The hero pose virasana is a basic sitting variation, suitable lotus pose alternative for meditative practice, and heck of a quad stretch, especially when you recline the posture in supta virasana. You’ve seen babies sit this way, so how hard could it be? Well, if you hardly stretch or sit in various legs crossed positions, it can be very painful or impossible. A lack of quad tissue flexibility, as well as in the ankles and feet, will be the first things you’ll notice when conforming to this pose.
But if you can’t get the hero pose on the first try, use the simple tricks and progressions in this guide. Then when you need something more challenging we have that too!
What Is Hero Pose Virasana?
While some poses are downright difficult and complex, the hero pose is a basic style of sitting on your butt with your knees on and floor and feet bent back next to the hips. That’s not to say it’s easy, because you cannot have the flexibility of a mummy and expect to sit right down in this pose. But it shouldn’t take long to master either.
Taken from its sangskrit definition, vira meaning “hero”, and asana meaning “posture” or “seat”, hero pose is usually combined with supta virasana, or the reclined (Facing up) variation that lengthens the stretch in the anterior thigh quadriceps muscles.
However, beginners may first need to put on the training wheels to condition their quads, shins, ankles, and feet for the full pose. In virasana, the weight of your body combined with full knee flexion and ankle extension can be painful, especially at first. But you can go at it gradually, using the techniques discussed in the tips and variations sections in this guide. From there, the hero pose can be used to transition in and out of other poses.
Muscles Involved In Hero Pose Virasana
The hero pose is more of a relaxed sitting position but there are some muscle strengthening benefits. Although the stretch in the quadriceps is the real advantage here.
If you haven’t stretched your quads in ages, you’ll immediately know while getting down into the hero pose. While virasana is said to strengthen the legs and feet, we see it affecting the quads mostly. The hero pose places the front thigh in a stretched angle by closing the knees, and sitting between the feet.
Your quadriceps, while previously thought to have four muscles (hence “quad”) actually consists of five individual heads. These anterior upper leg muscles support knee extension, and hip flexion. They are major muscles in all athletic movements, while supporting posture and the walking process.
Now that you know the primary muscle in this pose, let’s go over the virasana technique.
How To Do Hero Pose Virasana
Few poses are as simple in terms of technique than virasana. It’s literally a sitting position that we’ve all done as a baby, and if a baby could do it well… there’s no excuse. You may need to work on other stretches before you can perform this pose though, because if you’re not bendy, it won’t be possible.
Below are the basic steps to performing hero pose, and you’ll also find a video demonstration with progressions.
- Start by sitting on the your mat with your legs extended in front of you.
- Bend your right leg and pull the heel into the right side of your buttock. Then do the same with your left leg. The toes should be pointing behind you, and the knees close together.
- Place your hands palms up on your thighs, touching the pointer fingers and thumbs. Keep your spine tall, and elbows softly bent.
- To leave virasana, place both hands on the left side and straighten the right leg in front of you. The bring the hands over to the right side, and straighten the left leg.
Check out the below video demonstration to see how virasana is done!
- If you cannot sit all the way down on the floor, place a cushion (bolster), yoga block, or rolled up towel under your butt. This decreases the degree of knee flexion, and hence the pain and discomfort commonly experienced during hero pose.
- You can also wedge a cushion or bolster between your knees and under your shins, if more comfort is needed.
- A little discomfort is normal an necessary when you’re trying to master a pose. However, extreme pain and discomfort are not.
- Progress to the reclining supta for a deeper and more intense stretch.
- The knees should be together as explained in the common mistakes section.
Benefits of Hero Pose Virasana
It looks so simple, how could a common sitting position be beneficial? There are some good reasons to practice this pose.
Great daily postural reminder
Many of us have bad posture, which can be due to tight, shortened muscles or the fact that we view our devices in non ergonomic positions that cause us to slump and move our heads forward.
Yoga practice is a good way to remind yourself to sit up straight, and use good posture. That’s because these poses require technique, and if we consciously know that, we’ll create an internal checklist to ensure we’re doing it correctly.
Having good posture makes us look more attractive, helps us to breathe better, have less fatigue, and prevent injuries, especially when weight training. So the more good posture practice, the better.
Alternative to lotus
For the same reason we sit in powerful positions like lotus pose, the hero pose is a good alternative sitting position for meditation. Virasana is not quite as challenging to master, and it can help to build your flexibility and leg strength to help you sit longer.
Stretches the lower body
An obvious benefit of hero pose is that some areas remain in a stretched positions such as the quads, ankles, feet, and also the knees. This is a just a good way to keep your muscles flexible and healthy, pain free in other poses and loose, which creates a healthy moving body and supports good posture.
Common Mistakes During Hero Pose Virasana
Such a simple exercise, how could you mess up the hero pose? There are some minor things you should avoid when practicing this technique.
Forcing the legs back/ not using props
Done incorrectly, you could bend or twist something the wrong way or put too much pressure on the knees and ankles. If you cannot do the hero pose safely, it’s better to place a cushion under your butt. This way you create more room for your joints to move safely.
It’s normal to experience a little discomfort in some poses, but there’s a difference between progression and poor strategy.
Pulling the knees apart
Part of proper hero pose technique is keeping the knees together to ensure you maximize the stretch in the legs, and proper and safe alignment of the joints. It may be tempting to pull the knees apart if if feels better, however, we do not recommend doing that. You should, instead use a bolster to prop yourself up and train the knees to be in the right alignment.
Dropping your posture
Another reason we highly recommend using a bolster or cushion if you cannot do hero pose yet, is that it will help you maintain good posture. This will develop a good habit for when you’re ready to do the unassisted version of hero pose.
Bad posture or hunching over is not good for the energy and strength of the pose, as you should be focusing on maintaining a tall, upright spine and strong core. Relax the shoulders, and keep the torso neutral.
Variations of Hero Pose Virasana
For the following variations, we’ll start you off with some easier techniques to help you get into position. Then when you’re very comfortable with virasana, you can aim higher and attempt the more challenging poses.
Hero pose with cushion
Virasana can be impossible for some people when just starting out. To help, you can place a yoga block or symmetrical cushion under your butt, and between your feet. This way, you don’t need as much knee flexion, and you can gradually improve flexibility in the muscles involved in hero pose.
Hero pose with feet crossed
Another progression, you can cross the top of one foot over the bottom of the other foot, and sit back on your feet. This will feel a bit easier if you struggle to get the feet next to your thighs.
Also called the reclined hero pose, supta virasana is a supine position lying on your back. You should feel extra stretch in your quadriceps, and even more when the arms are extended overhead.
- From virasana, place your palms on the floor behind your hips roughly shoulder width apart, with the fingers pointing forward.
- Now slowly drop down onto your forearms, one arm at a time, keeping the elbows directly under the shoulders. Stay here for a few breaths.
- If you’re able, lie on your back and straighten the arms next to your body.
- For a more intense posture, simply reach the arms back overhead.
- Stay there for a few moments, breathing in and out.
- To come out, bring the arms forward, gently grab the heels, tuck your chin, and lift up onto your elbows. Then you can sit up in virasana.
- If you’d like to counter this pose, you can fold forward, dropping face down on your thighs, while extending the arms back and rest them against the bottom of your feet.
Pro tip: As demonstrated in the primary video example provided in this guide, use the combination of a yoga block and bolster as a training technique for supta virasana.
Downward facing hero pose adho mukha virasana
You can also bend forward into a version of child’s pose, reaching the arms forward and dropping your head toward the floor yo accentuate the stretch in your thighs.
- From virasana, reach your hands up toward the sky.
- Then bend forward at the hips, and bring your palms to the floor. Breath in, exhale, and push your hands further forward.
- To come out, walk your hands back until you’re sitting upright.
Watch at the 00:56 mark for a demonstration of adho mukha virasana.
This is the pose famously known around the world and the most symbolic of meditative practice. It more advanced than the hero pose, hence why the latter is a viable substitute, although not perfectly easy or painless either.
Lotus requires more time and practice, and it can also be more risky for the knees if done carelessly. If you’d like to learn this foundational pose, check out our full lotus pose guide.
Note: Only attempt this pose if you have an advanced level of mobility in the hips, healthy knees, and prior yoga practice.
- Start with your legs extended in front of you while seated on your mat.
- Then, bend your right leg, and cradle it in your arms, gently swaying it from side to side.
- Place the right foot into the left hip bone.
- Now bend your left leg, then use your hands to pull your left foot over your right leg, and tuck it into the right side of your hip.
- Let your knees drop to the mat, rest your hands palms up on your knees while touching the thumbs and pointer fingers together, and gently close your eyes. Focus on your breath and maintain a tall spine.
- Reset your legs by extending them forward, then repeat the same steps but switch the position of your legs. For example, this time you’ll bend and cradle the left leg first. Then you’ll bring the right foot over the left leg to finish the lotus pose.
Who should stay away from hero pose?
We don’t recommend the hero pose for people with pre existing knee and ankle issues as virasana places a lot of pressure on these joints.
You don’t need to be a yoga genius or possess super powers to master the hero pose. It’s among foundational beginner poses that requires a little cooperation from your quads, and feet. The virasana technique is not so easy that anyone can do it, but this kneeling asana can be achieved via progressive methods, and a little tolerance to minor discomfort as your muscle tissues expand and you become more flexible.
Then you can reward yourself by sitting in this posture for relaxation sessions, and pushing for more advanced poses.