The birth of Virabhadrasana II most likely took place in Krishnamacharya’s yoga shala in Mysore as Warrior II features prominently in Iyengar and Pattabhi-Jois’ styles but not in Sivananda’s or earlier texts and lists of asana.
Building the Pose
Stance: Turn sideways on your mat to use its width. Stand with your feet wide apart. How wide? Some schools say four feet, some say as wide as your wrists when your arms are extended. Really, until you get further into the posture, you won’t know exactly how wide they should be. So, for now take them comfortably wide.
Feet: For ease of description, I’ll start arbitrarily with the right side. Turn the right foot out 90 degrees and the left foot in 30 – 45 degrees. Lift your toes. On both feet, feel the ball of your foot, the outside edge, and the heel firmly planted on the mat. Keep the engagement through your arch and legs as you set your toes back down.
Legs: Bend the right knee. Bring your thigh toward being parallel to the floor. Do not overstretch your hip, overburden your hamstrings, or strain your knee. Look at your bent leg; if your knee is in front of your ankle, adjust your stance to make it wider. Ideally, the bones in the lower leg (the tibia and fibula) will be perpendicular to the floor.
Hips: Keep your hips pointed toward the wide edge of your mat. This may mean easing the left hip back, as it will want to move forward and to the right.
Torso: From your pelvis to your shoulders is just like in tadasana (mountain pose). Your spine is extended upwards; your core muscles are engaged; heart gently lifted. Both the chest and upper back are wide. The most common misalignment here is leaning toward the bent knee. The shoulders should be directly above the hips.
Arms: Extend your arms out from the shoulders or just below. Try to keep your shoulders relaxed and don’t hike them up toward your ears. Engage the muscles of your arms so they hug in toward your bones. The palms of your hands are face down. Reach out in both directions through your fingertips. A common issue is the arm over the extended leg drooping downward. Look back to make sure your arms are evenly raised.
Neck, head, and gaze: Now, turn your head toward the right to bring your gaze over or to your right middle finger. Be sure not to lean the upper body toward the right or let the left hip roll in toward the right as you do this.
Breath: As you exhale, root down into your foundation. As you inhale draw up from your pelvic floor to the crown of your head.
For more gentle options, decrease the width between your feet and keep your hands on your hips. If you have a knee injury or replacement, consider doing the pose seated, as demonstrated by senion Iyengar teacher Eric Small.
How long should I hold the pose?
Some schools say we should stay in Virabhadrasana II for 30 seconds. Some say start with three breaths and work up to six. Most people don’t stay in as long as they could and therefore sacrifice some of the benefits.
And what are those benefits?
Warrior II strengthens our legs, hips, pelvis, core, and shoulders. It increases flexibility in our hips and neck. It works the cardiovascular system and squeezes all of our lymph nodes, giving the immune system a boost.
But most importantly, Warrior II makes us feel strong. It is an embodiment of confidence and courage. It teaches us at a cellular level that we can face the future while standing firmly in the present.