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" and "Asana" — meaning "pose".
One of the things that yoga students often struggle with is getting comfortable sitting cross-legged. It’s especially difficult for people who are very tight in the area around the hips. Students often feel that sitting cross-legged in Lotus Pose is so quintessentially "yoga" that it must crucial to the practice, especially if you plan to meditate. Though it is a massive stretch for the quads, sitting in virasana is actually much easier and more comfortable for most people than sitting cross-legged.
Hero Pose is similar to the seated pose Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana). 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.
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.
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.
How to Do Hero Pose (Virasana)
- 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).
Hero Pose for Beginners
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! Hero Pose can be a good way to increase flexibility in your thighs, ankles, and knees, while improving posture.
Beginners should start by using props and take it very slowly, make whatever modifications you need to feel steady, safe, and supported in the pose. 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.
- Take padding under your seat if necessary. Use yoga blocks or a folded blanket, depending on how high you need to be.
- Turning the feet under can cause foot cramps. Here’s some advice on what to do about them.
- 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.
Hero Pose for Advanced
Practicing Hero Pose in correct alignment will improve the health and mobility of your knees, while connecting you to an ancient yoga practice.
- If you feel very comfortable seated, move on to reclined hero pose - supta virasana.
- Lower to your elbows first and make sure that your knees are still ok before you try to lie all the way back.
- 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.
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. Have fun exploring this pose and learning about your body!