Anatomy of Virabhadrasana II: Warrior II Pose


This pose embodies the spirit of a warrior and conveys readiness, stability, and courage. I place Warrior II after Trikonasana because it flows better biomechanically, according to the position of the pelvis. This creates continuity in the practice. In both Trikonasana and Warrior II, the pelvis faces relatively forward. In Warriors I and III, it turns toward the front leg. The sequence used in this book illustrates a logical biomechanical progression: for example, readiness (Warrior II), preparing to launch (Warrior I), and launching forward (Warrior III). Each of the warrior poses contains elements of simultaneous movement forward and backward, as well as ascent and descent. These potential movements impart a sense of anticipation of launching energetically forward.

The focus of Warrior II is to strengthen the front leg while opening the front of the pelvis and the chest. There can be a tendency to allow the chest to collapse and shift forward. Counteract this by straightening the arms and expanding the chest, expressing the inner strength and confidence that is cultivated in the pose. Build your foundation by planting the back heel firmly on the floor and extending the back arm away from the body. These actions anchor the body against the forward momentum of the pose and bring stability to the posture. If the muscles of the thigh become fatigued, partially straighten the front knee for a moment or two, and then return to the full pose. Tilt the head back slightly and gaze forward.

Basic Joint Positions

  • The back foot rotates inward 30 degrees and supinates.
  • The back knee extends.
  • The back hip extends and externally rotates.
  • The front hip and knee flex to 90 degrees.
  • Both shoulders abduct and externally rotate.
  • The elbows extend.
  • The forearms pronate.
  • The cervical spine rotates to turn the head.

Virabhadrasana II Preparation

Begin by flexing the hip and knee of the front leg. Then place the elbow on the thigh and press down (as with Trikonasana). This action awakens the hip flexors, including the psoas. With the forward hip flexed, engage the muscles of the rear-leg buttocks and lower back to lift the torso and open the chest. In the beginning, you may wish to spend some time conditioning the thigh muscles to maintain the pose. Do this by partially flexing the front knee. Take care to maintain the front hip, thigh, and lower leg in alignment at all times, so that the knee does not drift inward or outward but remains positioned over the ankle. Shift your focus around the body in the pose. For example, if you straighten the knee to rest the thigh of the front leg, remain focused on opening the chest and anchoring the back heel to the floor.

You can also use a folding chair as a prop to experience expanding the chest (thorax) in this pose. Press down with the hands to lift the ribcage as you bend the forward knee into Virabhadrasana II. This activates the latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius as well as the rhomboids. Then raise the arms into the full pose while maintaining the lift of the chest.

Step 1 Flex the front hip and knee to ninety degrees; this activates the psoas and pectineus muscles and gives the pose its forward momentum. These muscles draw the femur up, tilt the pelvis forward (psoas), and stabilize the lumbar spine. A cue for activating the hip flexors is to attempt to lift the whole front leg off the ground (hip flexion). Another cue is to place the elbow on the knee and press down sideways from the trunk (trunk flexion). Finally, attempt to lift the front leg against the elbow to combine these two actions. Once you get a feeling for engaging the hip flexors, return to the full upright pose. There is a tendency for the knee to drift inward in Warrior II. We want to maintain alignment of the femur and tibia bones, so that the tibia is at a right angle to the floor. If the knee drifts inward, engage the sartorius and tensor fascia latae to bring it back into position. A cue for engaging these muscles is to place the hand on the outside of the knee and press the knee against the hand. Conversely, if the knee drifts outward, engage the adductor group to draw it in. Balance the actions of the abductor and adductor muscles of the thigh to maintain the kneecap facing forward with the femur over the tibia and the tibia over the ankle.

Step 2 The forward movement created by flexing the front hip and knee is balanced by a line of action through the back leg and heel that anchors the foot to the floor. Activate the tibialis anterior and posterior to dorsiflex and invert the back foot. Then press the outer heel into the mat and activate the quadriceps to straighten the knee. Contract the gluteus medius by attempting to drag the rear foot away from the front, abducting the femur. Squeeze the buttocks and tuck the tailbone to engage the gluteus maximus; this extends the femur. The gluteus maximus also externally rotates the hip, opening the front of the pelvis. Finally, stabilize the back hip by balancing the external rotation created by the gluteus maximus with internal rotation of the thigh. The tensor fascia latae creates this internal rotation in addition to synergizing the quadriceps and stabilizing the back knee.

Step 3 Co-activate the gluteus maximus and adductor magnus to extend the back hip and open the pelvis. To activate the adductor magnus, press the foot into the ground and attempt to draw it toward the midline. Contract the erector spinae to lift the torso, and begin to open the chest.

Step 4 After positioning the back leg, return your attention to the front knee. There is a tendency in this pose for the front knee to drift inward. Counteract this by engaging the tensor fascia latae and gluteus medius to abduct the knee so that it remains over the ankle. The weight should primarily be on the forward part of the heel and then stabilized over the remaining pad of the sole of the foot. Activate the peroneus longus and brevis muscles on the side of the lower leg to begin this process by bringing some of the weight into the ball of the foot. This action is called eversion. Balance this with inversion—an action created by the tibialis anterior and posterior muscles (not pictured here).

Step 5 The shoulders and arms complete the pose. Engage the lateral and posterior deltoids to lift the arms, and then use the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles to externally rotate the upper arm bones at the shoulders. Turn the palms to face down (pronation), using the pronators teres and quadratus. Observe how combining external rotation of the shoulders with pronation of the forearms creates a helical effect up and down the arms, stabilizing them. Contract the rhomboids to draw the scapulae toward the spine while engaging the serratus anterior to spread the arms apart. Co-activation of these muscles stabilizes the shoulder blades and opens the chest. Sculpt this shape by engaging the forward-arm rhomboids and back-arm serratus anterior. Contract the triceps to straighten the elbows. The long head of the triceps also aids in drawing the scapulae away from the midline, broadening the shoulders.

Summary Virabhadrasana II creates length in a series of muscles, including the pectoralis major, biceps, front-leg hamstrings, and back-leg psoas and gastrocnemius/soleus complex. Notice how this lengthening opens the chest and pelvis, generating a form of the body that conveys confidence and stability, both to the outside world and to the mind.


Always, in your particular case, consult your health care provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. Yoga must always be practiced under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor. Practicing under the direct supervision and guidance of a qualified instructor may reduce the risk of injuries. Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. Practicing under the direct supervision and guidance of a qualified instructor, in addition to the direction of your health care provider, can also help determine what poses are suitable for your particular case. The information provided in the blog, website, books, and other materials is strictly for reference only and is not in any manner a substitute for medical advice or direct guidance of a qualified yoga instructor. The author, illustrators, editors, publishers, and distributors assume no responsibility or liability for any injuries or losses that may result from practicing yoga or any other exercise program. The author, editors, illustrators, publishers, and distributors all make no representations or warranties with regards to the completeness or accuracy of information on this website, any linked websites, books, DVDs, or other products represented herein.


Ray Long, MD, FRCSC

Ray Long, MD, FRCSC, began his study of human anatomy and science at a young age under the guidance of his father, David Michael Long Jr., MD, PhD, a cardiovascular surgeon and research scientist. He went on to graduate from The University of Michigan Medical School and became an orthopedic surgeon.
Ray was introduced to the alternative healing arts by author and mystic Robert A. Johnson, who taught him about shamanism, dream work, and ceremony. He began practicing yoga while a medical student in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and after graduation travelled to India to study with Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar, his daughter Geeta, and son Prashant. During his time at the Iyengar Institute, Ray spent many hours observing and documenting Yogacharya Iyengar’s personal practice. These observations formed the foundation for much of his later work.
Dr. Long is the author of the bestselling books The Key Muscles of Yoga and The Key Poses of Yoga and the recently released Yoga Mat Companion anatomy series. Ray also writes a popular blog, The Daily Bandha, which details tips and techniques on how to combine modern Western science with the ancient art of Hatha Yoga. He leads workshops internationally and can be reached at Ray lives in New York with his French bulldog, Frank.


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