This time around I was quite indecisive about what yoga pose I wanted to break down for you to practice. It feels like my mind is on summer vacation but looking through the past articles, I saw that Virabhadrasana 1 and 2 have been aligned and refined……So, why not look at one of my most favorite yoga poses, the 3rd of the Warrior Poses, namely Virabhadrasana 3. When practiced in the Iyengar Method, this pose is entered from and exited via Virabhadrasana 1 (pose of the month for March). It requires intense focus, much strength and a lot of balance.
The Journey into and out of the Pose:
- Stand in Tadasana/ Mountain Pose in the middle of your mat facing its long edge. On an exhale step or jump your feet 4 to 4.5 ft apart and extend the arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Broaden across the upper back and across the collar bones, then reach the arms overhead. Now lengthen through the side body by reaching up through your fingers.
- Turn your right foot and leg out 90° and turn your left leg and foot in about 45°-60°. As the feet and legs turn towards the short edge of the mat, also turn your pelvis, navel and sternum to face this short edge.
- Exhale to bend your right knee to enter Virabhadrasana 1. On your next exhale, fold your trunk over your right thigh, lift the left heel and turn its toes to face forward.
- Then shift your weight forward into your right foot and lift the left leg up. If balance is not an issue, at the same time straighten your right knee. Let your frontal hip bones, your left knee and toes point straight down to the floor
- Reach your arms and trunk forward and at the same time stretch your left leg back. Stay in the pose for a few breaths.
- On an inhale, bend your right knee again and gracefully shift your weight back to come back to Virabhadrasana 1.
- Straighten your right leg and turn your feet, legs and trunk to face the long edge of the mat again, with your arms still reaching overhead.
- Now turn to the left and repeat the pose for the other side.
- After exiting back to Virabhadrasana1 to the left, return to facing the long side of your mat, bring your arms down to ‘airplane’ arms and then step or jump back to Tadasana.
Refine your Pose:
- When entering Virabhadrasana 3, make sure your standing foot is rooting down strongly. It is very common that this foot “dances” around on the floor, making the base of the pose unstable and possibly giving you unsafe alignment in your leg and hip.
So make sure your standing foot does not move, strongly press down the ball mound of the big toe.
When entering the pose it can be helpful for balance to keep the standing knee bent as you lift the back leg into position as this lowers the center of gravity – only lastly straighten the standing leg.
- Let your wrists, shoulders, hips, back leg and heel be in one line – the trunk is balanced horizontally over a perpendicular standing leg
- There is a tendency for the hip of the raised leg to open up to the side, so keep rolling that hip toward the floor until your frontal hip points are parallel to the floor. You can achieve this by rolling the the back of the raised leg from the inside to the outside.
- Avoid arching in the lower back, so pull the lower abdomen in towards the front of the spine and upward towards the thoracic cavity. Lengthen the top buttocks flesh toward the raised heel. Notice how all this prevents sinking of the side waist towards the floor.
- Avoid shortening the standing leg torso side by reaching that outer hip back toward the lifted heel
- Keep your gaze forward and down , not straight down at your feet
Using Modifications to Work on Alignment Points:
You can use a chair in front of you to work on your balancing skills. From Virabhadrasana 1 hinge forward, push the chair forward as you enter Virabhadrasana 3
- Place the backrest of the closed yoga chair onto the frontal hip crease. Hinge forward at this hip crease and then lift the back leg up into the pose. Having the chair in this position helps with balance, brings awareness to keeping the pelvis parallel to the floor, and holding onto the chair legs allows you to keep your chest open and reach the trunk forward.
- In this variation make sure that the standing leg is perpendicular to the floor. Looks are deceiving in this variation: it looks easy but it is hard work to keep the elbows straight with the hands pressing actively into the wall. This is a good method to work on all alignment points of the pose. Look forward and down towards the crease where the wall meets the floor. If you look straight down to your feet, there is a strong tendency to round your upper back which you want to avoid at all costs.
- Here is another alternative to work with the wall. Have both hands on blocks at first and work on alignment then reach the opposite (from the lifted leg side) arm forward. Keep the kneecap and the toes of the raised leg pointing down toward the floor. Pressing the raised foot into the wall allows you to work on lengthening the lower back (top buttocks flesh releases toward the raised heel). Keep your core active.
- This is my favorite variation. I have a strap looped around the raised leg, just above the knee. The “tail” of the strap starts at the inside of the leg to encourage lifting the leg from that area to prevent the leg from rolling out (opening the hip up to the side) Start out from Virabhadrasana 1 pulling the strap up from behind and then transition to the final pose. Keep pulling the strap forward – surprisingly this is helpful for balance. This idea came from Eyal Schifroni’s book : Props for Yoga Vol. 1: Standing Poses.
- Yoga, The Iyengar Way by Silva, Mira and Shyam Mehta, published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 1990
- The different variations were inspired by the Iyengar classes I attend regularly
Katja Huiras is a 500 hr certified Yoga teacher who teaches alignment based yoga classes in the Lehigh Valley. In 2009 she was introduced to Iyengar Yoga and was intensely inspired by its method. Since then she regularly studies and practices with certified Iyengar Yoga teachers.
Missed last month’s column? Read it Now: