You probably looked up at the heavens at least once the last few weeks – Mars is the closest it will be to Earth for the next 60,000 years [at the time of writing this article in 2003]. Hence, it is the brightest object in the sky right now, other than the moon (and those airplanes gliding by).
Stars have always been a source of inspiration, lifting us up to the heights and mystery of the heavens. The planet Mars is a “star” that, from its Roman mythological name, represents the warrior. Known as Aries in the Greek pantheon, Mars is the God of War. It’s not surprising that we’re experiencing so much violence in the world right now.
The Warrior Archetype
While we seek to end war in our world, the archetype, or ideal, of the Warrior is essential to our collective and individual development. The problem is that we have become stuck in the idea of battling something outside ourselves – another person, group, culture, religion, idea – instead of the true battle, which goes on inside ourselves every day. The battle with our own minds.
What is the ideal, then, of the Warrior that is helpful, rather than harmful? What is the battle that it needs to “fight”, within ourselves?
Yoga gives us the perfect opportunity to explore the archetype of the warrior and how essential it is to our own transformation. We have three classic asanas, or yoga poses, named for the warrior Virabhadra, and a number of other poses related to the art of battle, such at Dhanurasana, the bow pose. These poses are intended, among other physical benefits, to develop the inner qualities of the Warrior essential to developing our greatest personal and spiritual potential.
Who was Virabhadra, the one that these warrior poses are named after, anyway? He was created by Siva, the Hindu god who represents destruction (or the dissolution of the universe back into Divine Spirit), to be one of his most trusted guards and generals, and a great protector of the sages.
Virabhadra (which means “distinguished hero”) was credited to destroying many demons and did numerous benevolent acts in protecting holy beings in Hindu mythology. Some consider him to be an incarnation of Siva himself.
So, when we do any of the Virabhadra-asanas, we are attempting to embody the inner qualities of one of the most revered representations of the Warrior archetype. These warrior qualities are empowerment, courage, clarity, and non-attachment.
Standing your ground
Finding our inner power (em-powerment) is an essential ingredient that is cultivated in the warrior poses. We can discover this palpably by learning to “stand our ground” – connect to the earth beneath us. When one begins instruction in martial arts, this is one of the first skills that a practitioner needs to learn. If we cannot stand our ground and be solid on our feet, how can we fight? But more importantly, if we cannot stand on our own two feet, how can we really deal effectively with what comes to us in life?
Standing our ground physically involves deeply connecting to the solid foundation of the earth beneath you, whether it’s through the feet in one of the warrior poses, or through the hands in Handstand. But it also involves the utilization of that strength beneath you to extend up out of the earth and stand tall. These two actions of rooting down and extending up meet in our belly, our energetic center. When we bring our consciousness into the belly, we can feel more of both of these actions, and stand our ground from a place of balance.
Beyond the physical aspects of this quality, standing our ground cultivates presence. Being here, right in this moment, in this body. Breathing into the experience. A Warrior must, at all times, be present, ready for anything that may arise. When we are truly grounded, we are in that present moment, at one with whatever is happening. We are honest with what we observe, and make adjustments, whether in the position of the feet in Virabhadrasana II, or in how to discuss something emotionally intense with someone.
As we remain in the here and now, we stay connected to the moment, the expression on the person’s face, their tone of voice, and our feeling in our gut. Based on what we experience and our ability to stay present, we adjust how to respond next. Standing our ground is not fixed and rigid: it is solid yet adaptable, like a palm tree that is firmly connected to the earth, yet can bend and adjust even in a hurricane, and therefore is not uprooted.
Own your power
Standing our ground with presence leads to “owning” – experiencing and knowing – our power. This is our inner strength and potential; to be empowered, rather than having power over someone or something else. It is an acknowledgment of our capabilities, skills, and qualities. When we own our power, it comes from an inner recognition of ourselves, and not from what others say about who we are, nor what we think they believe about us.
Angeles Arrien, in the book “The Four-Fold Way”, says this of the Warrior’s sense of empowerment: “When we demonstrate our power, no one can tell us what can’t be done. We are freed from patterns of self-diminishment and are less likely to accept other people’s perceptions of what we can and cannot do.” So when we own our power, we see greater possibility, believe in ourselves, and therefore are capable of much more. Virabhadra truly owned his power – he knew that he was capable of doing anything.
Summon your courage
Courage, a second quality of the Warrior, helps us to access this inner empowerment. Many poses, including Virabhadrasana (especially the third version, where we balance on one leg), require us to summon some courage and take a leap into unknown territory. When we allow ourselves to step into these new experiences, we expand our inner sense of what is possible in life. Courage helps to build empowerment. We realize we’re capable of doing much more than we have previously believed.
Furthermore, courage is the willingness to take a risk, even when it doesn’t turn out fruitful. We may try to balance in Headstand in the middle of the room, and instead we fall over. Often, when this happens, instead of a feeling of failure, there’s a new sense of inner power – we’ve experienced exactly what we feared, and we survived! Stepping out into our courage isn’t so bad and in fact, it becomes liberating. This is the power of the true Warrior – she has the courage to step out into whatever life offers, knowing that she has the capability to deal with anything. She trusts in herself.
To develop that sense of courage, we realize the necessity of Clarity, the third quality of the warrior. Clarity combines the practice of presence, which we experience in standing our ground, with focus. While remaining in any pose, the mind learns to become present and attentive, focusing on exactly what is needed to fully experience the form of the posture.
This clarity of mind is necessary for the warrior in battle. If he gets confused by his emotions, distracted by his senses, or self-doubtful, it may cost him his life. His mind must be one-pointed and present.
If we allow the mind to become distracted or dismayed by the challenges that life may place in our path along the way to our goals, we may find ourselves miles down a road we never intended to travel. Keeping our eyes on the road, following the map, and watching our steps are the equivalent of staying engaged with our breath, remaining peaceful within, and conscious of the muscular actions in the yoga asanas. These are all manifestations of the quality of mental clarity.
Clarity requires both focus and presence; if we have focus without presence, we get tunnel vision. This can show up in situations where we find we’re concentrating so hard on rooting our feet that we forget to breathe. Presence keeps our attention spacious, unattached, and broad, and internal focus prevents that attention from becoming too diffuse or distracted. When we are clear in the mind, we find our center, our place of balance and steadiness.
Life throws us many things that can take us away from our center – whether it’s frustrations at work, peer pressure, temptations to overindulge or overspend, or comparing ourselves to others in yoga class. Our center is our inner nature, or connection to Spirit. It is that part of the self that remains ever-steady through the ups and downs of our life.
When our mind is clear and we remember our true nature, it is easier to stand our ground and not fall prey to what “everyone else is doing” or what appears powerful on the outside, whether in yoga class, at work, or on the street. The knowledge of our true self keeps us in inner balance, centered on what is lasting and ultimately meaningful – “solid” ground – rather than on things that are transient and impermanent.
The final quality of the warrior is non-attachment. When we come to a place of mental clarity, we see that it is the action itself that is meaningful and powerful, not the result. Being the best we can be and giving our practice our full attention is the reward itself – regardless of whether we do a pose perfectly. We begin to value life in every moment rather than always waiting for the end results (and often getting disappointed when they aren’t what we expect).
Non-attachment is freedom. When we don’t have expectations, we are free to enjoy everything for exactly what it is. And we can accept ourselves just as we are, too. The Warrior does her best in every situation, and because she is unattached, she remains peaceful regardless of the results.
In the Bhagavad Gita, a great treatise on yoga, Krishna says to Arjuna, a powerful warrior, “your right is to action alone; never to its fruits at any time… Having abandoned attachment, Arjuna, and having become indifferent to success or failure – it is said that evenness of mind is yoga.” Non-attachment allows us to maintain that evenness of mind, our inner steadiness. When we have that, the fluctuations of happiness and sadness, pride and disappointment disappear, and we feel our true nature that is unchanging.
The inner battle
This is the where the Warrior is fighting the real battle – within ourselves, over the distractions of the body, our emotions, and our thoughts. Sometimes we think it’s “out there”, that the world is doing “it” to us, whatever that is. But the battle is going on inside of us, in how we respond to the world.
The Warrior “wins” the battle when he realizes that it’s not really a battle at all. Because when we’re truly in our power, with the courage to look at everything, clarity of mind, and non- attachment, there is nothing to fight within, either. There is understanding. When we understand ourselves and one another, we have no need to fight. We see that the battle is created by how our minds perceive the world. Wars are fought by people only perceiving differences, unable to see the deeper inner truth of our oneness.
You can recognize a true Warrior. They shine from within. They don’t have to do anything to prove their power or their worth. They simply are that. Just like Mars shining in the evening sky.
The next time you practice any of the Warrior poses, be like Virabhadra. Reach your arms and legs from your inner power. Feel your courage, the confidence to explore anything. Develop inner clarity and peace. And be unattached to the outcome of all your efforts. You may find yourself shining from within.
Copyright © 2003, 2013 by Constance L. Habash
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