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Five Pillars Yoga

Yoga 101: The Other Warriors

Reverse and Humble

Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 get a lot of love—in fact, we go into depth about them here—but let’s not forget some of the other, lesser-known Warriors: Reverse and Humble.

Before we get to those, a mini Sanskrit etymology and history lesson:

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All of the warrior poses are named for a great fighter of Hindu mythology, Virabhadra (vira = hero; bhadra = friend). As the story goes, Virabhadra arose from the ground out of a broken heart and a family quarrel. Sati, the wife of the powerful god Shiva, threw herself into a fire after a fight with her father, Daksha. Upon hearing this news, Shiva tore out a piece of his hair and pounded into it the earth, out from which sprang Virabhadra, whom Shiva ordered to kill Daksha.

The three original warrior asanas come from this creation myth:

Virabhadra I is how the warrior appeared when he emerged from the earth, sword clasped in both hands over his head as he broke ground.

Virabhadra II is the pose the warrior struck when he laid eyes on his opponent and prepared to fight.

Virabhadra III is when he springs into action and decapitates Daksha with his sword.

If this all sounds particularly bloody, take heart in knowing that Shiva later brought Daksha back to life and gave him the head of a goat.

Onto today’s warriors, Reverse and Humble, which are newer shapes that don’t factor into the myth; still, they have clear antecedents and unique benefits.

Reverse Warrior

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Oftentimes referred to as Peaceful, and sometimes Dancing, Warrior, Viparita Virabhadrasana grows directly out of Warrior II. If that pose is where Virabhadra prepared to attack, then this variation is where he backs off and softens. The foot patterning is the same—back heel to front arch alignment—and is usually part of a vinyasa sequence that moves in and out of Warrior II as a starting point.

Why do it:

  • Major intercostal muscle side stretch.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The front knee has a tendency to fall out of alignment in this pose. Since you can’t see it, practice proprioception and make sure it’s still above the ankle, not caving in toward the midline or jutting out.
  • As the upper body arcs back, it’s easy to put more weight on the back foot and lose the deep, 90° bend of the front leg established in Vira II. Keep the weight evenly distributed and know you’ll need to rebend the knee after finding the pose.
  • Don’t crush the back ribs. Lift the bottom ribs up and off the back hip point, creating as much space as possible between the two and avoiding the proclivity to collapse onto the back thigh. Think up with your extended arm instead of back.

Humble Warrior

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Just as Reverse Warrior grows out of Warrior II, Humble—or Bound (Baddha) or Devotional Warrior—is a variation on Warrior I. The hips are square, the feet are wider apart than in Vira II, and the shoulder points are still orientated toward the top of the mat. It also signifies an energetic shift from the proud, chest-baring asana of its forebear; as the name suggests, Humble Warrior is about giving energy back to the earth and bowing down instead of rising up.

Why do it:

  • Benefits of an inversion without taking your feet off the floor.
  • Deep shoulder opener.
  • Keeps working the squaring off the hips.

Things to keep in mind:

  • In order to get the right shoulder firmly inside the right front knee you need to move the torso slightly to the left as you come down.
  • This will most likely swing the hips out of alignment.
  • Once the shoulders are in place and the crown of the head is pointing toward the front of the mat, readjust the hips, dragging the right hip point back and the left hip point forward.
  • When the shoulders and hips are square, lower the crown of the head toward the floor. Perhaps it will touch.
  • Keep the inner tips of the shoulder blades drawing toward each other. As much as the crown of the head yearns for the floor, extend your interlaced fist up toward the sky.

Enjoy your warriors, whatever shape they take. We’ll explore Warrior III next.

Photos: Top photo by David Martinez from Yoga Journal; warrior illustration found hereFaith Hunter in Reverse Warrior; Claire Fountain in Humble Warrior