For the next three weeks, we will focus on the three variations of Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose). In Sanskrit, the word "vira" means "hero." Virabhadra is a hero warrior from Hindu mythology. He is said to have a thousand arms and was created by the Lord Shiva to avenge his wife Sati. Like many Hindu stories, they are metaphors that can relate to our everyday lives. The idea of Virabhadra is a reminder that we are the warriors and conquerers of our own weaknesses. By nurturing our inner warrior, we prepare ourselves to deal with our own life challenges.
Here is the story of Virabhdra. Daksha, Sati's father, didn't approve of Sati's marriage to Shiva, so when Daksha decided to host a sacrificial festival, he didn't invite Shiva or Sati, even though the other Hindu gods were invited. Sati was hurt by this, but decided to go to the festival to confront Daksha.
Daksha asked why Sati was there since she wasn't invited. He snidely asked if she had finally come to her senses and left that "wild animal of a husband". Sati was saddened and humiliated, and decided to end her own life, not wanting to be associated with her father anymore. In one version of this story she throws herself into the sacrificial fires, and in another version she goes into a meditative state to increase her own inner fire, and her body bursts into flame.
When Shiva heard the news of his wife's death, he was first devasted, then enraged. From the locks of hair that he tore out in his fury, he created Virabhadra. (Other versions say Virabhadra sprung up from where Shiva's matted locks of hair hit the ground, or that he arose from drops of Shiva's sweat during his fury.)
Virabhadra was huge and terrible -- he had a thousand arms, three burning eyes and fiery hair, and he wore a garland of skulls.
Shiva ordered Virabhadra, the "auspicious hero", (vira = hero, bhadra = auspicious) to kill all the guests at the sacrificial festival, including the other gods. Virabhadra did this, and also cut off Daksha's head. But when Shiva saw the bloody aftermath of this battle, his anger left him and he felt remorse. The slain gods were miraculously healed, and Shiva replaced Daksha's head with a goat's head. Daksha and the other gods honored Shiva for this, calling him "Shankar", the "kind and benevolent one."
The Warrior I Pose is a lunging posture. Start with your right foot at the top of your mat with your bent knee (about 90 degrees) and toes pointing directly forward. Your left leg is straight and your foot is near the back edge of your mat. Be sure the entire foot is on the floor and it may be turned at a comfortable angle so that the back edge of your foot meets the floor. Your torso is facing forward and your arms are reaching straight up toward the sky.
Warrior I opens the chest and lungs, allowing for better breathing. It also creates more flexibility in the shoulders, back, and hips. You will find that this a great hip and hip flexor opener. Further, it strengthens the legs. This is a good pose to prepare for back-bending poses.
The image of the arms shooting skyward represents Virabhadra emerging from the earth as he comes to life. Metaphorically, we can use this image of the arising warrior as the preparation for the battles and challenges ahead. It is the decision to take charge and move forward to face your life obstacles. While in Virabhdrasana I, bring to mind any challenges that you are NOW ready to face and conquer. With each breath, conjure up your Inner Warrior. (Repeat the pose on the other side.)
Next week, we will focus on the Warrior II Pose. Namaste.