The Virabhadrasana poses are named after the mythical warrior Virabhadra, said to be a fearsome incarnation of the god Shiva. You might also hear Warrior 3 referred to as Flying Dragon pose in Yin Yang yoga style classes – or even Superman pose!
Whatever symbolism you prefer, they all conjure up images of power and strength and Warrior 3 pose is brilliant for creating stability in the whole body. But with that warrior strength we also need some lightness and ease to lift up and fly.
There are many ways to sequence Warrior 3 but here we’ll start from a High Lunge so that your hips are already in an internally rotated position and square to the front of the mat.
Warrior 3 from High Lunge step by step
- Start in a High Lunge with your right foot forward. Bring your palms to touch in front of your chest in prayer position (Anjali Mudra).
- Gently draw together and lift your pelvic floor muscles, then activate the lower abdominals by drawing in the lower belly, navel to spine. Thereby engaging Mula and Uddiyana Bandhas for stability and lightness.
- On an exhale, fold from the hips, lowering your upper body to around a 45 degree angle with the floor.
- Focus on a point on the floor just in front of your mat. This is your drishti, or gazing place.
- Inhale, root down firmly through the front foot and begin to shift your weight forwards. Start to lift the back foot from the floor.
- Exhale, begin to straighten the standing leg as you bring your body and left leg parallel with the floor.
- Lift the muscles of the right thigh to keep the leg engaged without locking the knee.
- Keep your lifted foot flexed, toes pointing down to the floor and think about pressing the sole of the foot against an imaginary wall to keep the raised leg active.
- Take five deep breaths in the pose if you can and then bend the front knee, gently lowering the back leg down and returning into High Lunge.
- From here, move into Mountain pose / Tadasana or Downward Dog for a few breaths before coming into High Lunge with your left foot forward for your second side.
Troubleshooting Warrior 3
1. The foundation of the feet
Before you lift off, ground firmly through the feet – the base of the big toe, base of the little toe and the centre of the heel. Wake up the arches of the feet and inner ankles by lifting and spreading the toes. Then lower the toes to the ground – keep them quite relaxed rather than gripping the mat.
Once you are in the full pose, pay attention to the foot of the raised leg and imagine pressing out through it – this pose is commonly taught with the foot flexed but you can also press out through the ball of the foot (as if pressing on a foot pedal in a car). This can feel better on the ankle for some people.
- Read Working on your balance for more tips for the feet.
2. Keep the standing leg strong
Make use of the press and rebound principle: applying force downwards will create an opposing force upwards. Think about how a ball bounces when you drop it. So as you press firmly down through the foot you’ll feel an opposing force travelling upwards which can help you feel lighter in the pose.
Engage the thigh muscles to lift the knee cap without locking the back of the knee. Slightly bending the knee can help with balance if you are wobbling mid-pose.
3. Stability and ease through the hips
This press-rebound principle can also help to create more space in the hip joint instead of it feeling compressed.
If you do feel a sharp sensation in the hip joint or in the front of the groin it might be better for you to turn the foot of your standing leg out slightly instead of keeping the feet parallel.
- For an anatomy lesson on why this might happen watch Painful sensation in your groin explained from José de Groot.
Keep the muscles of your buttocks (glutes) engaged. This will help to keep your hips level and stable and can protect your lower back. You could also try energetically pressing the top of the standing leg thigh back to help keep the hips level.
Practice in class with Esther
4. Use the whole core
For a long time the word ‘core’ has been almost interchangeable with ‘abs’ – our front abdominal muscles. Now we see more people using a broader definition of the core to include our back muscles, obliques (side waist), hips and more in some cases.
This is useful to remember in Warrior 3 pose. While engaging the lower abdominals will help with balance we also need to use our obliques and back muscles to stay lifted.
Practising Locust poses and baby Cobras will strengthen the back muscles, glutes and legs. Speaking from personal experience, practising Planks and Side Planks, especially with dynamic variations – lifting one arm or leg – has really helped with my Warrior 3 pose and balances generally!
- Practise this in class with MacKenzie Miller: Back body: strength and stretch
5. Stay mentally light and keep breathing
Warrior 3 pose – like all balance poses – can help train the mind to stay focused with a steady gaze – but don’t let it get too heavy. Keep a light attitude and practise for the fun of practising, not to get into a certain shape. If you find you are wobbling and it is making you frustrated, practise this pose with your hands touching a wall or the back of a tall chair. You could also try lightly resting your hands on two blocks placed below the shoulders. This will help you get used to the actions in the body while helping with your balance.
Lastly, remember to keep your attention on your breath as we often hold it when we’re trying to do something challenging, like balancing.
So keep it enjoyable and stay with the breath!
The benefits of Warrior 3
- Creates stability in the whole body
- Strengthens the small stabilizing muscles in the feet and ankles,
- Strengthens the legs, back and abdominal muscles
- Improves balance and so can help prevent injuries from falls
- Teaches the activation of the bandhas for stability and lightness
- Improves body awareness as you learn to adjust your own position in space
Suggested classes for Warrior 3
- Fundamentals of Yoga: Working on Warrior III with Adela Serrano
- Hot Warrior yoga 60 minute cardio flow with Jennilee Toner
Or discover more about the Warriors in The Yoga Warrior program. Twelve classes over 3 weeks plus extra talks and articles.