“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
― Joseph Campbell
In many ways, a Yogi is a spiritual hero.
To face the challenges life provides squarely and unflinchingly requires heroic qualities.
Each time we make a decision to confront a difficulty, whether it is admitting a mistake you made to a coworker, looking at a negative habit that has kept you from your goals, or breathing through a long hold in a Yoga class, the journey is not a comfortable one, yet it strengthens and deepens us in ways we could not have imagined.
Let’s take a moment to ask ourselves to what extent we are able to be present and compassionate in the face of our challenges in our lives right now.
Can we allow ourselves to remain in the fire of transformation instead of running for cover and avoiding the issue at hand?
Perseverance, integrity, and the ability to sacrifice temporary gratification for the greater good are some of the heroic qualities we can cultivate to meet the trials of life with wisdom and compassion. These virtues shape our character and guide us to the best course of action.
Practicing Virasana, or Hero’s Pose, can help us get in touch with these qualities within ourselves. Virasana anchors the large femur bones of the thighs and broadens the pelvic floor, grounding the root chakra and creating a sense of stability.
Ready to try it?
Start in a kneeling position on a padded surface, with a block or blanket handy nearby. Bring your knees closer together, and separate the feet slightly wider than the width of your hips.
Check to see that your feet are straight back, not sickled, and that the soles of your feet face the sky.
Place your hands behind your knees to smooth the calf muscles towards your heels, and gently roll them outwards as you slowly lower your seat between your heels.
Listen to your joints as you enter this pose. For most of us, the knees are quite sensitive when we first practice this asana. If so, placing a block or (two!) folded blanket under the sitting bones can make a huge difference.
If you are dealing with an old knee injury, placing a rolled up towel behind the joint is a handy trick that creates space in the joint and supports it from the inside. This is not the place to “be a hero” and endure excruciating pain!
Rather, exercise subtle discrimination and support your body in ways that make this pose sustainable.
The feet and ankles may be another sore spot in this pose. You can alleviate the pressure on the ankles by placing another rolled up hand towel under the top of the ankles, giving them a supportive surface to release into.
Once you are feeling steady in the pose, actively elongate through your waist, and allow the inner thighs to flow downwards. Refine the alignment by softening the floating ribs down and lifting the back ribs.
Cultivate an even, smooth breath, and let your shoulder blades relax down your back. With every exhalation, connect with the steady support of the earth, and with every in-breath, experience your resilience, your ability to align with the source of your strength.
The Hero’s Pose provides a much needed counter pose for all the “hip openers” which requires external rotation of the hips. It stretches the quadriceps, and balances the feet.
Done thoughtfully, it brings circulation to the connective tissues surrounding the knees, and helps to heal the joint.
Virasana is often on the “least favorite” list of poses for many practitioners, but like many things we deliberately try to avoid, it may hold the key to unlocking inner treasures.
The hero’s journey requires that we face our inner demons with courage and equanimity. Practiced with mindfulness and persistence, Virasana can help us align with the true source of our strength.