older man practicing yoga warrior 1, virabhadrasana I, yoga pose variation with chair

Refining Your Yoga Practice: Warrior I Variations to Fit Every Body

By: 
Jennifer Williams-Fields E-RYT 200

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) is a yoga pose that many beginning yogis initially struggle with.  Although named after a warrior, the pose itself requires patience, stamina, and focus.  

The Myth of Virabhadra

Virabhadra, the Great Warrior, originally rose from the ashes of a family feud.

Sati, the daughter of King Daksha, married Shiva against her father’s wishes. The king was so upset he refused to invite his beloved daughter and son-in-law to his next big party.

Sati loved both her father and her husband Shiva and was despondent that her love for one caused anger and hurt to the other. Out of desperation, she crashed her father’s party and threw herself into the fire.

When Shiva heard the news of his wife’s death, he pulled out a strand of his hair and threw it to the ground in front of the king and his party guests. From that strand of hair, Virabhadra rose up from the earth with arms raised ready to conquer the world.

Benefits of Warrior I            

Aside from feeling like a strong warrior, the benefits of Warrior I include:

  • Expands the chest

  • Stretches and strengthens the legs including the thighs, ankles and the calves

  • Improves focus, balance, and stability

  • Tones the arms, legs, and back

  • Energizes the entire body

Prepare For Warrior I            Salabhasana, Locust Pose, Warrior 1 prep pose, spine lengthening pose, core strengthening pose

Since Warrior I is a prep pose for other standing backbends, it is essential to understand the need to lengthen the lower back while in the pose.  Although lying prone, Salabhasana (Locust Pose) is a beginning backbend that helps you practice lengthening your spine.

  1. Lie on your mat, belly down, with the tops of your feet on the mat and your arms by your side facing palms up.

  2. Inhale, and lift your chest slightly off the floor.

  3. If this is comfortable for your back, inhale and lift your arms a few inches off the floor.

  4. If this is comfortable for your back, inhale again and lift your legs a few inches off the floor.

  5. Once you find the position where the lift feels best for your back, push your chest forward while pushing your toes back.

  6. Be sure to keep your legs internally rotate so as not to squeeze the buttocks together.

  7. A block between your thighs can help to keep your lower back broadened and not condensed.

Move into Warrior I           Virabhadrasana 1, Warrior 1, standing pose, strengthening pose, beginner's yoga, yoga for balance and stability     

  1. Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Step your right foot toward the back of the mat about 3 to 4 feet, or a distance that allows you to keep your back heel down while your foot faces mostly forward.

  2. Many yogis find that lining up their heels in this pose makes balance difficult. Instead, line your heels up with your ischial tuberosities (aka the “sit bones”).

  3. Turn your back toes to about a 45-degree angle to the right front corner of your mat and be sure your left toes are pointing forward.

  4. Bend your left knee, bringing your thigh more parallel to the floor. Make sure you can still see your left big toe with your left knee bent.

  5. Place your hands on your hips, being mindful to keep your back leg straight.

  6. Push the back edge of your right foot down to help keep your back knee straight.

  7. If your lower back feels good here, raise your arms overhead for the full expression of the pose.

  8. Stay for 5 to 10 deep breaths. Then step your right foot forward and stand in Tadasana with your feet hip-width apart.

  9. Repeat on the opposite side.

Leg Placement & Squaring the Hips

The alignment cue most often used in yoga classes for this pose is to line up the front heel with your back heel and to square your hips forward. Although this is the way Warrior I alignment is traditionally taught, it may not necessarily be what is best for everyone.


Yogis with lower back or sciatic issues, hip problems, those who are pregnant or carrying extra weight and even those with chronic knee problems will find a more accessible Warrior I by taking their feet wider and keeping the back hip slightly open.

  1. Step your left foot back, making sure your right foot is facing forward with your knee over your heel and in the same line as your right hip.

  2. Take small steps with your left foot toward the left side of your mat until you feel a distance that you can comfortably hold Warrior I.

  3. Maintain awareness while stepping wider that you find a comfortable base of support just slightly wider than hip distance so that your skeletal muscles are still supporting you.

  4. Rather than forcing your hips into a squared-off position facing front, try keeping the left hip slightly open to protect both the back hip and knee.

  5. Continue pressing into the back edge of your back foot.

  6. Be sure your back toes are still angled toward the front of your mat.

Variations of Warrior I          

Warrior I in a Chair: This is a favorite when I teach chair yoga to seniors or anyone with limited mobility.     Virabhadrasana 1, Warrior 1, standing pose, strengthening pose, yoga for balance and stability , warrior 1 variations with a chair

  1. Sitting at the front of a sturdy chair, slide your body to the left so that the left buttocks are slightly hanging off the chair.

  2. Extend the left foot behind you so that your left knee is pointing to the ground.

  3. If balance is an issue here, hold onto the right side of the chair with your right hand.

  4. Raise the left arm overhead. If your balance is good, raise both arms overhead.

  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

 

Warrior I with Heel Support: traditional heel to heel alignment may not be possible for some yogis, therefore taking the back leg wider allows for greater mobility in the hips and less risk of injury to the knees

  1. Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Step your right foot toward the back of the mat.

  2. Place the heel of your right foot onto a folded blanket or rolled yoga mat. (see photo below).

  3. Your back toes will be off the blanket at about a 45-degree angle to the right front corner of your mat. Your left toes are pointing forward.Virabhadrasana 1, Warrior 1, standing pose, strengthening pose, beginner's yoga, warrior 1 variations,  warrior 1 with props

  4. Bend your left knee, bringing your thigh more parallel to the floor. Make sure you can still see your big toe with your left knee bent.

  5. Place your hands on your hips, and square your hips to the front of the mat, being mindful to keep your back leg straight. 

  6. Push the back edge of your right foot down into the blanket to help keep your back knee straight.

  7. Raise your arms overhead if possible.

  8. Repeat on the opposite side.

 

Warrior I With a Block At-The-Wall: For anyone who experiences pain in their sacrum, lower back or knees in the pose, this block at the wall option can help refine proper alignment in the pose.

  1. Standing a few feet away from a wall, step your left foot forward so that your toes are close to the wall.      Virabhadrasana 1, Warrior 1, standing pose, strengthening pose, beginner's yoga, warrior 1 variations

  2. Place a yoga block at its shortest length between your front knee and the wall.

  3. Place your hands on the wall, to focus on your legs.

    • Your back heel is pushing down towards the outer edge of your back foot

    • Your front knee is holding the block in place, yet not pushing forward into the block

    • Your front knee is  directly over your front toes and tracking over the pinky toe edge of your foot

  4. Using your hands, push your torso away from the wall until you are vertical.

  5. Roll the shoulders down away from the ears, lift your chest and extend the arms overhead.

If your students complain Warrior I is too hard or the hold is too long, remind them of the fierce determination of Virabdadra.  They too will be strong and fierce after practicing this pose.

 

Read another helpful asana practice tips article from Jennifer Williams-Fields Restorative Yoga: A Sequence to Build and Maintain Resilience.

Restoring Prana: Key Roles of the Diaphragm in Health and Vitality - study with Robin Rothenberg and YogaUOnline.

Jennifer Williams-Fields E-RYT 200 is passionate about writing, yoga, traveling, public speaking, and being a fabulous single momma to six super kids. Doing it all at one time, however, is her great struggle. She has been teaching yoga since 2005 and writing since she first picked up a crayon. Although her life is a sort of organized chaos, she loves every minute of the craziness and is grateful for all she’s learned along the way. Her first book, "Creating A Joyful Life: The Lessons I Learned From Yoga and My Mom" is now available on Amazon. She has had her essays featured on Yahoo! and Dr. Oz The Good Life. She is a regular writer for Elephant Journal Magazine, Your Tango and YogaUOnline. See more from Jennifer at jenniferwilliamsfields.com.

 

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