Virasana ( Hero Pose ) - Issues and solutions
Some General Comments :-
In many ways Virasana is an extension of Vajrasana – the main difference being that Vajrasana is a kneeling with
bottom resting on heels; Virasana with bottom resting on the floor (or support) between the heels. Thus, the issues for these two postures are much the
same – though the knees are in a greater degree of flexion in Virasana than in Vajrasana – which also means that Virasana requires a greater degree of
stretchiness (or length) in the vastus parts of the Quadricep mucles (in the thighs). Thus, I strongly recommend learning to practise Vajrasana before
starting to practise Virasana.
List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:
· Upper back and neck
· Lumbar Spine
· Circulation in the legs
Upper back and neck
There is relatively little strain in the pose on either the neck or upper back.
However, some people do tend to slouch forwards – a solution here is to
think in terms of lifting the breastbone and imagining the shoulders broadening away from each other.
Some people tend to jut their chins forwards (putting compressive extension into the neck) – a solution here is to draw the chin into the front of the neck
or to imagine the top back of the neck being gently pulled upwards (or both).
In this pose it is particularly easy for those with a tendency to lumbar lordosis (e.g. those who have a very flexible lumbar spine) to allow the lower back to cave inwards so the lumbar spine is in compressive extension. If this occurs, a solution is to lift the hips up enough to allow one to tilt the pelvic girdle backwards (think in terms of moving the end of
the tailbone down to the floor). Another thing that can help is to imagine the lumbar spine relaxing backwards with each out-breath.
Some people allow their lower back to curve outwards. The problems with allowing the spine to do this include putting the lumbar spine into compressive flexion and also encouraging the upper back to curve tending to thoracic kyphosis type problems – here a solution is to tilt the pelvic girdle forwards. Putting padding between the feet or between the feet and
the buttocks so that the hips are raised a little can, for some people, make it easier to sit with the pelvis sufficiently tilted forwards.
Circulation in the legs
In this pose the circulation to the legs is relatively restricted – some people may even feel the legs go slightly
numb if held for too long and then feel pins & needles upon releasing the pose with the blood flow returning fully to the legs. This relative
restriction of blood flow makes the pose completely contra-indicated for those with thrombosis in the leg veins or with oedema in the legs.
However, the sudden increase in blood flow that occurs when the pose is released makes this pose therapeutic when held only for a minute or so
for those with a tendency towards varicose veins –
but those with a tendency toward varicose veins must take care not to hold the pose for long
otherwise the tendency towards varicose veins is increased.
In this pose the knees are close to their extreme position (of flexion) and may also have a sight twist and thus are vulnerable. Even for healthy
knees it is desirable after practising the pose to do a realignment exercise (i.e. flexing and extending the knee) to ensure
that the knee joint ends up properly aligned and that the tendons are tracking in the right place.
The amount of twist that occurs round the axis of the knee joint is highly dependant on the position of the feet. The feet should
be placed with the toes pointing backwards and the top side of the feet resting on the floor. It is quite common for students to place
their feet so the toes point sideways, with the inside edge of the feet resting on the floor – this is extremely unkind to the knee joints as
it puts a large twist into the knee joint. (One of the reasons why students do this is that it does reduce the stretch on the quadriceps – see below).
Many people find kneeling uncomfortable either near the knees or in the front of their thighs. In
the absence of a known knee problem, this is likely to be due to the quadriceps (the three vastus muscles) being tight. A solution is to place padding
between the feet for the bottom to rest on - the tighter the quadriceps, the greater height of padding required to make the posture comfortable.
For many who have knee problems, this pose is one that is best avoided. Also, if the knees
are not comfortable in this pose then it is best avoided until the knees become healthier.
In this pose the ankle is in an extreme position of plantar flexion. For many this is uncomfortable (either in the ankle or in the shin muscles) –
usually due to tightness in muscles in the shin. A solution is to roll something like a towel and place under the ankle joint – this reduces
how far into plantar flexion the ankle joints have to be. Obviously the greater the tightness
in shin muscles, the greater the diameter of the roll of padding required to be placed under the ankles.
Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have
heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated
by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to
give a better explanation.
A key issue here is the reduction in circulation in the legs which makes this a posture to avoid sitting in for extended periods. This circulation issue
can be greatly reduced by placing several yoga blocks between the feet and then a wedge shaped bit of padding on top (an appropriately folded
towel might suffice) so the hips are very lifted and the flexion in the knees is not extreme and the circulation in the legs is only marginally reduced.
Such a posture can then be very comfortable for short meditation and breathing practice – alternatively one can substitute this pose with sitting on a chair.