The 5 warrior poses of yoga

In the Indian yoga tradition, the five poses of the warriors are referred to as the Virabhadrasana series or Vira poses. They are all standing poses that are usually sequenced together and are often included in vinyasa style classes and modified sun salutations. These poses are named after the legendary warrior Virbhadra, who was created by the god Shiva. These challenging yoga poses stretch and strengthen our body, heart and mind. The Virabhadrasana series is the most popular – and perhaps most useful – set of postures in yoga.

What are the yoga warrior poses?

One of the most common groups of asanas in Hatha Yoga are the warrior poses, known in Sanskrit as Virabhadrasana. Vira means “hero” and Bhadra means “blessing”, “auspicious” or “friend”. In this context, Asana means “posture”. Hence, Virabhadrasanas can be called auspicious heroic attitudes. The warrior poses are all standing poses with a broad posture and arms outstretched. They are usually sequenced together, but can also be done individually.

There are 5 primary warrior asanas:

  • Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) – The front knee is bent and the hips are rotated forward with arms raised.
  • Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) – The front knee is bent and the hips are turned to the side with parallel arms.
  • Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III) – Balancing on one foot, the standing leg is straight and the opposite leg is raised with arms reaching forward.
  • Humble Warrior (Baddha Virabhadrasana or Virabhadra Mudra) – The legs are the same in Warrior II, but the upper body bends forward with crossed arms.
  • Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana) – The legs are the same in Warrior II, but the arms and torso extend towards the straight back leg.

Origin of the warrior poses

It is believed that these standing poses were created by Krishnamacharya in the early 20th century, who was influenced by physical culture and gymnastics. They can also have their origins in the Indian martial art of Kalarippayattu. The five warrior poses were popularized and taught by Krishnamacharya’s disciples – Indra Devi, K. Pattabhi Jois, and BKS Iyengar.

We see the warrior posture with the front knee bent and the hind leg straight, depicted in mythological Indian art. This position was used to symbolize strength, anger, or combat activity. The attitude of the warriors became a symbol of the wild work of sadhana, the spiritual practice of self-discovery and inner transformation.

Mythological story of Virabhadra

As with all gods and goddesses, there is a powerful ancient story behind Shiva’s creation of the warrior Virabhadra. While some details change depending on the version, much of the story remains the same. Shiva was married to Sati. However, her father Daksha disagreed with their union. He refused to invite any of them to a large festival of sacrifice that caused an injured sati to face him. Her father humiliated her and asked if she would abandon her “wild beast of a man”. In sadness and shame, Sati decided to kill himself. The specific means, how different they are, like throwing yourself into the fire or meditating until it goes up in flames.

Shiva was devastated and then furious when he learned the fate of his wife. In his anger, he tore a dreadlock off his head and threw it to the ground. Virabhadra, a massive creature with three eyes, a thousand arms and a garland of skulls, jumped out of the hair. He went to the festival to slaughter everyone, including the gods. When it was over, Shiva was remorseful for the destruction he caused and his anger turned to compassion. He restores the life of Daksha and the gods.

Why practice the warrior poses?

The moral of Virabhadra’s mythological story is that it is best to overcome our anger, fear, pain and insecurity by activating our strength, power, courage and devotion. When we put ourselves in these warrior forms, we embody the auspicious and heroic energy of a warrior. As we hold and inhale these asanas, we connect with our strength, trust, compassion, and power. Each warrior stance has its own powers that can help yoga students on their path of inner and outer transformation.

These poses can be difficult for some as most will have the front leg bent 90 degrees at the knee, which requires a lot of lower body strength. However, these warriors are some of the most common forms you will encounter in yoga sequences. Hence, it is important to learn their correct alignment to avoid injury. Routine practice brings many powerful benefits.

The physical, mental, and emotional benefits of warrior poses

Advantages of the warrior 1

  • Physically, this asana strengthens your lower body, especially your hamstrings, feet, ankles, glutes and quadriceps. It also builds core strength by elongating the spine and lifting the chest. This mild back flexion opens the front body and stretches the quads, hip flexors, and psoas.
  • Mentally, it promotes focus, concentration and body awareness. This warrior challenges one to stay grounded and present while engaging multiple muscle groups to keep that shape.
  • On an emotional level, Warrior I is a fiery pose of bravery, celebration and virtue. It encourages a heart full of compassion and courage to face the challenges of life and our inner demons of ego and anger.

Advantages of Warrior 2

  • This asana strengthens the quads of your body, the adductors of the inner thighs, hamstrings, and core muscles, as well as your arms, shoulders, hips, and glutes. It also stretches your hips and groin area. This warrior promotes strength, endurance and stability.
  • This asana challenges us to find ease in exertion and builds mental stamina, inner strength and concentration.
  • With practice, this asana will develop the courage and strength to see down your battles with ease and grace. It will also enable you to see your challenges clearly.

Advantages of Warrior 3

  • This balancing warrior creates muscle stability as you attack your core and stabilizer muscles, hamstrings, glutes and spine. It also strengthens the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and ankles.
  • This challenging pose strengthens your focus, concentration, and mindfulness. When you balance all your weight on one foot, discover how to stay calm and cool under stress and pressure. Overall, it promotes poise, equilibrium, grace, and graininess.
  • This warrior teaches us how to turn our greatest challenges and struggles into strengths and triumphs. Learning to balance on one foot requires inner strength, faith, courage, and humility.

Benefits of Reverse Warrior

  • Also known as the Crescent Pose or Proud Warrior, this asana deeply stretches the side body as well as the hips, spine, chest and inner thighs. It strengthens your abs, intercostal muscles, neck, arms, and the psoas.
  • This lateral flexion pose is also known as the peaceful warrior because it calms your mind by increasing the flow of prana and blood and relieving tension in the upper body.
  • Emotionally and mentally, Reverse Warrior is a great way to add strength, vigor, endurance, self-esteem, and beauty to your daily practice. It also enhances your ability to face life’s challenges with ease and grace.

Benefits of Humble Warrior

  • This asana, also known as Devotional or Bound Warrior, is considered one of the most challenging warriors for many yoga practitioners. The pose tones and strengthens your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, abs, buttocks, and back as you stretch and open your shoulders, chest, arms, and hips.
  • On a mental level, it builds up body-mind awareness and creates a feeling of introspection and groundedness.
  • Emotionally, this asana promotes vulnerability, humility, acceptance and the feeling of surrendering to a higher power. Bowing deeply towards the earth supports the passing of pride, judgments and expectations.

Sequencing the 5 warriors

Sequencing is the art of arranging poses with the greatest flow and fluidity. Because the warrior poses are all similar in shape, they are often grouped together in one class. Warriors I and II are often taught at the beginning of a sequence because they are the most common and not as challenging as the other warriors. The transition between warrior two and warrior one can be a bit clunky and is often not taught. You’ll find the best flow between Warrior II and Reverse Warrior and Humble Warrior. The transition from Warrior I to Warrior III is challenging, but can be fluid and graceful as you practice. Moving right between Warrior I and Warrior II may make it easier for you to straighten your bent leg between the two poses.


The warrior poses are a group of powerful yoga poses that build strength, flexibility and balance. These are dynamic and powerful postures that can help you overcome your fears and get into your inner strength. These asanas are also a great way to build mental focus, concentration, determination, and perseverance.

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