Hero Pose is a classical seated yoga posture that stretches the thighs and ankles while improving posture. It is one of the most ancient and traditional postures used for meditation and breathing exercises (pranayama). Its Sanskrit name, "Virasana" (veer-AHS-uh-nuh), comes from two words:
- "Vira" — meaning "hero"
- "Asana" — meaning "pose"
Hero Pose is similar to the seated pose called "Thunderbolt Pose," (known as "Vajrasana" in Sanskrit). The main difference is that the feet are together in Thunderbolt Pose, while in Hero Pose, the heels are alongside the hips and the buttocks are on the floor.
This pose can be difficult for those with tight knees, thighs, or groins. But when practiced correctly, it will actually help the mobility and health of your knees! Beginners should start by using props (see Modifications & Variations, below) and take it very slowly. It can take months or even years to reach the full expression of the pose, so remember there's no need to rush! With patience and practice, you will gain all of the benefits Hero Pose has to offer.
Benefits of Hero Pose
Hero Pose stretches and increases flexibility in the knees, ankles, and thighs. It teaches practitioners internal thigh rotation, and it also helps to reduce tightness in the legs. Additionally, the pose strengthens the arches of the feet. Because of the upright spinal alignment in the pose, Hero Pose improves posture and helps to relieves asthma.
What are the benefits of yoga practice, personally? I feel more comfortable just being myself. I see what an amazing miracle life is.
When Hero Pose is practiced in correct alignment, it can lead to a greater awareness of the entire body, and of how the breath moves through the torso. This awareness creates calm focus, which is the true essence of yoga.
Do not practice Hero Pose if you are currently suffering from heart problems or headaches. If you have a knee or ankle injury, only attempt this pose under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable instructor. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin kneeling on the floor. Place a folded blanket beneath your knees, shins, and feet if you need it to feel more comfortable. Your inner knees should be together and your thighs should be perpendicular to the floor.
- Open your feet slightly wider than your hips, keeping the tops of your feet flat on the floor and your big toes angled in toward each other. Press down evenly across the tops of both feet.
- With an exhalation, lean your torso forward slightly as you sit your hips back halfway. With your hands, reach back and draw the skin of your calf muscles toward your heels. Your back will round slightly as you do this.
- Sit down between your feet, resting weight equally across both sit bones. Keep your heels and shins alongside your hips and upper thighs, with your feet directly in line with your shins. Do not let your feet either splay wide open or turn inward.
- Allow your thighs to turn inward slightly. Press down on the tops of your thighs with your hands.
- Sit up straight and draw your should blades firmly against your back ribs. Broaden across your collarbones, drop your shoulders away from your ears, and lengthen your tailbone to the floor.
- Lay your hands on your thighs, palms down. Gaze downward toward your cheeks.
- Hold the pose for up to one minute, or for the duration of your meditation or pranayama practice.
- To release the pose, press your palms firmly on the floor and lift your buttocks. Cross your ankles and shins beneath your body, and then extend your legs straight out in front of you in Seated Staff Pose (Dandasana).
Modifications & Variations
Hero Pose can be a good way to increase flexibility in your thighs, ankles, and knees, while improving posture. However, since it is such a deep stretch for the knees, it is crucial to take the pose slowly, use props if needed, and make whatever modifications you need to feel steady, safe, and supported in the pose. Try these simple changes to find a variation of the pose that works best for you:
- If you cannot easily sit on the floor, sit instead on a yoga block placed on the floor between your shins. Depending on your level of flexibility, you may need two blocks, or a block topped with a folded blanket. Lifting your hips above the level of your knees will greatly reduce stress and discomfort in your knees, hips, and back. It will also open your groins even further and bring your spine into correct alignment, which will help you avoid injury and stay in the position for much longer periods. Experiment with various heights of support to find the one that is most appropriate for you.
- If your ankles need extra padding in the pose, place a blanket or rolled towel beneath each one before coming fully into the pose.
- If you are practicing a mudra as part of your meditation, you can bring your hands into the correct position instead of resting them on your thighs.
- To add a torso stretch to the pose, reach your arms forward until they are parallel to the floor with your palms facing down. Hook your thumbs. Then, on an inhalation, raise your arms overhead, until they are perpendicular to the floor with your palms facing forward. Exhale to lower your arms and release. Change the hook of your thumbs and repeat.
Practicing Hero Pose in correct alignment will improve the health and mobility of your knees, while connecting you to an ancient yoga practice. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Keep your weight balanced equally across both sit bones.
- Make sure the tops of your feet are pressing equally into the floor — do not let the inner or outer tops of your feet hold more weight. Press your hands along the soles of your feet to help evenly distribute the weight.
- Never be aggressive or force the pose! Keep in mind that it can take weeks, months, and even years to reach your sit bones all the way to the floor. Take it slowly and use props and modifications to avoid injury. Over time, you will gain a greater range of motion.
- If you are sitting on blocks or blankets, make sure they are narrow enough to fit between your shins without forcing your knees wider than your hips.
- If you are using props, keep your thighbones parallel to each other. If you are sitting on the floor, gradually bring your knees together until they touch.
- Keep your feet directly in line with your shins. Do not let your feet splay wide open, as this can cause injury to your knees and groins. Keeping your feet in the same line as your shins will avoid twisting your knees.
- If you feel any pinching or jarring pain (particularly in the knees), immediately back out of the pose.
- Keep your thighs rotating inward throughout the pose.
- Your feet and ankles should rest alongside your hips.
Be Your Own Hero
Practicing Virasana will gradually result in greater knee mobility and improved posture. With patience and time, you may begin to notice a greater awareness of your entire body when you sit in the pose. Coming to the ground and sitting quietly with a long spine will calm your mind and allow you to go deep within. Just like the ancient yogis, you can embody the true essence of a yoga hero — with your mind, body, and spirit united in stillness and peace.