Yoga Pose Primer: Staying Balanced and Rooted with Virasana (Hero’s Pose)
Article At A Glance
Virasana (Hero’s Pose) resides in the category of poses that help us move more freely but also is said to keep our deeper systems in balance. Its digestive benefits help counteract the effects of too much food and drink. It’s a great alternative to sitting cross-legged in meditation—as long as you give your body plenty of blankets or block support. Learn how Virasana invigorates our legs as it calms our body/mind energies and can help you stay warm, relaxed, and rooted.
The Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon) is a 2,000-year-old text on traditional Chinese medicine. Organized as a Q&A between the Yellow Emperor and Taoist master Qi Bo, one exchange between the two involves longevity. The emperor asks: “I am told the people in ancient times could all survive to more than 100 years old, and they appeared to be quite healthy and strong, but the people at present time are different; they are not so nimble in action when they are only 50. What is the reason?”
Virasana Pose for Balance of Mind, Body, and Spirit
Qi Bo replies: “Those who knew the way of keeping good health in ancient times always kept their behavior in daily life in accordance with nature. Their behaviors in daily life were all kept in regular patterns, such as their food and drink being of fixed quantity. They never overworked. In this way, they could maintain both in the body and in the spirit substantiality and were able to live to the old age of more than 100 years.”
While I can’t verify that the ancients were “nimble in action” well into their 100s, I have to say that Qi Bo’s words are as prescient for the 21st century as they were in the first century BCE. While we hear these commonsense recommendations again and again, we continue to test them every day.
Practicing yoga asana is one way to keep ourselves nimble, not just in our daily movements through space. Many of yoga’s asanas also benefit the vital internal systems that operate 24/7 to keep us alive. Virasana (Hero’s Pose) resides in the category of poses that help us move more freely but also is said to keep our deeper systems in balance.
Virasana stretches the thighs and ankles, strengthens the arches, improves digestion and relieves gas, and can be therapeutic for high blood pressure. This yoga pose also increases circulation to the lower body, rooting the energy in the pelvic floor and legs.
How to Practice Virasana (Hero’s Pose)
To practice Virasana, gather a yoga mat, at least two blankets, and a yoga block. Before you start, practice a simple standing forward bend (Uttanasana) to stretch out the backs of your legs.
Place a folded blanket on your mat. Start on your hands and knees. Place your knees an inch or so apart and separate the feet a little wider than hip-width. Place your palms on your calf muscles and press them down into the bones. Still pressing, slide your hands back toward your ankles as you sit your hips down between your feet.
Many, if not most, people can’t sit on the floor between their knees in the pose, at least initially. If you have a known knee injury or if your knees feel ANY discomfort, please roll up your blanket and place it under your hips so that you are sitting higher. Keep adding height—blankets or a block—until you can sit comfortably. You might also try rolling up two thin washcloths or socks and place one behind each knee as you sit down into Virasana. This can create a bit of space behind your knees that might relieve discomfort.
Donna Farhi says, “There’s no good knee pain.” The knees are strung together with ligaments. Any feeling of stretching or discomfort means that ligaments are stretching. Ligaments do not have the “memory” of muscles—they do not rebound when they are stretched. Over time, this stretching can destabilize your knee joints. Virasana can help keep your knees nimble, but it is important to approach it with caution and respect. It can take years for some people’s hips to reach the floor, and if they never do, that’s okay too. It’s far better to sit on blankets and enjoy healthy knees in the rest of your life than to force yourself to the floor and risk injury. An experienced yoga teacher can help you find your healthiest position.
Once you have found a comfortable position, sit in Hero’s Pose for five breaths. Settle your hips down into your blankets or the floor. Feed your sit bones into the earth. You can clasp your fingers and raise your arms overhead if you like. Turn your palms up and reach upward as you root your hips. Breathe and expand your torso. After a few breaths, return your palms to your thighs. Over time, you can increase your stay in this yoga posture—as long as you are comfortable. When you are ready, move back to all fours and then into a standing forward bend (Uttanasana).
Virasana’s circulatory benefits make it a great defense against frigid feet. Its digestive benefits help counteract the effects of too much food and drink. It’s a great alternative to sitting cross-legged in meditation—as long as you give your body plenty of blankets or block support. You can also turn a zafu (round meditation cushion) on its side and sit high in Hero’s Pose on the cushion. Virasana invigorates our legs as it calms our body/mind energies. Virasana can help you stay warm, relaxed and rooted.
Reprinted with permission from Hugger Mugger Yoga Products’ blog.
Charlotte Bell began practicing yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. She was certified by B.K.S. Iyengar in 1989 following a trip to Pune. In 1986, she began practicing Insight Meditation with her mentors Pujari and Abhilasha Keays. Her asana classes blend mindfulness with physical movement. Charlotte writes a column for Catalyst Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. She is the author of two books: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. She also edits Hugger Mugger Yoga Products¹ blog and is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, she plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and the folk sextet Red Rock Rondo whose 2010 PBS music special won two Emmys.