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When I signed up to take my first meditation class years ago, I was concerned that all the other students would be seated comfortably in Lotus Pose while I struggled to even sit cross-legged. I remember feeling so relieved when, at the beginning of the class, the teacher guided us to find any sitting position that we felt would be comfortable for us for the duration of the practice. One student sat in a chair, a few students chose Padmasana (Lotus Pose) or Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle), someone sat in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with their back against the wall, and I took Virasana (Hero Pose).
The traditional version of Virasana is a deep knee bend in which we kneel and then sit back with our glutes between our feet and our shoulders stacked above our hips. Hero Pose stretches the quadriceps, the gluteus maximus, and the front of the ankles and creates a steady foundation for meditation and pranayama.
Sitting in Virasana can be challenging for many of us, particularly those with limited ankle or knee mobility or a knee or ankle injury. But there are many variations of the pose that can allow you to find a comfortable seat while respecting your needs.
5 Virasana (Hero Pose) variations
Balasana (Child’s Pose) and Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) will help prepare your legs for Virasana.
1. Virasana with heels under you in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose)
Compared to Virasana, this pose places more weight on your feet and ankles, which form the support for your seat, but your knees don’t have to bend quite as deeply.
Start kneeling with your knees and big toes touching. Slowly sit back onto your heels. Hug your outer ankles toward each other and press down evenly across the tops of all ten toes. Stack your shoulders above your hips and find a neutral spine. Place your hands on your thighs or rest them in your lap.
2. Virasana with cushioning
This variation on Virasana reduces the amount of knee flexion required and adds some cushioning to the front of your ankles.
Start kneeling with your knees and feet hip-distance apart. Place a folded or rolled blanket under your ankles and bring a bolster lengthwise between your shins. Sit back onto the bolster, hug your outer ankles toward each other, and press down evenly across the tops of all ten toes. Stack your shoulders above your hips and find a neutral spine. Place your hands on your thighs or rest them in your lap.
3. Virasana with one leg straight
Compared to traditional Virasana, this variation demands less mobility in the knee and ankle on one side of your body.
Start kneeling with your knees touching and your feet hip-distance apart. As you begin to sit back onto your heels, lean slightly to the right and straighten your left leg in front of you. If the left side of your pelvis feels higher than the right, you have the option to place a folded blanket under your left sit bone. Hug your right outer ankle in so that you can press down evenly across the tops of all five toes. Stack your shoulders above your hips and find a neutral spine. Place your hands on your thighs or rest them in your lap.
If this approach is difficult for you, start kneeling with your knees touching. Step your right foot forward into Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) and then slowly sit back
4. Virasana on your back
This variation allows you to create a similar shape as Virasana without placing intense pressure on your ankles and knees.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet slightly in front of your knees. Place a folded blanket or a foam block between your heels and your pelvis and rest your heels on the block while pressing your toes into the mat. Rest your hands on your thighs or your belly.
5. Virasana in a chair
This variation is particularly helpful for anyone who struggles to get down onto the floor and back up again.
Sit comfortably in a chair and place a bolster behind the front legs of the chair. Bend your knees and tuck your feet under the chair, resting the front of your ankles on the bolster. Stack your shoulders above your hips and find a neutral spine. Place your hands on your thighs or rest them in your lap.
Andrew McGonigle has studied anatomy for more than 20 years. After initially studying to become a doctor, he moved away from Western medicine to become a yoga and anatomy teacher. He shares his knowledge of the body and the ways it moves in yoga teacher training courses throughout the world and leads his own Yoga Anatomy Online Course. His second book, The Physiology of Yoga, was published in June 2022. To learn more about Andrew, check out doctor-yogi.com or follow him on Instagram @doctoryogi.