वीर, vIra, adj. brave
भद्र, bhadra, adj. gracious
(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhadrakali: In Sanskrit, the word Bhadra means “blessed”, “auspicious”, “fair”, “beautiful”)
Thus, viranhadrasana is the posture of the blessed brave person. This describes (to me) not a warrior (a pawn of the powerful) but of a protector (a servant of all).
While on the outside, virabhadrasana may appear to be a warlike pose in actuality its energy is strong yet peaceful, ready yet non-reactive. This is the pose of a protector, not one who makes war. It evokes the protective strength of a mother, strong and brave, not the fierce combative strength of a father.
From the outside, virabhadrasana looks exactly like the Shotokan karate stance immediately after two killing open-handed strikes (shuto) have been made, one to the rear and one to the front. Yet this is the exact opposite of the energy and strength of the virabhadrasana pose. Also from the outside, virabhadrasana looks like a warrior pulling a bow back to shoot. Yet in yoga the hands are extended not to harm or kill, but to reach outwards towards growth, healing, transcendence.
So it is understandable that those focused on only outward appearances would translate virabhadrasana as warrior. To those in touch with the inner feel of the pose, Protector may be more apt of a translation (and intention).
Working with veterans (especially those with PTSD), it may not be advisable to evoke a sense of war and strife. For that matter, working with modern Americans (or anyone, for that matter), evoking a sense of calm protectiveness may be more helpful than evoking images of war and warriors.
It is easily observable which concept of virabhadrasana a person ascribes to. Those who are thinking warrior will most likely have tight muscles, an effortful expression on their faces, and emanate a sense of fighting, either the pose or themselves. On the other hand, those who think of protectors typically exhibit a sense of lightness and easy strength, and wear and expression of peace.
I say enough of war and enough of warriors. What we need are not warriors, but defenders, protectors. What we need is not a sense of effortful combating in a pose, but of gentle, ready strength. It may be no more than a concept, but concepts have a way of creeping into our thoughts and manifesting as actions. It may seem a trite distinction, but it is a distinction nevertheless, one that may be more important than we think. Do we want to teach a generation of yogis to be more like warriors, or like gentle protectors?
There is a lot of talk about spiritual warriors, the path of the warrior, and the way of the warrior. Warriors make war. The path of a warrior is to prepare to kill. This is the opposite of yoga and yogic intention. In the spiritual path, we do not wish to be warriors, but peacemakers instead. The majority of the world is at war, with themselves or others. What we need are not more warriors (of any type) but of peacemakers. Why call someone on a peaceful path a warrior? Isn’t there a more apt phrase to describe them? And why manifest a pose with the sensation of being a warrior, when one could do the same pose with the intention of a peacemaker? Yoga is based on non-violence and warriors are –by definition- violent. If we seek to manifest peacefulness and peaceful qualities, I suggest we are closer to the yogic ideal than if we seek to manifest martial qualities which are the opposite of yoga. What’s in a name? Maybe not much, but I will plant the seeds of Protectors in my students, not those of Warriors.