The warrior poses (virabhadrasana 1, 2 and 3) are some of the most iconic postures in yoga. Students are often encouraged to embody the spirit of a warrior as they’re standing in these formidable poses. Understanding the mythological background of these martial postures illuminates what a spiritual warrior actually represents.
These days, we hear a lot of reference to a “spiritual warrior.” What is that exactly? How can we be spiritual and at war at the same time? There are actually many references to fighting in the philosophy and mythology of yoga. Probably, the most well known being the Bhagavad Gita, which is staged on the battlefield itself. These poses represent a different story of battle and we are literally taking the stance of Virabhadra, a fierce warrior who was at the command of Shiva. At Shiva’s bidding, Virabhadra cut off the head of his girlfriend’s father and placed it on a stake. It was actually a rather impetuous reaction to not being invited to a party, which greatly upset his girlfriend.
Well, we all make mistakes.
Sometimes, life gets messy. There is often an urge to overlook natural human emotions like anger, jealousy, and bitterness in spiritual pursuits like yoga. We think that in order to be a yogi, we have to be devoid of all negativity. We’re human. Things happen. Removing all hardship from our lives just isn’t possible. Not to mention the fact that we tend to do little battles all day long....we fight with our roommates, our boss, we argue with our dog about when it’s actually time to get out of bed. All of our relationships create complications and stress that engender completely natural human responses.
This fact doesn’t automatically get us voted off the yoga island, by the way. More than being perpetually blissful, being a yogi means being able to navigate successfully the complicated world of relationship and emotion. We become warriors when we understand how to fight our fights with the right tools and weapons. In the story of Virabhadra and Shiva, Shiva comes to realize that his angered reaction in sending Virabhadra to exact revenge was a mistake, and so he works to make it right by reviving his girlfriend’s father by replacing his savagely severed head. It was his attempt at making amends and creating a platform for forgiveness.
Along with the extraordinary range of emotions we experience as humans, we also have the amazing capacity for reflection. And so, when our battles escalate beyond our control, we wield probably the most important tools of the spiritual warrior: compassion and forgiveness. Oprah famously stated that, “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past can be changed.” It’s how we soften the poorly fought battles. It’s how we strengthen our fortitude to fight the most challenging ones. It’s not avoiding the pitfalls of life that makes us spiritual warriors, but rather standing up and fighting the good fight and seeing all angles that gives us the strength and power that these three sacred poses embody.