The final position in the Warrior series (TT, Jan. 6, 27), Warrior 3, or Virabhadrasana III, is a beautiful balance. Finishing the series with a pose combining strength with the quiet focus of balancing reminds us to be conscious of the warriors within ourselves, and to allow that ferocity of spirit to permeate our bodies and minds.
As you extend your limbs ahead of and behind you, imagine yourself simultaneously connecting with and releasing your future and your past, balancing from the core of your belly. Allow that focal point to represent the present moment, the here and now, and breathe into that space as you explore the pose.
As always with balancing postures, move into this pose gradually, using your abdominal muscles to stabilize your body. The first few times, it’s a great idea to practice close to a wall, so that you may use it for support.
Warrior 3 is best started in “full forward fold,” or Uttanasana in Sanskrit. Begin in a standing position, facing the front of your mat. Inhale as you lift your arms over your head, and contract your abdomen firmly. Exhale as you bend at the hips, cascading with your torso down to the ground as you reach for the mat with your hands. It’s fine if your hands do not touch the mat; just allow them to reach down as far as possible. Take several deep breaths, lifting your torso slightly with each inhale and allowing your arms and head to sink down with each exhale. Be sure to keep a slight bend in the knee to avoid hyperextension of the knee joint.
To come into Warrior 3, press your hands, palms down, firmly onto the mat’s front outside corners or the ground just in front and outside of your feet; it’s OK if you need to bend your knees slightly to do this. Inhale deeply, and, as you exhale, press your ribs together, engaging the abdominal muscles of your core. Inhale to the full capacity of your lungs; on an exhale, lift your right leg up off the mat, using your thigh muscles to keep it extended straight out behind you. Lift the leg until it is extended at a 90-degree angle to your left leg, parallel to the mat. Flex the lifted (right) foot to engage the muscles of your right calf and thigh. Ensure that your hips are straight and parallel to the mat, not opening up to the right. Keep your palms flat on the ground, straightening the left knee as much as possible.
If this feels challenging enough, stay here, breathing deeply and ensuring that your lifted right leg remains straight and extended. If you would like to deepen the pose, engage your abdomen firmly on an exhale, imagining that your ribs are pressing together. On an inhale, lift your left arm (opposite to the lifted right leg) off the mat and extend it forward, reaching with your fingertips and lifting the arm until it is parallel with your lifted leg. Keep your gaze directed down toward the mat to keep a straight spine. Stay here, breathing deeply.
If would like to challenge the pose further and prepare to come into full Warrior 3, you can slowly and with an engaged abdomen lift both arms to your hips and balance on your left leg. If you feel secure here, try to extend both arms forward, keeping them parallel to the mat and to your lifted leg. Keep your gaze directed down at the mat to ensure a straight spine. Check in with your shoulders – they need to be rolled away from your ears so that your neck is not tense.
Warrior 3 is wonderfully challenging for body, mind and spirit – extend and enjoy!
Jennifer McLennan is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor who has practiced in India, Canada and Costa Rica. She is currently a private yoga teacher in the beach community of Santa Teresa, on the southern Nicoya Peninsula.