Updated: Jan 24
"I need a Hero, I'm holding out for a Hero 'til the end of the night..." -Bonnie Tyler
As we enter the 3rd year of pandemic life, we have all relied on heroes to get us through the challenges of the past few years. Teachers, health care workers, medical researchers, essential employees of all kinds have all tapped into their strength and courageousness to take care of our needs as a society.
But what if the hero we really need now is our best selves?
The Sanskrit origins of Virasana are complex and beyond the scope of my expertise. But the translation to "hero" is one that elicits the paradox of this pose. To be a hero, historically speaking, is to be endowed by the gods with great strength and courage. And yet this pose is seemingly more passive, not at all requiring a great deal of strength. Hero pose is one that is usually "just fine" for those with full, painless range of motion of the knee. And for those with limited mobility of the knees or ankles, it is often just skipped altogether.
However if we approach Hero Pose with the intention of connecting with what we find courageous and noble, it can guide our energy and our mindset to make this pose "better than fine". Staying honest, curious and courageous helps us to know how to modify the pose. Not just to make it possible but to make it an expression of courage and personal strength.
In traditional Hero pose, both legs are tucked back with the knees together and the hips resting between the feet. It is a good posture to help keep our knees and ankles flexible and healthy.
Points of Body Awareness:
*Take your time to set up and ease into Virasana.
*Are the feet pointing strait back? The knees may be in contact with each other or slightly apart.
*It may help to grasp the calves and roll them outward (rotating the tibia internally) to optimize alignment of the knees before sitting.
*Do you feel your sit bones rooting down ? The sit bones (ischial tuberosities) should be firmly and equally in contact with the ground or whatever prop you may be using.
*Is your spine in a neutral position? (A small, inward curve in the lower back, a small outward curve between the shoulder blades and a small inward curve at the neck) Do you feel that there is space between each vertebrae? And are you able to maintain this upright, neutral posture with minimal effort?
*Are you able to breath deeply?
*The legs and feet may feel uncomfortable but you should not have any sharp pain in the knees.
*Can you be content in spite of some discomfort? Can you keep the jaw and facial muscles relaxed? Can you focus on steady, even breathing? If not, modify the pose and try again
Sit up on a block or both a block and bolster to decrease the amount of knee flexion or to allow for more length through the spine.
If there is too much discomfort in front of the ankle, try a rolled blanket in front of the ankle. If the top of the foot is very tender, simply double the mat under the foot to provide more padding.
While caution is advised for patients with knee injuries, Virasana could be a therapeutic pose if done properly, for a patient with an old injury that is attempting to regain full end-range knee flexion. Assess the patient’s tolerance for posterior glide of the medial tibial condyle and anterior glide of the lateral before attempting this pose and ideally do some grade III/IV mobilizations first.
Hero pose may also be beneficial for patients with shin splints or tightness of the anterior compartment of the leg. It can be used as a side-to-side comparison of ankle plantar flexion ROM or anterior compartment flexibility. (I did this myself as I was healing from an avulsion fracture of the navicular ). Once a patient has achieved full and painless passive ROM, check tolerance for a weight-bearing stretch in Child’s pose. If this feels okay, then progress to Hero sitting upright.
In general, Hero pose can be useful to observe the posture of the patient in the coronal plane. Is there a lateral tilt in the pelvis or any lateral curvature in the spine? Ask the patient if they feel equally weighted or if there is any subjective difference in position or sensation between right and left sides, You may be able to glean a lot of information from this pose that requires end-range positioning in the knee's and ankles.
The photos of the modifications come from this excellent article from Yoga International: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/six-virasana-variations