Virasana, or Hero Pose, is a version of kneeling in which the buttocks rest on the floor between the feet. Some people find this easy and comfortable, while others feel unpleasant strain… or cannot bring their sit-bones to the ground at all.
Why Virasana Can Be Challenging
The joints most challenged by Virasana are the hips, knees and ankles.
In Virasana, the knees are pressed into extreme flexion, which may be unsafe for injured or unstable knees. Even healthy knees may feel strained if they are not accustomed to the position. Approached gradually (over weeks or months not minutes), increasing knee range of movement can improve knee joint health.
The ankles and feet, pressed flat on the ground, are stretched in a position known as plantar flexion. This stretches muscles on the shins, as well as the connective tissue of the ankle and foot joints.
The hip joints are pressed into internal rotation while in a flexed position. While many people will have sufficient hip flexion for this pose, the rotation is often an issue. For some people, the restriction is in the soft tissues and their flexibility can be increased over time. For others, the shape of the hip bones dictates their range of movement. No amount of practice will change the bones and trying to force more range can damage the joint.
Your left hip joint can have a different bony shape to your right hip joint, so don’t assume you should be equally flexible on both sides.
- A gentle stretch is acceptable, sometimes desirable.
- Pain or uncomfortable strain is not acceptable.
- Injured, unstable or sensitive joints should be treated with care - use modifications until you are confident your joints are ready to progress slowly into a greater range.
- Always listen to your body and accept the information it gives you.
- Read the Alternatives section below for options
Benefits of Virasana
Sitting in Virasana allows an upright spine without any stretch on the hamstrings. It can be a welcome alternative for anyone who finds it difficult to keep their back upright in other sitting poses such as Easy Crossed-Leg Position or (Half) Lotus Pose. Sitting with a rounded back is tiring and counter-productive, so the upright posture of Virasana can be a good option.
Virasana offers the benefits of increasing range of motion in the hips, knees, ankles and feet. Some of the muscles stretched are muscles of the quadriceps group (thigh), and tibialis anterior at the ankle. The hip joint capsules and other connective tissues around the hip joint may be stretched as well - whether this is a benefit depends on your body.
Virasana can be a revitalizing pose for tired legs after a lot of time spent standing. It might also be useful as a meditation pose.
Virasana or Vajrasana?
Both poses look like kneeling, and are often confused. Here is the difference between Virasana (Hero) and Vajrasana (Diamond): in Virasana you kneel sitting BETWEEN your feet; in Vajrasana you kneel sitting ON your feet. In Virasana the hip and knee joints are in rotation; in Vajrasana they are not.
- Kneel upright on your mat, with your knees together.
- Shift your feet apart, slightly wider than your hips, keeping the tops of your feet flat against the floor.
- Carefully sit your buttocks down between your feet. If your buttocks reach the floor with no strain felt in the joints, sit tall with your weight passing through your sit bones to the floor.
- If your sit bones don’t reach the floor, or the position causes strain in joints or muscles, use modifications to make the pose safe and useful.
- If the pose is comfortable, it can be held for several breaths or for minutes at a time.
Alternatives and Modifications
The most common modification for Hero Pose is to place a cushion between the feet, under the sit bones. This reduces the pressure on knee flexion and internal hip rotation.
Ankle strain can be reduced by placing a small, folded towel under each shin. This changes the leg position a little, so for your comfort it may need to be balanced by adding a towel under the sit bones as well.
Hero Pose can also be practiced one-sided. For this, one leg stays straight out in front while the other leg is folded in the kneeling position beside the buttocks. This will reduce the challenge on one hip, but in exchange it requires hamstring length in the straight leg.
Reclining Hero Pose, also known as Saddle in Yin Yoga, is a useful variation that adds more stretch to the hip flexors. It also offers the unique benefit of mobilizing the sacroiliac joints.
As with Virasana, Supta Virasana should be approached carefully to avoid strain or injury.
First, follow the steps above for Virasana (including modifications for comfort and safety).
- To move into the reclining position, place your hands on the floor behind you and walk them backwards a little, resting your weight through your hands. If comfortable, you can lower your body and rest your weight through your elbows.
- If you are using a cushion under your sit bones, stay on your hands or on your elbows.
- If your buttocks are comfortably on the floor, you may try lying down and resting your upper back and head on the ground. Your lower back will be arched up from the ground.
- Bring your arms above your head and hold on to your opposite elbows.
- Breath evenly and relax in the pose for as long as comfortable.
To get up, carefully push yourself up onto your elbows. From there, push up onto your hands then gently lift your buttocks to unwind one leg at a time.
Alternatives for Supta Virasana
As with Virasana, you can practice Supta Virasana with one leg straight out in front instead of having both legs folded. You can place a pad under the shins. You can also use a cushion under the sit bones, as long as you don’t try to lie all the way back to the floor.
When reclined, the knees can be slightly apart instead of touching. The knees may lift off the floor a little, but only if it’s comfortable and pain-free (the lifted position reduces hip extension but increases stretch at the ankle).
For a reclined resting height in between the elbows and the floor, use a cushion or bolster behind the upper back and head. This is also a good solution to take strain off the arms or shoulders if needed.
Another alternative, useful for building the hip extension range needed to recline in Hero, is to practice Half Bow or Bow Pose (Lying on the stomach, catching one or both feet in hand behind the back.)
Virasana may need some adaptation to suit your body, but with care – and perhaps a few cushions - you can make it your own. Give it a try, it could well become your new favorite for meditation or Yin Yoga practice.