection and with practice, we find that these feelings are almost always within ourselves.
In my attempt to reach the “ideal” Warrior 1, I projected all of my efforts outside, bypassing what was happening inside.
My Warrior 1 was becoming increasingly difficult and even painful. Virabhadrasana 1 was getting further away as I tried to force my lower spine to lengthen, and my shoulder blades protracted. I was angry with myself and criticized my posture. It was not easy, and certainly no victory. My inner enemies had been brought to my face by Warrior, and I was almost defeated.
I did, however, sometimes discover a hidden grace in the form. I felt lifted, buoyant, and strong, yet open. These brief moments kept me returning to the Pose. Virabhadra is Shiva. If, as Tantra teaches, we are Shiva, who was Virabhadra defeating? Whom must we destroy? When I turned inward my reflection, I saw a box filled with shadows that I used to fight in the asana. Instead of looking within, I was looking at the many pictures and examples of ‘perfection.’ I wanted to be praised for my success and achieve a certain form. I wanted to be victorious before the eye of the beholder at all costs and to follow my inner wisdom.
When I felt the Pose was right, it was when I did not want to do the Pose and instead followed my inner teacher in the areas of need and support. The more I let go of my achievement-oriented self and followed my inner wisdom into the form, I discovered the Warrior in me.
Then I stopped trying to achieve things and started showing integrity in my own life. I stopped demanding from the form. Instead, I would listen to it and not demand anything. Instead of forcing an external knowing onto my body, I’d follow the small impulses for correction. I would listen to the subtle signals from my breath and move in such a way as to allow more prana to flow through the form instead of stiffening up against it.
When I felt sad about not being able to appear on the magazine cover, I would steady my posture and turn towards that feeling. My desire to achieve helped me ignore that I might not look perfect in this Pose. My weapon of choice, however, was anger – with myself and my shortcomings.
My experience with Virabhadrasana transformed from the greatest defeat to the greatest victory. It has opened the door to a deeper understanding of the benefits of practicing asana. Warrior I helped me to reconnect with my tenderhearted heart and defeat the inner enemy, self-judgment. Warrior 1 has changed me from being a fighter into an engager and wanting power outside to seeking power within. I hope the practice of Virabhadrasana 1 can inspire you to grow and gain power.