Finding Strength in Virabhadrasana II
As we begin the descent in to February, our New Year sincerities are either earnestly established, now forming an integral part of our daily routines – or they are well and truly out of the window. Whatever your situation, drawing on some inner strength could be key to re-establishing, or further enhancing, the vows you made to yourself at the beginning of the year. So far, we have re-grounded with Anahatasana; we have detoxified with Ardha Matsyendarasana and now it is time to strengthen our body, mind and energy with Virabhadrasana II – aka ‘Warrior II’.
Often we think of inner strength as something we have to generate mentally and emotionally, however, I emphatically believe that expressions of outer strength can create just as much inner strength. This week’s chosen pose, Virabhadrasana II, is a key example of building outer strength and inner strength synergistically.
In yoga, we work from simply establishing a good foundation in each pose, to staying in said pose for a longer period of time – often minutes at a time. The practice of prolonged stances requires a great deal of mental stamina, concentration, focus, the ability to close the mind off from external disruptions and bring the self in to that moment and that activity alone; it also requires a hefty amount of determination, will power and discipline – all personal attributes that are conducive to a good mass of inner strength. Let’s find some inner and outer strength, in week 3 of our clinic, with Virabhadrasana II.
Sanskrit Name: Virabhadrasana II
English Translation: Warrior II
Approach with caution if you suffer from the following:
- High Blood Pressure
- Injuries to the neck: Do not turn the head to look past the leading hand; simply continue to look forwards. This will help to keep both sides of the neck equally lengthened and won’t cause strain.
- Baddha Konasana – Bridge Pose
- Trikonasana – Triangle Pose
- Apanasana – Wind relieving pose
- Vrksasana – Tree Pose
- Natarajasana – Lord of the Dance Pose
How to do this pose:
- Start in Tadasana and step the feet 3-4 feet apart; you will be in a wide legged standing position. Point the toes straight forward and stand up straight, elongating the spine and tuck the tailbone under – to stop you from tipping forward. Have the chin parallel to the ground and look straight ahead. Inhale and draw the shoulders up towards the ears then, as you exhale, quickly drop the shoulders down and feel the shoulder blades move down your back – this should expand and open the chest.
- Raise your arms out to the sides, shoulder height, parallel to the floor. Your palms should be facing down and you should feel lots of lovely expansive space in your chest, as the shoulder blades continue to draw down the back.
- Turn your right foot in slightly toward your left foot and then turn your left foot out at a 90-degree angle. Make sure that you heels are in line with each other.
- Firm your thighs and bend the left knee, ensuring the left knee is directly over the left ankle. The back of the knee should line up with the heel. If this is too strong and your leg shakes, move the feet closer together and start again – you can build up to having the feet wider apart.
- Keep the torso upright and draw the tailbone in and under (toward the pubis) so as you have a lovely straight spine and are not sticking the buttocks out.
- When you are ready, exhale to rotate the neck to look over the front hand (this will be your left hand, parallel to the bent knee). Keeps your chest pointing directly forward, only turn the head to face over the front arm – this will take some practice as the chest will naturally want to move in the same direction as the head. Check in with your back arm – has it started to rotate in toward the midline of the body? The bark arm will be the main offender in rotating toward that front arm, where the head is now looking. Keep the arm back and the shoulder drawn down. If you struggle to turn the head, keep looking straight forward – don’t put unnecessary pressure on the neck.
- Hold the pose. As you breathe, concentrate on drawing your energy up, away from your legs and in to your abdomen. Keep the navel drawn in toward the spine and keep the legs strong and active, but don’t sink all of your weight in to the legs. Imagining that your energy is travelling up in to the abdomen will bring a sense of lightness to the legs, enabling you to hold the pose for longer.
- When you are ready to move out of the pose, straighten the front knee, keep the navel drawn in toward the spine and slowly rotate the head back to centre and turn the front foot to face the front of the room. Repeat on the right-hand side.
My Top tips!
1. Pigeon toe the back foot in a little bit
This will help with stability when you bend the front knee.
2. Keep your weight evenly distributed between both legs.
Don’t favour the weight on the front leg – you will risk over-loading the knee, which is a relatively small, floating bone and this will increase risk of injury. Don’t over bend either – it is important that you work within your limits in the moment. I always tell my students that a limit is not a definitive end, it is just where you are at the moment; it is not where you will be in the future. Don’t give in to your ego and just accept what your body can do in this moment – don’t focus on what it can’t do.
3. Try to keep the hips and torso square and pointing forwards – only turn the head to look over the front hand.
This takes a little dedicated, conscious practice (you will naturally want to turn) but will create more strength in the torso and core as well as more stability in the legs, in the long run. Imagine that your hip bones are like car head lights – they need to keep in a neutral position, pointing directly forward and aligned with each other. Using a mirror can be helpful in checking the alignment of the hips – checking your profile in the mirror will reveal if you are tilting the hip bones upwards, downwards or rotating them outwards to the sides.
4. Suck that belly button in!
This is so vital when we do any form of exercise. Drawing the navel in toward the back of the spine will create stability in the core. Our core muscles are instrumental in keeping us stable and upright and they provide support to our precious vertebrae. The abdominal muscles progress from the front of the belly, all the way to the back where the kidneys are located. Although the navel does not attach to all of the muscles of the abdominal cavity, engaging the front section will support the muscles behind, which then support the muscles and tissues behind them…you get the idea!
My Top 3 Benefits of Virabhadrasana II
1. Discipline (…is a dirty word…)
Discipline has so many negative connotations – we think of discipline and we think of being shouted at, oppressed and controlled. However, self-discipline is quite a precious attribute and is so vital in conjuring inner strength. When we have self-discipline, we have a stronger resilience to negative external influences – we know our minds and we don’t want anyone or anything else to influence us in being who we are. Having discipline does not make you a bad person – it makes you a strong person, a person whom has chosen to live freely in their own mind and there is nothing stronger than that!
2. Boosts Metabolism
Here’s my favourite bit: the science behind the pose! One of the hidden benefits of this pose is that it can aid efficacy in the metabolic rate. The primary area exercised in Warrior II is the quadriceps – the large group of muscles comprising the thighs. They are the largest muscles in the body. It is quite common knowledge that lean muscle mass burns more calories (even at rest) than fatty tissue. When we exercise our muscles require energy to keep them working – muscle tissue becomes tired quickly and needs a rich supply of oxygen and glucose in order to produce energy to keep working. Even after the muscles are no longer physically in use, they will continue to use oxygen and glucose (known as aerobic respiration) thus burn calories, as they repair themselves. This creates a higher metabolic rate. The larger the muscles are, the faster they tire and the more they need repairing after physical activity – more energy is needed for these large muscles. So, working the largest muscles in the body will contribute to the health and efficacy of the metabolism. In Warrior II, even though we aim to evenly distribute the weight between both legs, the front leg is I a lunge position and this places more stress on the muscles of that leg. Regular practice of this pose will help to tone the muscle and get them revved up to burn more calories, even when you are sitting in front of Netflix!
3. Melts stress away
Something a little shy of magical happens when you finally break through the muscle fatigue and you can settle in to the pose and allow your breath to just carry you away in to a far-off place. Virabhadrasana II encourages deeper breathing which is essential for combating muscle fatigue, by creating energy (as mentioned previously) in the body, but it also gives the mind something to focus on. A lot of the mental stress that we experience is born out of too many things going on in our heads – creating “chatter” and noise that we just can’t seem to silence. However, as soon as we give the mind something to concentrate on, that noise stops and the silence blankets our minds.
Even though this is quite a strong pose, that requires you to be physically active, once you break through to the other side and can just “be” in the pose, you can wrap yourself up in that big breath-filled blanket and give your mind the silence and rest that it deserves.
This is a truly wonderful, multi-faceted pose, that has a myriad of benefits and I hope you enjoy trying it out as much as I enjoy teaching it.
About the Author
Katie-Marie Fuller Ma Pg Dip, Registered Yoga Teacher
Katie-Marie Fuller is a registered yoga teacher specialising in Hatha and Vinyasa yoga. Her approach to yoga is fuelled with intelligence and creativity, underpinned by ancient philosophy and spirituality. A master of the arts, Katie’s career history and education shine through in her creative, philosophically orientated classes. Currently studying for her diploma in anatomy and physiology, Katie is changing her career path with a view to practice yoga therapy full time. Residing in Staffordshire, you will hear Katie’s soft, eloquent tones reciting philosophical quotes in yoga studios around the county. Katie prides herself on her extensive education in art and Philosophy but emphasises Aristotle’s aphorism: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”. Katie’s classes incorporate elements of Kundalini, Hatha and Yin yoga, often bound together in a vinyasa type flow.
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