On the surface, yoga is deceptively simple. One simply breathes and holds his/her body into a pose. But when we delve deeper into the layers of the wisdom that comprise the poses we hold, breathe through and release, we start to discover rich symbolism and meaning in every movement.
If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, your instructor has most likely guided you into poses simplistically termed Warrior I, Warrior II, & Warrior III. The Sanskrit name for these poses is Virabhadrasana, which is a combination of the words vira meaning “hero”, bhadra meaning “friend”, and asana meaning “seat or posture”.
Students are in fact encouraged to epitomize the spirit of a warrior while standing in these challenging poses. Although many of us yogis are familiar with the subtle sequences of these iconic poses, do we really know the mythical significance of these martial postures? And, furthermore, how that ascribes to the deeper spirituality of yoga? How can we be “at war” and spiritual at the same time?
The simple answer to this question is that there are many references to fighting in the philosophy and mythology of yoga, the most renowned being the Bhagavad Gita, which is staged on the battlefield itself.
These “warrior” poses quite literally represent a different battle story. When we stand in a “warrior” pose, we are simply taking the stance of Virabhadra, a fierce warrior who was at the command of Shiva. In the myth, a powerful priest named Daksha made a ritual sacrifice but neglected to invite his youngest daughter Sati or her husband Shiva. When Sati discovered her father had left her out, she decided to crash the party. Angered and hurt by her father’s insults, Sati no longer wanted to be associated with the body her father gave to her so she threw herself into the fire.
Shiva was devastated when he heard of his wife, Sati’s death. In response, he pulled out a lock of his hair and beat it into the ground. The lock of beaten hair transformed into
a powerful Warrior. Shiva named this warrior Virabhadra. Vira (hero) + Bhadra (friend) and ordered him to go to the party and destroy Daksha and all his guests. At Shiva’s request, Virabhadra beheaded his girlfriend’s father and placed it on a stake.
Virabhadrasana are the poses that explain the Warriors action. In Warrior I, the Virabhadra arrives at the sacrifice with two swords in his hands. In Warrior II he sights his target, Daksha. And in Warrior III, he finds his opponent and decapitates him with his sword.
As the myth goes, after Virabhadra has finished avenging Sati’s life, Shiva arrives and sees the destruction. Shiva absorbs Virabhadra into his being and then transforms into Hare, the ravisher. Shiva comes to realize that his anger, which caused him to impetuously react in sending Virabhadra to demand for revenge, was in fact, a mistake. So, he works toward righteousness by giving Daksha’s body to the head of a goat, which brings him back to life. In the end, Sati is also reborn. This was Shiva’s attempt to rectify the situation and create a platform for forgiveness.
This mythical story signifies our posture as fallible souls who all engender completely natural human responses to emotions. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, life gets confusing. There is often an innate urge to overlook natural human emotions like anger, jealousy, and bitterness in spiritual pursuits like yoga. At times, we think that in the interest of becoming of true yogi, we must be devoid of all negativity. But, we’re all human. Things happen. Eliminating all hardship from our lives just isn’t feasible. And, we all engage in little battles throughout the day….we fight with our spouses, roommates, our boss. We harbor resentment towards our friends and neighbors. Every single relationship produces complications and stress that engender completely natural human responses. And, that is OK.
Being a “yogi” isn’t about existing in a permanently blissful state. Being a “yogi” means being able to successfully navigate the often complicated world of relationships and emotions. We become true warriors when we understand how to fight our battles with the proper weapons.
Along with the extraordinary range of emotions we exhibit as humans, we also have the unbelievable capacity for reflection. And so, when our battles scale beyond our control, we possess the most important tools of the “spiritual warrior”, which is compassion and forgiveness.
Below, we have outlined both the spiritual and literal guide to all three yoga poses:
Opening the chest and lungs
(2) Warrior II or Virabhadrasana II
(3) Warrior III or Virabhadrasana III
Toning the muscles of the legs
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