By Araxe Hajian
Yoga’s warrior poses, Virabhadrasana I, II, and III rise from an ancient story of Lord Shiva, a principal Hindu deity, that tells a tale of loss, transformation, and compassion.
The warrior Virabhadra was created by Shiva to avenge the death of his beloved wife, Sati. His father-in-law Daksha had disapproved of their marriage and invited everyone to a grand celebration except for Shiva and Sati. Shiva didn’t want to incite Daksha’s anger and stayed home, but Sati insisted on attending.
After her father taunted her for showing up and mocked her husband, Sati sat in a meditative trance to stoke her inner fire and then burst into a flame that consumed her.
When Shiva learned of Sati’s death, he was overcome with grief and rage. He tore his hair out and transformed it into Virabhadra, a fierce warrior sent to destroy Daksha and his guests. In some stories, this warrior was a huge and terrible being, with a thousand arms, three eyes, and wearing a garland of skulls. Virabhadra thrust his way up through the earth, arrived at the party with a sword in each hand, found Daksha, and cut off his head.
After this violent act of vengeance, Shiva felt remorse and absorbed Virabhadra back into his own form. His anger settled into sorrow. When he witnessed the aftermath of Virabhadra’s actions, his sorrow turned to remorse and compassion, and he brought Daksha back to life in an act of mercy. Overwhelmed by this generous gesture, Daksha turned his scorn for Shiva into awe, humility, and gratitude.
Yet, Shiva’s loss was no less. He walked away with his wife’s lifeless body to mourn, meditate, and grieve.
This sequence of poses illustrating our warrior nature shows us that there is more than one way to fight. We can develop courage, focus, and determination to face life’s challenges while replacing anger with compassion.
- Warrior I represents Virabhadra as he emerged from under the ground, arms reaching up and gazing upwards.
- Warrior II portrays his stance when he drew his sword to focus on his target.
- Warrior III symbolizes the killing of Daksha with the two blades.
MORE THAN ONE WAY TO FIGHT
Virabhadrasa’s story is a reminder that violence or revenge doesn’t do much to mitigate loss. It only prolongs and complicates our path through grief and hardship. And yet, it acknowledges the very human tendency—even among deities—that makes us punch walls, yell, or lash out in the moments following any tragedy or injury. The warrior poses illuminate a sequence of steps that can steer us from untampered reactions to mindful responses. They offer physical movements that create space and time for our emotions to catch up.
“In Sanskrit,” explains Miraval Arizona Yoga and Meditation Supervisor Alysa Volpe, “Virya translates to heroic and brave. In Pali, the language of the Buddha, Virya most often translates to energy and includes the notion of persistence and attentiveness as a form of strength.”
She explains that as we practice asana, “the mind can create judgments and resistance to sensation,” reminding us that these poses “build strength and concentration while encouraging patience and perseverance.”
By symbolically recreating Shiva and Daksha’s battle, we can metaphorically enact their inner shifts in perspective. We can extend compassion to the parts of our experience we might prefer to banish or destroy. In this sequence, we embody a warrior who befriends their opponents instead of disposing of them.
If we look at the root of this pose, it’s a story about loss and injury, but also transformation.
The sword returns to its source, no longer the rash weapon of rage but a slow-growing mantle of Shiva’s grief.
He has accepted the process of mourning and meditation and the patience it requires.
Virabhadra ultimately becomes a warrior of love, transmuting the searing heat of anger into the healing balm of humility and turning battlefields into benevolent realms.
Araxe Hajian is a senior writer who covers wellness stories and specialist offerings at Miraval Resorts & Spas. She was associate editor and writer at Life in Balance Magazine, storyteller at the social platform MindMeet, and author of numerous articles and Miraval Resorts’ coffee-table book Miraval Mindful by Design.
Source material provided by Miraval Arizona Yoga and Meditation Supervisor Alysa Volpe.