Vasisthasana, or Side Plank

Vasisthasana, or Side Plank
Focus is important. When King Ram, the hero of India’s national epic the Ramayana, battled great depression, he turned to his great sage Vasistha, who taught him that the road to liberation is always hardest right before great advances. Pushing through difficulties often requires great concentration, and whether one seeks meditative focus, athletic strength, or simply the ability to hold one’s mouth shut during a tense confrontation, the pose called Vasisthasana teaches balance, deliberation, and, conversely, the power of acceptance.

It’s helpful to start with a modified version of this pose. From a hands and knees position, or from Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog), shift the weight to the right side. Straighten the left leg, and bring the foot in line with the right one. Bring the left hand to the ribcage as you pivot the body to balance on the right hand, right knee, and left foot. Make sure the left shoulder is plugged into the socket before you stretch the arm straight up. There are three lines of energy in this preparatory pose: one connecting through the palms, one from the left shoulder down to the left foot, and a third from the right hip down to the right foot. Pull in the muscles on the side of the waist – that’s where the power is. Vary the position by bringing left arm to continue the line of the body, placing it over the ear and again making sure that the shoulder is plugged in. Hold for a count that feels right for your body, and then return to hands and feet. Repeat on the other side.

To move forward, come back to a starting position. Again, shift the weight to the right side, but straighten both legs to create one long line from the feet to the head. The weight of the body is supported by the muscles on the right side and the arm. Try either arm variation and hold before coming out of the pose and repeating it on the other side. A final variation involved bending the top leg and sliding it up the bottom one, or holding it at a right angle to the floor, perhaps with the foot cupped in the top hand.
There is a lot going on in this pose, from balancing the weight of the entire body on one hand and a sliver of the foot (or feet), to using many muscle groups, from the oblique abdominals to the triceps, gluteals, and a great many muscles in the legs and back. As such, this pose is an excellent all-around strengthener, as well as one of the best ways to work the core. As a balance pose, it’s an important asana to help prevent bone-breaking falls.

A wall is a marvelous prop to use when practicing the more advanced versions of this pose. Try pressing the heels against the wall to take some of the weight of the body, both with straight legs and with the top leg bent or perpendicular to the floor. If strength is not a problem but balance is, consider practicing the pose with the length of the body against the wall. In this way, it’s possible to isolate the different challenges that this pose poses (sorry!) and work on them one by one.

Being able to bring the body into Vasisthasana is indeed a symbol of focus, strength, and liberation. This is a challenging posture, but one well worth practicing. Perhaps, if your mind is as focused as your body, you may here the sage Vasistha whispering wisdom in your ear!

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