There are three particularly popular poses in yoga that are named after an incarnation of Shiva: Virabhadrasana I, Virabhadrasana II and Virabhadrasana III (known to the less Sanskrit-inclined as Warrior I, II and III).
Few sets of poses epitomize the strength, grace and balance of yoga as well as these three (especially the last).
Few sets of poses can also be as taxing (especially the last). When done properly and at length, the Warrior poses become a test of mindfulness and endurance. Once fatigue sets in, it’s all too easy to lose the magnificent lines created by the legs, thighs, torso and arms. The bent knee starts collapsing inward, the hips start losing their alignment, the shoulders begin hunching around the ears and the arms begin sagging towards the ground.
(In the last pose, fatigue manifests as a spectacular inability to balance on the standing leg. I’ve seen many a frustrated student shake their head—and stamp their shaking leg—in an effort to find some transient stability in the last few breaths remaining before the teacher moves to the following pose.)
For me personally, I don’t particularly enjoy the Warrior poses—and I especially resent the last. Few poses remind me as quickly as Virabhadrasana III how much further I still have to go. I do credit it, however, for an insight that’s consoled me in many difficult situations. Because it was only in the middle of doing Virabhadrasana III that I discovered that it is entirely possible to stay upright, to stay suspended, to even find a detached and amused tranquility, in spite of the fact that one can’t quite find the ground underneath one’s foot, in spite of shakiness, in spite of gravity.
And it’s a beautiful insight to discover from experience, because for the most part, it’s hard to get what it means to stay calm in the midst of chaos, to keep one’s head when everyone else is losing theirs. But when you find yourself discovering that small, still place within, while your legs are quaking and your arms are quivering, and you actually find yourself staying upright, then you really get that it is possible: that you don’t need perfect balance, that you don’t need steady legs, that all you need to find that place of peace is a little patience and a little perseverance.
And of course, when all else fails, there’s always child’s pose.