Yoga Myth Series: Virabhadrasana
Virabhadrasana, the Warrior Pose. In yoga class, we often encounter Warrior I, Warrior II, and Warrior III as they offer so many wonderful benefits for your mind and body. They are strengthening, focusing, and balancing postures that are worth visiting time and time again. And, as a bonus, these poses have a pretty cool story behind them.
The Warrior series in yoga is named after Virabhadra: the great hero. This is his story.
In this story of Hindu mythology, Shiva was madly in love with his wife, Sati. However, Sati's father Daksha didn't approve of their marriage. He described Shiva as a "wild animal of a husband" and hosted a festival while purposely not inviting Shiva and Sati. Saddened by her father's disapproval, Sati crashed the festival anyway and killed herself in the festival's ceremonial fire as to no longer be associated with her father.
When Shiva heard the news of Sati's death he was devastated. Then, in his grief and anger, he tore out his hair and threw it on the ground. Out of this, Virabhadra was created. He rose out of the earth with terrifying force. He had several arms, three eyes, and wore a garland of skulls. Shiva ordered Virabhadra to kill all the festival attendees, including Daksha.
In the aftermath of this, Shiva looked at the work of Virabhadra and felt remorseful. He healed all of those slain by Virabhadra, including Daksha.
Now on to the poses.
Warrior I represents Virabhadra's entry to the festival. The warrior bore up from within the earth ready to attack the festival-goers. This pose, with arms and gaze up to the sky, represents the warrior's emergence.
Warrior II represents the stance that Virabhadra took with his sword. After he arrives at the festival, he takes on a fighting stance with his sword drawn. His focus is sharp and his stance is grounded.
Warrior III represents Virabhadra's lunge forward into the fight.
Why All the Destruction?
It can be confusing to read such a horrific story in relation to what we consider our peaceful and meditative yoga practice. It's important to note that, in Hindu mythology, Shiva the Destroyer and, in turn, Virabhadra, are meant to represent the destruction and death of the ego.
We can interpret Daksha and the festival-goers to represent all kinds of negative self-talk or self-doubt. The stuff in our minds that get in the way and cause harm to ourselves and others.
In this regard, Virabhadra represents the tools we have to destroy the ego. And we can't forget Peaceful Warrior - the posture of surrendering the battle within. The lesson we can learn from Virabhadra is to stay grounded, stay focused, and be ready to fight the negative self-talk when needed.