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  • Tracy

The Story of Warrior Pose

If you practice Hatha yoga, you are surely familiar with the warrior poses. Warrior one: solid, stable, firm, and proud; Warrior two: open wide, centered between a forward and backward balanced reach, gazing to the horizon; and Warrior three: arms stretched forward while balanced on one leg; plus, the many modern variations like Humble Warrior, Sun Warrior, and more. You may even be familiar with the Sanskrit word for the warrior poses, Virabhadrasana. Breaking down the Sanskrit name of a pose can give us insight into the meaning behind the pose, in this case, the story of Virabhadra, the great warrior.

In Sanskrit, the term Virabhadrasana is a combination of three words:

  • Vira = Hero (*now you also know the meaning of Virasana = Hero Pose)

  • Bhadra = Friend

  • Asana = Seat or Posture

By understanding the meanings of the words, we get a sense that the pose should feel somehow heroic - strong, stable, perhaps even intense, but also friendly? What could that mean? There is more to the story. Examining the story of Virabhadra can help us understand the deeper meanings of the pose.

According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva married Sati, an incarnation of Shakti. Sati’s father, Daksha, disapproved of the marriage. Like so many fathers, Daksha did not consider Shiva, a dreadlocked yogi who consumed intoxicants and loved to sing and dance, to be good enough for his daughter.

Daksha demonstrated his displeasure by throwing a party in the celestial realm and invited everyone except Shiva and Sati. Sati tried to convince Shiva to crash the party with her, but Shiva would not go. Sati went on her own and confronted her father. “Why did you not invite me and my husband?”, she asked. Her father’s reply was to ridicule Shiva, saying he was classless, a wild animal. As Sati was ridiculed by her father, the party guests were amused and laughed at the spectacle, humiliating Sati.

Sati was so angered and humiliated by her father’s actions that she declared she no longer wanted to be tied to him. She denounced her earthly body, created and given to her by her father, and initiated a practice that ignited her inner fire (agni). Her agni burned so fiercely, she burst into flames!

When Shiva heard of his wife’s death, he was distraught. He began tearing at his dreadlocked hair and throwing it on the ground. From this arose Virabhadra, a fierce warrior. With a thousand arms, three eyes, and wearing a garland of skulls, Virabhadra was the picture of ferocity. Shiva commanded Virabhadra to avenge Sati’s death. Virabhadra was instructed to go to the party, kill everyone, and behead Daksha.

Virabhadra’s actions are shown in the Warrior poses.

Warrior 1: Virabhadra arises from deep underground, thrusting through the earth with his sword held aloft.

Warrior 2: Virabhadra stands with his sword poised, ready to strike.

Warrior 3: Moving swiftly and precisely, as commanded by Shiva, he cuts off Daksha’s head.

Afterwards, Shiva arrived to survey the carnage. As Virabhadra was absorbed back into Shiva’s form, so was Shiva’s anger. Shiva felt sorrow and compassion. The slain gods miraculously returned to life. Shiva found Daksha’s headless body and brought it back to life, giving him the head of a goat. The goat-headed Daksha was grateful to be returned to the realm of the living. He bowed to Shiva, dubbing him “Shiva Shankara” (kind and benevolent one).

The story ends with Shiva walking away carrying the lifeless body of his wife, Sati.

There are different ways you might interpret this story:

You might see the party goers and Daksha as representations of evil and ignorance, destroyed by ferocity and the sword of Virabhadra. Another idea is that Virabhadra is a part of Shiva and represents the inner and outer battles that each of us face, and reminds us to approach our battles with both strength and compassion.

I see Virabhadra as a part of Shiva. He represents the part of us that reacts to strong emotions. Like Shiva in his extreme grief, our judgement may be clouded when emotions are strong and we may make choices we later regret. Virabhadra reminds us to pause, even when it seems impossible - especially when it is most difficult.

The qualities that we cultivate in our physical practice seep in through the cracks - into our energy body, our emotions, and our mental state. When we practice the variations of Virabhadrasana, we embody the strength, ferocity, and the fearlessness of a warrior. We are reminded to temper that fierceness with a certain amount of softness, or our posture will be too stiff and it will not be sustainable. Our legs and shoulders will tire, and we will not be able to hold the pose for long. With just a bit of softness and breath, we can find some ease in these poses, without compromising the strength. In fact, this touch of softness brings even greater strength to the pose.

Consider for yourself the story of Virabhadra, and what it means to you. What concepts or ideas, from this story can you bring to your practice – and your life?

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