The yoga pose Virabhadrasana I, like the mythological warrior for which it is named, embodies “yes.” With warrior-like steadfastness, the back leg stabilizes the pose, while the front leg squares strongly forward into a “yes” that is unequivocal. The arms extend skyward while the heart moves forward and lifts beyond the boundaries of “no” or “maybe.” To say “yes” is not casual. Rather, it is to stand closer to the fire of transformation. When a practitioner says “yes” to the fire of Yoga, she’s also saying “yes” to eradication of those structures and attitudes in life that are dead, or no longer life-affirming. This is one of the deeper meanings of the myth of Virabhadra.
Shiva was married to his beloved Sati. Sati's father Daksha had never approved of his daughter's marriage. To Daksha, Shiva was unorthodox and wild with his long dreadlocks, and his ecstatic singing and dancing. Daksha, the upholder of civilization, form and regulation, had become rigid, calcified and entrenched and judged Shiva, his antithesis, as not worthy of his daughter.
Daksha organized a great party, a yagna or ritual sacrifice. He invited all the members of the universe -- all, that is, except Shiva and Sati.
Sati was grieved and incensed at the humiliation heaped upon her and her beloved Shiva by her father. Calling upon her Yogini powers, she became as dark as a smoke-filled sky. Her internal fires blazed, her body burst and her spirit flew upward leaving her corpse behind. When news of Sati's death reached Shiva, he was shocked and full of rage. He tore out his hair in his grief, and fashioned from it the fiercest of warriors – Virabhadra.
[Virabhadra] was a fiery being of unlimited valor who, after blazing his way through the earth and through all the underworlds, burnt the seven seas. Virabhadra looked like a flaming fire, having many heads and many eyes, and tens of thousands of arms and legs. The embodiment of concentrated might, Virabhadra stood before [Shiva] with folded hands, saying, 'Command me!'"
Shiva commanded Virabhadra to go to the yagna with sword in hand and ravage unrestrained. Virabhadra obeyed and after this vengeful action, Shiva absorbed Virabhadra back into his own form.
I’ve been practicing Yoga for 36 years and know there is a danger of the practice devolving into habitual form. To keep asana alive in me, to continue to open its wisdom to me, I have to say “yes” first. Opening my body, heart and mind to an asana, I stand like Virabhadrasana before Shiva, submitting my strong will and knowing to the living intelligence and Blessing Force that is crystallized into every asana and saying ”command me”.
Saying “yes” to the power of Virabhadrasana I is transformative on many levels.
The musculoskeletal benefits include:
- Strengthens and opens feet, ankles, legs
- Tones hips and abdominals
- Lengthens psoas and illiacus
- Opens chest and shoulders
- Strengthens shoulders & back
The energetic benefits include:
- Opens and strengthens all pranic channels of the legs
- Strengthens digestion by aiding descent of prana – (apana vayu)
- Enhances deep energetic reserves (ojas)
- Opens lungs and chest for a more vital flow of breath and energy (prana vayu)
- Enhances metabolism (samana vayu) – the ‘digestive fire’ seated in the navel which corresponds to Uddiyana bandha.
Shiva can be seen as the force of grace, intelligence, consciousness and love that moves in us – as us. Grace rises, fiercely or gently, to save us if we let it. Virabhadra represents fierce grace – rising up with a roar to dash to pieces the blind spot in us - that which is small, contracted, and in deep forgetfulness - that which says “no” and “maybe later.” Virabhadra represents the surge of Blessing Force that would break apart patterns of dullness, superficiality and habitual form to make way for life, growth and transformation. Practice of this powerful asana cultivates a deeper relationship to transformation and a greater capacity to say “yes” to the sometimes gentle, sometimes fierce power of Grace.