Virabhadrasana III is one of the most mentally challenging postures in yoga. The body is in direct opposition, but the mind must remain focused.
It is hard on the hip flexors and challenging on the hamstrings, but when done correctly, Warrior III will give you a sense of flight and exhilaration.
Here are five yoga poses that will help you prepare for Warrior III:
Designed to bring the entire body into harmony, Pyramid pose stretches the tight, forgotten ligaments of the legs. When these ligaments are shortened, they will prevent a full extension of the legs in Warrior III.
How to Do It: From Downward Dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. Hop your back foot in until the legs are about three feet apart. Tent your fingertips or rest your hands on blocks.
Inhale to lengthen your spine and push energy through the crown of your head, exhale to fold deeper over the front, right leg. Actively pull your right him backwards and send your left hip forwards, squaring off the pelvis as if you could rest a plate steadily on your lower back.
Stay for five, deep breaths. Continue dropping the head downwards, letting it hang heavy and free. Repeat on the left side.
2. Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana
The proudest of the poses, High Lunge works best when the legs are in active opposition, as they will be in Warrior III.
Focus on the hamstring of the front leg and the hip flexor of the back leg, pulling them apart to sink lower.
How to Do It: From Pyramid, step your back leg longer towards the back of the mat and bend your front knee. Inhale to stretch your arms towards the ceiling, biceps by the ears, palms rotating towards each other.
Make sure the stance is long enough that your front knee is tracking over your ankle, thigh parallel to the ground. Exhale to push energy through the back heel until the left leg straightens.
Tuck your tailbone underneath you by pulling your lower abdomen in and up, as if your hips could touch your shoulders. Sink deeper into the front knee, stretch through the fingertips, and stay for three breaths. Repeat on the left side.
3. Virabhadrasana I
Like Warrior III, both of these Warrior poses work to square the hips and stretch through the legs. Note that both also require an active, engaged core to stabilize the hips and torso.
How to Do It: From High Lunge, drop your back heel to the earth and pigeon-toe your back foot. Press into the outer edge of the back foot to engage the outer left thigh.
Arms continue reaching upwards, elbows by the ears, torso facing forward.
In Warrior I, most of the action comes from the slight twist at the waist as the hips stretch in opposition. Don’t be afraid to sink deeper and engage the left hip flexor.
Imagine that there are headlights on your hips and they want to shine straight forwards. Stay and hold for three breaths before repeating on the left side.
4. Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana
Standing Split is a strong balance with similar muscular engagement as Warrior III. In both poses, the standing leg works to lift the rest of the body.
Focus on engaging the outer strip of the standing leg, particularly the outer hip, to stabilize the body.
How to Do It: From Warrior I, bring your hands to the ground around your front, right foot and reach your back leg up towards the ceiling. The left foot can be flexed or pointed but the hips must stay squared. Hands can remain underneath the shoulders or walk closer towards the standing leg, maybe wrapping one or both hands around the calf.
Note that Standing Splits is, in essence, a forward fold. Continually drop the head closer towards the ground, relaxing the back of the neck, using the upper body as leverage to lift the bag leg a little higher. Stay folded and long for three breaths. Repeat on the left side.
As the pinnacle of the balancing postures, Tree pose is important for both inner and outer balance. Calming the nervous system and creating inner harmony, Vriksasana prepares the body for the same metal focus needed for Warrior III.
How to Do It: From Standing Splits, slowly bring your left leg towards your chest as you stand. Place the heel of your left foot high inside of your standing, right leg.
The left foot can rest near the groin, on the thigh, or below the knee, but it is important that the foot is not pressing against the knee. Think about pressing the heel of the left foot into the outer right thigh, contracting the entirety of the standing quadriceps.
The tailbone wags slightly leftwards to keep the hips stable. Hands start in a prayer at your heart, thumbs pressing into the sternum, with an option to grow the branches and reach your hands up towards the ceiling.
For an added challenge, try closing your eyes and letting the gaze turn inwards. Hold for five breaths and repeat on the other side.
Ready, set, go!
Move straight from Vriksasana into Warrior III, extending the left leg behind you as the torso floats parallel to the ground. With the back leg straight and strong, push energy from the crown of the head through the back heel.
Arms can remain by the sides or by the ears, biceps engaged, ready to take flight. Arch the upper body just enough to peel the heart open. Pull deep on the breath to keep the body light and lifted.
As practiced, the hips must remain square and thighs engaged. Find a place where the legs are challenged but the heart can remain open, the breath long, and the mind free.