The Story Behind Virabhadrasana and Key Alignments

Story (Abstract)
From Sanskrit, ‘VIRA’ means ‘hero’ and ‘BADRA’ means ‘friend’. This pose is evolved from feelings of love, hate, rage, violence, sadness, anger, compassion and forgiveness in the story of Lord Shiva and his bride, Sati.
This story illustrates Shiva (and his incarnation, Virabhadrasana) overcoming the battle between his higher self (mind) with the arrogant ego (Ahaṃkāra) in the name of love for Sati.
In fact, all three forms of Virabhadrasana is a resemblance of different parts of this ancient love story. In the first part of this ancient love story, after hearing the violent death of Sati, Shiva thrusted up from underground with his sword held strong and firmly over his head.Virabadrasana 1 enacts the arrival of the warrior with his sword. The focus (Drishti) is therefore, towards the thumbs to send the energy upwards.
While this pose is very common in all yoga practices, there are some key alignments that are overlooked which can grow into potential pitfalls for any yogi’s practice in the long-run.
Key Alignment 1: Point Front Knees and Toes in the Same Direction
For the front leg, while the toes are pointing to the front, the knee is flexed with the knee caps stacked directly above the ankle. Also, a very commonly overlooked detail is that the knee is not facing forward, i.e. externally or internally rotated. Always keep the knee pointing in the same direction as the toes to protect our kneecaps. For this action, the quadriceps on the bent knee should be eccentrically contracted too to prevent the kneecap from collapsing.
Key Alignment 2: Hips are Squared to the Front
Virabhadrasana resembles strength and stability. Hence, the stance should be wide enough to lower the centre of gravity for more stability. The distance of both heels should be hip-width apart with the back foot pointing at a 45-degree angle forward. As the hips are squared, sink the weight vertically downwards, whilst tucking in the tailbone and engaging the core muscles to protect our lumbar spine.
Key Alignment 3: Spine is lengthened; Upper body is Upright
Just like the sword held over Lord Shiva’s head, the spine is lengthened and tall as though we are trying to reach for the sky. Aforementioned, tail bone should be tucked in and there should not be any hyperextension in the lumbar spine. Shoulders should be depressed and pulled away from the ear while both arms are strong and straight.
For beginners who find it hard to attempt the pose, especially in terms of finding the stability and strength in the legs, focus on squaring the hips to the front first (by placing both hands on the hip bone) and bend the front knee before raising the arms overhead.
Some may argue that this pose resembles certain aspects of violence, as of Lord Shiva’s rage and wrath to create a scene of destruction. Howver, the true philosophy behind Virabhadrasana is the celebration of the warrior within us who survived our everyday battles with our ego and self-ignorance. Thereafter, attaining peace and forgiveness in our hearts at the end of day knowing that with good intentions and consciousness, we are the true survivors.
{Om Shanti Shanti Shanti}
June’15 YTT

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