Yoga Asana Series: Virasana aka Hero Pose

Vira = hero
Asana = pose
(pronunciation: VEER-AHS-anna)

Why You Should Practice Virasana


Do you know what we do a lot of in yoga? External hip rotation. Trikonasana, Warrior II, Tree pose, Gomukhasana, Baddha Konasana are just a drop in the ocean of all the yoga poses that depend on external hip rotation. And, do you know what we do very little of? Internal hip rotation… and do you know what pose is alllll about that internal rotation action? You got it, it’s Virasana!

Hero pose is a yoga hero (bad pun definitely intended!) in my opinion because it’s pretty much the only yoga pose that solely focuses on internal hip rotation. So why should you even care about hip rotation? People are drawn to certain poses because their body naturally suits them, and often our pelvises have a bias towards external or internal rotation. So if you find some hip openers a real challenge but others easier, it might be to do with how your body is built — I wrote about this in my Surya Namaskar guide.

We all need a bit more Virasana in our yoga life! Moving our body in lots of different ways and our joints through all their different ranges of motion is essential for long term healthy movement patterns and happy joints.

Virasana Steps

  1. Start in a comfortable kneeling position (aka, Thunderbolt pose), with the shoulders soft and the spine long.
  2. Bring your butt up off your calves and, keeping the knees together (or as close as is possible for your body), separate your feet wide enough so you will be able to sit between them. The tops of your feet are still pressing into the mat, but instead of being on parallel lines with your knees, the knees and feet are now in a V shape.
  3. Take your hands to your calves and roll the flesh/muscle of your calves outward.
  4. Keep rolling out your calves and slowly start to lower your buttocks towards the ground between your calves.
  5. If your knee joints feel painful in any way (sharp, achy, twingey, etc.), then grab some yoga blocks and place them between your calves and sit on them. Use as many blocks as you need to keep the knees and the tops of the feet comfortable.
  6. Stay for at least five breaths, or longer if you are using Virasana as a meditation pose.

Virasana Benefits

  • One of the health benefits of Virasana is that it promotes mobility and flexibility in the hip, knee, and ankle joints — so long as you practice in a way that is safe for your body, free from pain. 
  • Stretches the quads and muscles of the inner and outer thighs
  • Practicing the internal rotation action in a stable pose like Virasana benefits two balance poses. Guradasana (eagle pose) uses the internal rotation action in the top leg. In Warrior III, keeping the hips squared and the back toe pointing directly down to the ground is an internal rotation action.
  • Over time you can build up how long you can comfortably stay in the pose and use it as a meditation posture. Virasana can have a lovely grounding and quieting effect on the body.
  • In Supta Virasana, the reclined version, it provides a deep stretch to the hip flexors and thighs (I discuss more Supta Virasana benefits below)
  • Virasana’s circulatory benefits are much debated, as some teachers will argue that the pose increases the blood flow to the lower body, or when you get out of the pose there is a rush of blood to the lower body. However, there is not much actual physiological validity to back this claim up. I say, if it makes you feel good, and you feel like the pose improves your circulation, then good for you! If it doesn’t make a difference, but you enjoy the pose, well, also good for you!

Virasana Tips, Tricks and Variations

Prop Up Your Virasana

A lot of people struggle with Virasana when they first practice it and then give up on it, thinking it’s not for them — but using props makes a pose that can feel strange or uncomfortable so much more accessible. In time you might be able to get rid of props as it becomes more familiar.

Sit on Yoga Blocks

As mentioned in the Virasana instructions, a great way to keep your knees, hips, and ankles happy is to sit up on blocks (or cushions, blankets, or bolsters if you prefer). This creates more space in your hips, which can help prevent twisting in the knees triggered by the femur bones rolling inwards.

I recommend using the flatter blocks (not the larger brick shape ones) and sitting up on three or more to begin with. Then, as you grow more comfortable in the pose, you can gradually take blocks away until you can sit your buttocks between your feet.

Remember, healthy knees are the priority — so if you always need to sit on a support that’s also fine!

Support your ankles

For some people, the tops of the feet and deep ankle extension can get pretty uncomfortable after a while. Rolling up a blanket or towel and placing it underneath the ankles reduces the extension and provides some cushioning.

Cushion Your Shins

If you are planning to use hero yoga pose as a meditative pose, you might want to lay a blanket down and kneel on that to provide extra cushioning for bony shins!

Supta Virasana

supta Virasana

Supta Virasana, aka reclined hero pose, is one of my favorite ways to get a good old front-of-the-body stretch. Undoubtedly one of the major Supta Virasana benefits is the deep (and I mean deeeeeeeeeep) opening you get in the hip flexors and quads. B.K.S Iyengar was a real fan of this pose and advocated that it should be practiced at some point in pretty much every yoga sequence.

Depending on how tight your quads and/or hip flexors are will affect how deeply you recline, so make sure you have some bolsters and yoga bricks on hand to support you.

Supta Virasana Steps

  1. Set up your Virasana, using the instructions above. If you are sitting on props, you will need to make sure that you already have some supports behind you to prevent your back from dropping lower than your hips for your reclining hero pose.  
  2. Place your hands behind you and start to lean back into them; slowly lower your back down as far as you can go. If you can’t recline all the way down (or, if your lower back feels pinchy), add in some props behind you. A bolster is great as it naturally supports the length of the spine, but you can also use cushions, blocks, and blankets — you may need quite a few if you are very tight in the front of the body, but in time as the body opens up you can remove some.

Thunderbolt pose

Thunderbolt pose (Vajrasana in Sanskrit) will be a real lifesaver (or at least knee saver) for some yogis. As I’ve said before, in yoga, hero pose works on the internal hip rotation, but because of the actual skeletal shape of the ball and socket joint in the hip and shape of the femur bone, internally rotating in the hips is not available to everyone. You may be able to force the action, but your knees will pay the price, and you could end up damaging your knee ligaments.

Sequencing Virasana

You can add Virasana to this yoga sequence towards the end to ensure you practice this important pose regularly, à la Iyengar.

Depending on how accessible you find hero pose will affect where you sequence it: if it’s super comfortable for you, you can practice it early in your sequence. If it’s more challenging, placing it towards the end of your sequence is a great option.

It’s also a great standalone meditation pose.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know more about this real yoga pose hero (yep, still going strong with the pun)! Remember, be kind to your knees — always, on and off the yoga mat — and enjoy practicing!