Want to learn more about Virabhadrasana 1, aka Warrior 1? In this post, I share the benefits of Virabhadrasana 1, plus a complete yoga pose breakdown, myths, contraindications, modifications and more.
Warrior 1 helps you realize that, no matter what you are facing in life, at your core you are balanced and strong. On top of that, it helps us cultivate compassion. Life is a great battle and poses like Warrior 1 remind us that this is the natural order of things.
The battle of dedicating and re-dedicating yourself to your own life and your own adventures, and putting in the focus needed to stay on this path, is yoga.
Practicing Virabhadrasana 1 and experiencing the push-pull of working towards square hips and open shoulders teaches us that, while the practice takes focus and dedication, it also takes compassion.
Why? Well, let’s be honest — for 99% of us, our hips will never be exactly square in Warrior 1, but reaching the target is not the point. We all reap the benefits from putting in our best effort and walking the path, no matter how far we get. But we need to be compassionate to ourselves along the way, and not force our bodies into shapes that they are not ready to do.
The skills of compassion, focus, and dedication already live inside you. Warrior 1 helps you practice and strengthen them so that they’re ready to go when you need them in your life.
- Virabhadrasana 1 Quick Facts
- Virabhadrasana 1 Benefits
- Precautions & Contraindications
- The Myth of Virabhadra
- Virabhadrasana 1 Pose Breakdown
- Modifications & Variations
- If you have lower back pain
- If you have a neck injury
- If you have heart problems or high blood pressure
- Yoga Poses Related to Warrior 1
- Related Posts & Videos
- Gear & Resources for This Pose
- A Final Note About Warrior 1
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Virabhadrasana 1 Quick Facts
|Meaning||Vira means hero.|
Bhadra has lots of different translations that are variations on the same idea: blessed, auspicious, friend, great, kind, prosperous, skilful, excellent, etc.
As a compound word, virabhadra is translated as distinguished hero, or great warrior.
However, the meaning of the pose name is not as simple as its direct translation. Virabhadra is a character in Hindu mythology and the pose is named for him. But he wasn’t just any warrior… Virabhadra was the warrior who led Shiva’s army. See the Myths section below for more.
Virabhadrasana 1 Benefits
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Warrior 1 here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
The main physical benefits of Virabhadrasana 1 include:
- Lifting your torso and arms helps build strength in arms, shoulders, and back.
- Strengthens biceps and triceps.
- Helps open and create strength and stability in the shoulder joints.
- Tones abdomen and outer hips.
- Strengthens the posterior chain (back muscles, butt, hamstrings).
- Helps improve balance.
- Opens the hip flexors and strengthens the hip extensors.
- Stretches the psoas muscles.
- Strengthens the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, calf muscles, and hamstrings.
- Stretches quadriceps, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles.
- Builds strength for the muscles that support the knee.
- Engages the deep core muscles, which helps create stability and improve balance.
- Can help alleviate pain cause by sciatica.
Note: Because of the split legs in this pose, much of what is stretched on one side of the pose strengthens when you switch sides, and vice versa.
If you want more on the benefits of yoga, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people! It’s important to remember that a true warrior knows what they can do and doesn’t do what they can’t do.
If your body requires some extra support in this pose, see the Modifications section below for ideas on how to do this pose safely.
- Warrior 1 can be challenging if you have vertigo. Practice the pose with your feet as wide as you need to find balance.
- If you easily hyperextend your knees, extra care is needed to not hurt the knee joint or muscles on your back leg.
- If you have high blood pressure or heart problems, you may not want to stretch your arms overhead.
- If you are pregnant, you may want to keep your feet hip-distance apart or wider. You may also want to lift your back heel or bring your back knee down to the ground.
- If you have an injury to your lower back, quadriceps, groin, knees or hips, practice this pose with awareness. If you feel pain, come out of the pose and rest.
- If you have a neck injury or are prone to headaches, don’t lift your chin or look up in the pose. Keep your neck long to help build strength in your neck’s supporting muscles.
- If you have a hip injury or recently had hip replacement surgery this pose can put unwanted pressure on the hip joint. To lessen the stress, you can bring your back knee down.
The Myth of Virabhadra
Virabhadra is an incarnation of Shiva. He was created from Shiva’s dreadlocks to battle (and destroy) Daksha, the son of Brahma.
The story varies. One version says that Daksha had forbidden his daughter, Sati, from marrying Shiva. Another version says he had disapproved of their marriage. Either way, the end result is the same.
Daksha throws a big party and he doesn’t invite Sati and Shiva. (Ultimate dis!) Sati decides to go anyway, but when her father ignores her at the party she gets mad and embarrassed.
So she sets herself on fire and kills herself in despair. (Teenagers!)
Shiva, naturally, blames Daksha for her death, and swears revenge. He rips out one of his matted dreadlocks, throws it into the dirt, focuses his rage at the clump of hair in the dirt, and Virabhadra – who has been described as having a thousand arms with eyes and arms of fire – rises out of the dust.
Shiva tells Virabhadra to lead Shiva’s army against Daksha and destroy him. Virabhadra and his army materialise in the midst of Daksha’s party (cool trick!) and, along with destroying most of the party, including killing a lot of the gods in attendance, Virabhadra beheads Daksha.
Shiva does have a conscience though (having learned this from his son Ganesha) and feels compassion for Daksha. Since it worked out to give his son an elephant’s head, he decides to give Daksha a goat head as a replacement.
Shiva heads off to Mount Kailash in the Himalayas to meditate the pain away, where Sati is reborn as Uma to the Himalaya family. Once again, she wins Shiva’s heart.
Of course, the story goes on… but we’ll leave it there for now.
Virabhadrasana 1 Pose Breakdown
How to do Virabhadrasana 1 / Warrior 1
- Stand in Tadasana at the top of your mat.
- Fold forward into Uttanasana (Forward Fold).
- Bend your knees so that you can bring your hands to the ground on either side of your feet. Come up onto your fingertips.
- Step your left leg back to a lunge, bend your right knee over your ankle.
- Step your left foot forward slightly to shorten the distance between your feet (by roughly the length of your foot).
- Turn your left heel in and down to the ground. Have your left foot turned forward approximately 45º while also keeping your foot flat on the ground. Have both heels in line with each other. Note: If it is hard for you to balance with your heels lined up you can bring your feet wider apart. See Modifications below.
- Bring your hands onto your waist, lift your torso, and push your hips down to bend into your right knee so that it is over your right ankle. Have your right knee point in the same direction as your second toe (i.e., straight ahead).
- Push your left (back) foot into your mat to straighten your back leg. Turn your left knee and left hip forward to help square your hips toward the top of your mat. Note: They won’t be perfectly square. Just do your best.
- Tone the bottom of your pelvis (Mula Bandha). Tone your belly (transverse abdominus or Uddiyana Bandha). Stretch your arms up and look up. Toning your pelvic floor and abdomen will help prevent overarching your lower back.
- Stretch your arms up and overhead, look up, and bring your hands together. Stretch your arms straight. Note: If you have tight shoulders, or it is uncomfortable to bring your hands together and look up, keep your arms shoulder-distance apart and gaze forward. See Modifications below.
- Take care not to dump onto the inner arch of your left (back) foot. Lift your inner arch while keeping your inner heel and big toe mound rooting down. Push the outer edge of your foot down firmly. This is Virabhadrasana 1.
- To come out, separate your hands shoulder-distance apart and gaze forward. Bring your fingertips down to the ground on either side of your right foot and lift your back heel. Step forward and change sides.
- Balasana (Child’s Pose) makes a good counter pose after a deep Virabhadrasana 1.
NOTE: You can also enter this pose from Adho Mukha Svanasana, however, stepping forward from Downward Facing Dog can be more difficult for people than stepping back. Also, when entering the pose by stepping back, it is easier to ensure your front knee stays over your ankle.
Modifications & Variations
If you hyperextend your knees
Work to not lock out your back knee in this pose. Over-engaging your quadriceps (thigh muscles), or pushing your knee back to straighten your back leg, will cause hyperextension. Instead, engage your hamstrings to protect your knee.
If you have tight shoulders
- Don’t worry about bringing your hands together overhead. Instead, keep your hands shoulder-distance apart — or wider if necessary — as in Urdhva Hastasana.
- If it helps, you can also bring your arms forward rather than straight up, or bring them down to your sides, or place your hands on your waist.
If you have difficulty lifting your torso upright
- If this is difficult while keeping your front knee over your ankle, you likely have a tight psoas or other tight hip flexors.
- You can practice some psoas openers before practicing this pose. Low Lunge (Ashwa Sanchalanasana) with an added side bend is a good pose to open your psoas and other hip flexors. Or try Indudalasana (Standing Side Bend Pose). Or both!
- If it is still difficult to lift your torso upright after doing some psoas stretches, lift your back heel and bend your back knee.
If you have lower back pain
- Warrior 1 can cause lower back pain.
- A tight psoas muscle can be one cause of this. See modification above for tips to help with that.
- You can also focus on toning your core to prevent back pain. Do this by lifting your pubic bone towards your navel, toning your belly, moving the front bottom edge of your rib cage back and down slightly, and tucking your butt underneath you a little.
If you have a neck injury
Instead of looking up at your hands, gaze forward and lengthen through all sides of your neck to build strength. You may also want to keep your arms and hands shoulder distance apart.
If you have heart problems or high blood pressure
You may want to place your hands on your waist or bring your hands to Prayer Pose (Anjali Mudra) instead of stretching your arms overhead.
If you have trouble balancing
- You can use a yoga chair to help you balance.
- Turn the chair so that the back of the chair is aligned with the outer edge of your mat. Place the back of your front leg (hamstrings) on the seat of the chair and step your back leg back with your heel up, or down. You can hold the back of the chair, or bring your hands into Anjali Mudra (Prayer Pose). Stretch your arms up as your ability to balance increases.
- You can also practice Warrior 1 with your feet wider apart. With your feet hip-distance apart rather than lined up heel-to-heel it widens your base and makes the pose more stable.
- Another option is to use a yoga block to help strengthen your legs and core, which will improve your balance. Practice Warrior 1 facing a wall and place the block between your front knee and the wall. Press into the block to help you fire up your core.
If your SI joint hurts
- If you often have SI joint pain or challenges with your lumbar spine, take care to tone your belly (transverse abdominus specifically) and do not overarch your lower back.
- The twist that occurs at your hips when placing your back foot flat on the ground in Virabhadrasana 1 can cause extra tension at the SI joint. Instead of struggling through this, lift your back heel off the ground and square your hips to the front of your mat.
- You can also practice Warrior 1 with your feet wider apart. With your feet hip-distance apart rather than lined up heel-to-heel, it will put less pressure on your SI joint.
If your back heel keeps lifting
- You may have tight calf muscles or a tight Achilles tendon. You can place a folded yoga blanket under your heel so that you can keep the shape of the pose and have something for your back foot to press down into.
- Or you can lift your back heel off the ground and square your hips to the front of your mat.
- You may also want to do some calf stretches such as Anjaneyasana or Ashwa Sanchalanasana before practicing Warrior 1.
If your back outer foot keeps lifting
- In this pose, there is a tendency for the back foot to roll in so that the inner arch disappears and the outer edge of the foot lifts off the mat. This can place unwanted pressure on the knee joint and also reduces strength in your leg.
- To counter this, lift through your inner arch and root the outer edge of your foot down consciously. This may limit your ability to square your hips, but that’s fine. Yoga is about finding balance. Find the balance that is right for you in this pose.
If you cannot square your hips
Know that you are not alone. It’s almost impossible to square your hips in Warrior 1. It is more of a guideline than a necessity. You can practice the pose with your feet wider apart, or back heel lifted, to square your hips more if you choose.
Yoga Poses Related to Warrior 1
- Vajrasana / Thunderbolt Pose
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana / Low Lunge
- Ashta Chandrasana / Crescent Lunge
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose
- Uttanasana / Forward Fold
- Gomukhasana / Cow Face Pose
- Salabhasana / Locust Pose
- Utkatasana / Fierce Pose or Chair Pose
- Virasana / Hero Pose
- Trikonasana / Triangle Pose
- Parsvottansana / Pyramid Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Anjaneyasana / Son of Anjani’s Pose
- Eka Pada Rajakapotasana 2 / One Leg King Pigeon 2
- Virabhadrasana 3 / Warrior 3
- Parivrtta Parsvakonasana / Revolved Side Angle Pose
- Parivrtta Trikonasana / Revolved Triangle Pose
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Crescent Lunge Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Post: Trikonasana Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Video: Virabhadrasana 1 Yoga Pose Breakdown
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Sustainable Cork Yoga Mat by Corq
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
- Folding Yoga Chair
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A Final Note About Warrior 1
Warrior 1 is a pose that comes up again and again in vinyasa classes. Practicing it during Surya Namaskar B warm-ups, it can move past pretty quickly. The idea of the Suryas is to warm you up and get you moving, but there can be a tendency in students to want to do each pose exactly right every time.
Work on this pose in your home practice so that you can become comfortable stepping into and out of it fairly quickly, doing what is possible in a half breath, and flowing through it.
And remember that not everything you do has to be perfect, in yoga or in life. Just work to do your best in each moment.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Warrior 1. It’s a fun pose that can help you build more strength and focus in your life as well as on your mat. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore how your practice can benefit your life off the mat as you live your adventure to the fullest!