Reclining Hero Pose is a supine (lying-down) variation of Hero Pose (Virasana), which provides an even deeper stretch to the thighs, hip flexors, and ankles than the upright version.
If you spend a lot of time sitting, you might be familiar with tight hip flexors and quadriceps (your top thigh muscles). This tightness can lead to an over-arching of your low back, resulting in poor posture and possible back pain. Reclining Hero Pose stretches out these leg and hip muscles, which restores balance and equilibrium to your back.
Its Sanskrit name — “Supta Virasana” (SOOP-tah veer-AHS-uh-nuh) — comes from three words:
- “Supta” — meaning “reclining”
- “Vira” — meaning “hero”
- “Asana” — meaning “pose”
This variation is only suitable for those who can sit with ease in Hero Pose (Virasana). Depending on your flexibility, it might take a long time for you to comfortably access the full version of Hero, with the buttocks fully on the floor. Attempting Supta Virasana before you can sit in Virasana can lead to injury, fast! So, take your time and remember there aren't prizes for achieving poses quickly! Once you feel comfortable in Virasana, you can begin to access the reclined version.
In Bikram Yoga, this pose is referred to as "Fixed-Firm Pose."
Benefits of Reclining Hero Pose
This pose stretches the abdominal organs and the pelvic region. In effect, it improves digestion and relieves digestive problems, such as gas, acidity, and diarrhea. It is one of the only yoga poses that is beneficial to practice after eating!
In truth, you must depend only upon yourself.
By opening up the chest, torso, and pelvic area, Supta Virasana provides therapeutic benefits to many discomforts of the upper and mid-body, including head colds, headaches, asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, and menstrual pain.
This pose also increases mobility and blood flow in the hip flexors, thighs, and knees, which can help to relieve sciatica and varicose veins. It provides relief for aching and tired legs, and is known to cure flat feet. Reclining Hero Pose stretches and strengthens the ankles and improves flexibility in the spine. With time, Reclining Hero can become a restful and restorative pose, used to deeply renew the entire body.
Do not practice Supta Virasana if you are currently suffering from heart problems or headaches. If you have a knee, back, or ankle injury, only attempt this pose under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable instructor. Only practice this pose if you can correctly and comfortably perform Hero Pose, with your buttocks resting easily on the floor between your feet.
- Begin kneeling on the floor with your inner knees together and your thighs perpendicular to the floor. Open your feet slightly wider than your hips. Keep 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.
- Exhaling, sit down between your feet. Rest your weight equally across both sit bones. Keep your feet directly in line with your shins. Do not let your feet either splay wide open or turn inward. This is Hero Pose (Virasana).
- Once you feel comfortable in Virasana, place your hands on the floor behind you. Lean your weight into your hands, then lower your elbows and forearms to the floor.
- If you are confident and comfortable with no pain, continue to lower yourself all the way to the floor. Allow your thigh bones to release deep into your hip sockets. Beginners may have the knees slightly apart (an inch or two); those with more flexibility should keep the thighs pressing together. Do not let your knees splay wider than your hips.
- Rest your arms at your sides. Draw your inner groin up and into your pelvis. Lift your sternum, create length between your vertebrae, and broaden across your collarbones.
- Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest, and softly gaze down the center line of your body.
- Hold the pose for up to one minute. As you gain flexibility, and the pose becomes restful, you can stay in it for 5-10 minutes.
- To release the pose, press your weight into your forearms. Slowly come onto your hands, and gently press yourself back into Virasana. Cross your ankles and shins beneath your body, and then extend your legs straight out in front of you in Staff Pose (Dandasana).
Modifications & Variations
Supta Virasana can stretch and open up the entire front side of the body when done with correct alignment. It's important to come into the pose slowly, use props if needed, and make whatever modifications you need to feel safe and supported as you gain flexibility. Try these simple changes to find a variation of the pose that works best for you:
It is common with beginners for the knees to splay open in the pose, which compresses the low back. To avoid this, there are two modifications you can try:
- Wrap and secure a yoga strap around your thighs to keep them parallel to each other.
- Hold a two- to three-inch thick book between your thighs.
- If you cannot yet recline fully on the floor, place a bolster or a stack of folded blankets behind your body before coming into the pose. Rest on the bolster or blankets with your spine and head fully supported. Experiment with various levels of height until you find one that is right for you.
- To help with the releasing of your thigh bones and groin, drape a sandbag across the top of each thigh at the pelvic crease.
- To deepen the pose, stretch your arms up toward the ceiling, parallel to each other and perpendicular to the floor. Broaden across your shoulder blades, then reach your arms overhead, resting the backs of your hands on the floor. Bend your elbows, draw your shoulder blades down once more, and take hold of each elbow.
- 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 do not yet have the flexibility to perform Reclining Hero Pose in its full expression, you can start with Half Reclining Hero (called "Supta Ardha Virasana" in Sanskrit):
- Come into Virasana with only your right leg bent. Keep your left leg straight if you can; otherwise, bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor.
- Then, lower your torso as explained in Steps 3-6 in Instructions, above.
- Hold for a few breaths, then release the pose as in Step 8, above. Repeat for the same amount of time with the left leg in Virasana.
Practicing Supta Virasana correctly and regularly will provide many benefits to your whole body. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Since Hero Pose (Virasana) is the foundation for Reclining Hero Pose, it's important to fully understand the correct alignment of Hero Pose. Thoroughly review the information in the iSport guide, How to Do Hero Pose in Yoga before attempting this variation!
- As you descend in the pose, focus on lowering your shoulders to the floor, not arching your head back. Keep your chest lifting as you recline.
- Keep your tailbone moving upward toward your pubic bone throughout the pose. This will help protect your low back.
- Create space and length between your vertebrae by lifting your ribcage upward and away from your hips, toward your head. Keep the backbend distributed evenly throughout your entire spine.
- Keep your knees as close together as possible, and firmly on the floor.
- Your feet and ankles should rest alongside your hips, while remaining in line with your shins. Do not let your feet splay wide open, as this can cause injury to your knees and groin. 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.
A Relaxed Hero
Regularly practicing Supta Virasana will result in greater flexibility, normalized digestion, and improved posture. As you become more comfortable in the pose, you may discover a profound sense of calmness and peace while reclining. By restoring balance to your body, Supta Virasana also restores equanimity to your mind and spirit. Allow yourself to rest in the pose and relax like a yoga hero, in stillness and serenity.