Matt Mulcahy guides us through Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana), an expansive side stretch.
Benefits of Reverse Warrior
Stemming from the Hindu warrior, Virabhadra, Reverse Warrior is an expansive side stretch that opens the chest, heart and releases tension in the intercostal muscles around the ribs, allowing for a freer breath. This standing, lateral bend is often seen in Vinyasa Flow sequences and is incredibly expressive, allowing for a real sense of fluidity in the body. Practiced with the correct alignment, this posture strengthens the legs, opens the hips and inner thighs, and improves flexibility in the spine.
Easily mistaken for a backbend, it’s important to lift from the side waist and contract the abdominal muscles (think Uddiyana Bandha) to provide maximum support for the lower back. With a tendency to wing the front knee inwards, potentially straining the knee joint, I encourage students to glance down and make sure they can see their big toe, imagining the knee moving slightly out toward the baby toe. Those with sensitive necks should gaze forward rather than to the top hand and if there is a feeling of instability, gazing down at the back leg is a good option.
- As with all Warrior poses, build from the ground up. Press down through the outer blade of the back foot and keep the back leg straight.
- Ensure the front knee is stacked directly above the ankle and keep the front shin vertical.
- Keep the shoulders relaxed, the chest lifted and the sides of the waist long.
- Think side stretch, rather than a backbend! If you sense crunching in the lower back, ease up to regain space in your spine.
When entering Reverse Warrior from Warrior II, turn the palm of the front hand up and lift the arm while lowering the back hand toward the leg, the gaze follows up and over. Try to maintain the lunge base, working towards the front thigh parallel with the floor, as there is a tendency to straighten the front leg when the chest lifts. The back hand should rest lightly above or below the knee, not directly on it. Another variation is to bind the back arm to reach the front thigh, or taking Chin Mudra which I’ve done here – showing the playfulness of this posture.
Matt Mulcahy is a London-based yoga teacher (yogamattmulcahy.com). Photo by Maria Nakhmanovich.