The Yoga Warrior Pose Explained: The 5 Warrior Poses

Love them or hate them, the Warrior Poses are some of yoga’s most iconic postures – used in warm ups, dynamic flows, and much more.

Yet few practicing yogis could tell us what these poses are, how to perform them or what they’re good for…

…And that’s where we come in!

In this article, we’ll guide you through:

  • What are ‘Warrior Poses’?
  • The Story of Virabhadra
  • The 5 Traditional Warrior Poses Guide:
    • Benefits
    • Precautions
    • + How To
  • Variations to the Warrior Series

Sound good?

Let’s go!

The Yoga Warrior Pose Explained The 5 Warrior Poses

What are ‘warrior poses’ (Vīrabhadrasana)?

In traditional yogic texts, Warrior Poses (Vīrabhadrasana) are a collection of five standing lunge postures, often performed in a sequence (i.e. one after the other), known as the Dancing Warrior Sequence, in contemporary yoga. These five are:

  • Warrior I (Vīrabhdrasana I) – Beginner
  • Warrior III (Vīrabhdrasana III) – Intermediate
  • Humble Warrior (Baddha Virabhadrasana) – Intermediate
  • Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana) – Beginner

Also known as the Vira poses or the Virabhadrasana series, traditionally warrior poses were exercised to pay homage to the exploits of Vīrabhadra, a mythical warrior in Hindu texts.

Warrior poses I, II and III were born from an ancient tale of Lord Shiva, while Reverse and Humble Warrior are later variations of Warrior II and Warrior I, respectively.

The tale begins with the failure of priest Daksha to invite his daughter, Sati and her husband, Shiva (the ruler of the universe – not someone you want to forget on your guest list!) to a ceremonial sacrifice.

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The Story of Virabhadra

Angered and saddened, Sati takes herself to the sacrifice nonetheless. Here she enters a row with her father and is left humiliated, leading her to throw herself onto the sacrificial fire and perish.

Devastated and angry, Shiva tore out some of his hair, where it fell to the ground. From this lock suddenly rose a fearful and dutiful warrior named Virabhadra.

Primed and ready to defend, Virabhadra is sent by Shiva to kill Daksha and his guests. Once Shiva arrives to see the revenge complete, he is filled with sorrow and regret. Shiva finds Daksha’s body and brings him back to life.

Later Shiva assimilates the dutiful warrior back into his own being once more, and begins to grieve in meditation. Finally, Sati is reborn and the two are in love once again.

While open to interpretation, this famous tale acts as a reminder that violence and revenge aren’t effective to reduce one’s suffering, which will only take on new forms like Shiva’s regret or sorrow.

So where do the poses come from?

  • Warrior I represents Virabhadra arriving at Daksha’s ceremony with a sword in each hand.
  • Warrior II represents Virabhadra focusing on his victim preparing to strike.
  • Warrior III represents Virabhadra throwing himself and his swords forward during as he kills Daksha.

The 5 traditional warrior poses: their benefits + How To

#1. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)

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Benefits:

Warrior 1 Pose is a standing lunge asana (Sanskrit for yoga pose) great for opening the front side of the torso and for strengthening your core, legs and back.

Precautions:

Yogis with conditions, injuries or recent surgeries relating to the hips, knees, back, or shoulders should avoid this pose unless cleared by a medical professional. Similarly, yogis with notable balance issues should take extra precautions in this stability-demanding pose.

How to:

  • Begin standing in the centre of your mat. Step your right foot four feet in front of you, foot parallel to the sides of the mat and toes pointing to the top of the mat.
  • Bend your right knee into a lunge, with ankle stacked over heel. Your left leg should be straight behind you with the left foot turned in at approximately 45 degrees.
  • Raise both arms above your head, keeping them straight. Squeeze shoulder blades down and together, lifting your chin and gazing at your palms overhead.
  • Stay here for 2-4 deep breaths, then repeat on the left side.

#2: Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

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Benefits:

Warrior 2 pose is again a standing lunge pose great for opening your hips and chest while strengthening the legs and improving balance.

Precautions:

As will Warrior 1, yogis with conditions, injuries or recent surgeries relating to the hips, knees, back, ankles or shoulders should seek medical advice before attempting this pose. Similarly, yogis with notable balance issues should take extra precautions in this stability-demanding pose.

How to:

  • Stand with legs wide on your mat, feet parallel and about three foot apart. Raise both arms out from your sides, keeping them straight and parallel to the earth below.
  • Keeping your shoulders down and back, turn your left foot out about 90 degrees so it’s parallel with the long side of the mat, while right foot is parallel with the short side.
  • Bend the left leg into a lunge so your knee is stacked stacked above your ankle. Turn your head to the left in line with your left arm to gaze over your hand.
  • Stay here for 3-6 deep breaths then repeat on the other side.

#3: Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)

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Benefits:

A little more balance demanding than others in the series, Warrior 3 pose engages your core, arms and legs to build head to toe strength, stability, good posture and motor skills.

Precautions:

Yogis with high blood pressure or chronic headaches should avoid this pose as the increased blood flow to the brain may cause complications.

Similarly students with severe balance difficulties, injuries or recent surgeries relating to the hips, knees, back, ankles or shoulders should seek medical advice before attempting this pose.

How to:

  • Begin in forward lunge with front knee stacked over the front ankle, back leg straight with heel slightly raised off the mat.
  • Turn your pelvis forward so your chest and hips are parallel to the front of your mat, then lift both arms above your head.
  • Move hands into prayer position, bringing them to your heart. Lean forward so your back leg lifts off the ground and rises parallel to the floor, gaze fixed downward.
  • Stretch both arms forward so your body is a “T” shape with chest, back leg and arms parallel to the floor, keeping your standing leg strong and straight (be mindful of your knee and ankle here).
  • If you’re finding it hard to balance here, try using a block positioned on the ground directly under your upper chest, to resting one or both hands on while the back leg and chest remain in this “T” shape.
  • Stay here for 3-6 deep breaths, then repeat on other side.

#4: Humble Warrior Pose (Baddha Virabhadrasana)

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Benefits:

The Humble Warrior is a powerful lunge posture that opens the hips, chest and shoulders while strengthening balance, the core and legs. As a gentle inversion, it also energises the mind and body.

Precautions:

The same precautions for Warrior 1 apply to the Humble Warrior pose. In addition to this:

As an inversion, Humble Warrior puts your head lower than your heart and hips. This can affect your circulation, which may complicate conditions such as high blood pressure, eye issues such as glaucoma, heart problems and pregnancy.

How to:

  • Begin in Warrior 1 lunge with the left leg forward. Interlace your fingers behind your back and raise your chest up to lengthen the spine while you draw shoulders back and down.
  • Fold forward hinging at the hips, to bring your upper body to the inside of your front leg. Lift your interlaced fingers up and over your head.
  • Hold the pose for 3-6 deep breaths, then repeat on other side.

#5: Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)

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Benefits:

Reverse warrior puts your torso in a side bend while your legs are in a lunge position similar to Warrior 2. This makes it great for stretching the sides of your torso, abdomen and arms while opening your hips and promoting lower body strength. 

Precautions:

The same precautions for Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 apply to the Reverse Warrior pose.

In addition, yogis with spinal issues such as herniated discs; heart issues which may be complicated by chest opening; neck issues; and dizziness-causing conditions such as Vertigo should seek medical advice before practicing Reverse Warrior.

How to:

  • Begin in lunge position with right leg bent, knee directly stacked over ankle and feet around 3-4 feet away from each other.
  • Lean back as you rest left hand on your left leg, bringing your right arm up to the sky with fingers splayed. Gaze up to the sky or straight ahead.
  • Sink your hips towards the floor, turning them to the left slightly and keeping your right knee bent. Relax shoulders away from the ears.
  • Breathe and hold for 3-5 deep breaths, then repeat on other side.

Variations to the warrior pose group

While there are 5 primary warrior yoga poses, over time many warrior variations have arisen and been welcomed into contemporary yoga practice. Here are our favourite:

#1: Chair Warrior

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A popular modification perfect for those in the office, needing balance support or those with lower body limitations is the chair warrior series. The clue is in the name – the same 5 warriors, but performed over a chair!

#2: Twisted Reverse Warrior

In this variation, your lower body remains the same but your upper body twists to bring the alternate hand to the back leg – get for an even deeper side torso stretch!

#3: Dancing Warrior II

A beautiful name for a beautiful pose, this posture channels grace and strength.

In this variation, your body remains in the same position as Warrior 2, except the arm on the side of the forward leg is extended behind your head while the other arm is bent, held in front of you with forearm aligned with your belly button.

Want to know more about the philosophy guiding the poses of yoga? Look no further!

Yoga is just as much about the mind as it is about the body, so becoming a fully-fledged yogi means also knowing the philosophy behind the practice.

Intrigued? Read this! The 8 Limbs Of Yoga: Essential Guide To The Philosophy of Yoga

Photo of author
Tish Qvortrup is a Brighton-born Yogi, with a passion for living intentionally. A Yoga Alliance registered 300hr teacher, she found her calling in Yin and Yang yoga. In her spare time, she loves exploring the outdoors and cooking plant-based goodies.

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