It's easy to see where many yoga poses, or asanas, get their names. Some, like Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) or Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), are named for the shapes our bodies make while we practice them; others, like Garudasana (Eagle Pose) or Salabhasana (Locust Pose), are named after the animals that we resemble while in these poses.

So what's the deal with the Virabhadrasana (Warrior) poses? Why are there three of them? Which part of them is supposed to resemble a warrior?

The Virabhadrasana poses are named for Virabhadra, a fearsome warrior created by Shiva, the Hindu god associated with destruction, and each of the three poses is associated with an instance during a specific battle in his origin story.

As the story goes, the king Daksha (a son of Brahma, the creator god), forbid his daughter Sati from marrying Shiva. Sati, however, ignored her father's wishes and married Shiva anyway. Sometime later, Daksha organized a grand party, and he invited all the members of the heavenly universe ... except for Shiva and Sati. Sati wanted to attend the party anyway, but Shiva cautioned they should not go where they were not wanted.

Sati decided to go to the party alone, where she was received coldly by her father and the other guests. At the party, an argument broke out in which Daksha disparaged Shiva and Sati hotly defended her husband. Some say that Sati was so disgusted by her father's refusal to see the good in Shiva that she no longer wanted to be associated with the body he had created, and she meditated until her physical body burst into flames; others say that Sati was overcome by despair and rushed into the fire. Still others say that rage led her to assume a celestial form and curse all present before burning her physical body.

When Shiva learned of Sati's immolation, he was distraught and enraged. He tore out his hair, and from this hair he fashioned a warrior whom he called Virabhadra. (In Sanskrit, vira means "hero" and bhadra means "friend.") Shiva commanded Virabhadra to go to the party and destroy Daksha and all the guests. 

Virabhadra arrived at the party by thrusting his way up through the earth with his sword held in both hands. When we practice Virabhadrasana I, this is the form our bodies take.

Warrior I

Virabhadra then found Daksha in his sights. Our bodies mimic his when we practice Virabhadrasana II

Warrior II

Finally, Virabhadra used his sword to cut off Daksha's head. This is the form our bodies take in Virabhadrasana III.

Warrior III

Shiva later restored all those slain at the party to life, even Daksha, and Virabhadra served Shiva as a great warrior, destroying many demons and protecting holy beings. Thus, whenever we practice any of the Virabhadrasana poses, we are striving to embody the inner qualities of Virabhadra, such as empowerment, courage, clarity, and non-attachment.

Now that you know more about the meaning behind the Warrior poses, come practice them with us! Visit the studio's MindBody page to sign up for classes now!

Image Credits: (1) Warrior I by eric wittman; (2) Warrior II by Dave Contreras; and (3) Warrior III by ann harkness.