Vashistasana – Posture honoring the Sage Vashista, Vashista’s Posture or Side Plank
By Gianni Chávez Man Ging
Certified Anusara® Yoga Teacher
E-CAT® – E-RYT500 – YACEP®
Human Development® Coach
Vashistasana is one of my favorite poses for many reasons. It allows me to experience Spanda in a very vivid way, understanding how this great flow of Consciousness takes my form and how from this limited form (that is myself) it expands and grows.
Vashistasana reminds me how I am able to organize myself, embrace myself, support myself and stay integrated towards what I am, and at the same time how from that integrity, organization, and structure I am able to express myself, expand myself and finally shine with authenticity.
It really is an invitation to go within, to find myself, to anchor myself in that very own Truth that I am, and from that Truth expand into all that is possible. It’s a posture that requires effort, strength and at the same time surrender and liberation.
This pose tones your arms, core, abs and legs – in general the vast majority of the body’s muscles. It is also recommended to treat scoliosis, and the beauty of this posture is that it is very versatile, because it has a lot of variations or stages, which makes it accessible to all levels of students, from the most beginner to the most experienced and advanced.
Who was Vashista?
Vashista, was one of ancient India’s 7 great sages, known as one of the seven Sapta Rishis. His name means “the richest, the most excellent, the best”. He was the author of many philosophical texts including The Yoga Vashista, The Vishnu Puranas, The Vashista Samhita, and The Vashista Dharmasutra among many others.
He has been part of many mythological legends. It is believed that the sacred cow Kamadhenu and her offspring, the sacred calf Nandini, belonged to him. The most familiar of all his legends maybe the one about the rivalry between himself and Vishvamitra , another great sage who, by the way, has another arm balance pose with his name.
The Myth about the conflict between Vashista and Vishvamitra
Once upon a long, long, long time ago, but not so long ago because this story is still alive, there was a King known as Vishvamitra. He was traveling with his army around the realm because they were heading to war. They had travelled many miles and were exhausted. In the distance they managed to spot a hut, which was Vashista’s house. Looking for rest and food, they headed towards Vashista’s home.
When the King and His army arrived, Vashista received him and asked if they needed anything. The King requested food and permission to rest. Vashista, who was a very compassionate sage, allowed the King and his army to stay at his home and provided them food.
The King observed that it was not regular food, but a real feast! He was not able to understand how this hermit could have fed so many people in such an exquisite way.
Intrigued by the event, he approached Vashista and asked him, “How is it that a hermit is able to have the necessary resources to feed not one, but a thousand people with such an exquisite banquet? “
Vashista, answered, “I have been blessed by Indra. He has given me Kamadhenu, the sacred cow, along with Nandini, the sacred calf, who, like her mother, is able to manifest all kinds of wealth. Thanks to her, I have been able to immediately feed you all.”
The King thought that Nandini could be a solution for his current dilemma about all the war journeys that he and his army had to undertake and the necessity for food, so he decided to make a very tempting offer to Vashista. “I will give you 10 thousand of my best calves if you will give me Nandini.” Vashista replied, “Your Excellency, your offer is very generous, but that is impossible. Nandini has been entrusted to me by the Gods. In fact it is because of her that I can perform my practices, offerings, and pujas. I cannot give you Nandini, not even for the wealth of your entire realm.”
Vishmamitra, was in a rage, so he answered, “If you cannot give me Nandini on good terms, I as your King, demand that Nandini is given to me!” Vashista replied, “My King, today you are enraged by power and you do not realize your actions. Do what you think is necessary.”
So Vishvamitra went to claim the sacred calf. Nandini, who did not understand what was happening, exclaimed to Vashista, “Why have you given me away?” Vashista answered her. “Nandini, I haven’t given you away, the King ordered me to hand you over to him, although if you do not want to go with him, please tell him so.”
Nandini became very angry and decided to take a very fierce form and obliterated Vishvamitra’s army. She then approach the King and told him “King of Kings, you cannot take what does not belong to you. You cannot abuse either your power or your position. You are a King to champion justice. Do not misuse your power again!”
The story is long and has many more events, but since that day Vishvamitra and Vashista became enemies.
Next, I will share the key aspects to consider when teaching Vashistasana in two variations, and I will also share some aspects that have worked for me when teaching and performing full Vashistasana.
The Pose And Its Variations
Full Vashistasana is a lateral arm balance that requires a lateral hip opening, an intense extension in one of the legs and it could require a minimum to moderate extension in the spine.
Some of the variations of Vashistasana:
- Vashistasana Beginners Level or “Baby” Vashistasana – Side Plank with one knee on the floor
- Vashistasana Beginners Level or Side Plank with one foot in the middle and in the ground
- Vashistasana Intermediate Level or Side Plank with feet together
- Vashistasana Intermediate Level or Side Plank with one foot in Tree Pose or “Vrksasana Variation”
- Vashistasana Advance Level (Full) Side Plank with an extended leg
The best known or used of its variations is the familiar intermediate level “Side Plank with feet together”
Teaching Vashistasana (Intermediate Level – Side Plank with feet together)
On your mat, go to all fours.
From your fingertips, place your hands and check that your hands are shoulder width apart, that the 4 corners of your hands are grounded to the earth, that your fingers are spread like sun rays and that your fingertips are pressing in to the earth. Observe that the eyes of your elbows are looking at each other like two lovers, Shiva and Shakti.
Inhale – press to your hands and extend your right leg and then left leg back, without moving your hands and feet, elevate your hips and go to Downward Facing Dog. Take 3 deep breaths here.
On your next inhale, put your feet together and press one leg to the other. Note how this action allows you to activate your muscles and to hug the midline.
Keeping your legs strong, inhale and turn to the outer side of your right foot, put your left foot on the top of your right foot and take your left hand to your left hip. Pause and breathe. Now lengthen the sides of your body, take your shoulders up and back, connect your shoulder blades, and soften the sides of your neck. Feel the integrity that exist in your whole body and realize how the energy flows from the earth through your legs and arms to your pelvis.
Now on your next inhale and from that place of integrity that you are, root down from your pelvis through your legs and through your arms and feel how you rise and expand in all directions. This is how the Divine takes your form and express through you in a very unique and integrated way.
Teaching Vashistasana (Advance Level – Side Plank with an extended leg)
In your mat go to all fours
From your fingertips place your hands and check that your hands are shoulder width apart, that the 4 corners of your hands are grounded into the earth, that your fingers are spread as sun rays and that your fingertips are pressing in to the earth. Observe that the eyes of your elbows are looking at each other like two lovers, Shiva and Shakti.
Inhale – press to your hands and extend your right leg and then left leg back, and without moving your hands and feet, elevate your hips and go to Downward Facing Dog. Take 3 deep breaths here.
On your next inhale, put your feet together and press one leg to the other, note how this action allows you to activate your muscles and hug the midline.
Keeping your legs strong, inhale and turn to the outer side of your right foot, put your left foot on your inner right thigh in side plank tree variation, and put your left hand on your left hip.
Pause, breathe, take the outer side of your left foot with your left hand. Now lengthen the sides of your body, take your shoulders up and back, connect your shoulder blades, and soften the sides of your neck. Feel the Integrity that you are!
On your next inhale, slightly flex your right knee, and take your inner thigh back, feeling the curve on your lower back.
Keeping that space on your back body that you just created, on your next inhale extend your right leg without losing the curve. Keeping that stable structure, move your seat bones to your heels and lift your left leg up. Note how the inner edges of your legs and pelvis rotate forward and out.
Now from that integrity, root down from your pelvis through your legs and through your arms and feel how you rise and expand in all directions. This is how the Divine takes your form and expresses through you in a very unique and integrated way.
Key Principles and actions to be taught in Vashistasana
- Open to Grace – Foundation (emphasis)
- 4 corners of the hand grounded to the earth in isometric action, fingers wide open (like sun rays) and fingertips pressing to the earth (like little claws)
- Inner body bright, outer body soft
- Side body long
- Natural, flowing and light
- Muscular Energy – Hug the Midline (emphasis)
- Activate the muscles isometrically (from skin to muscle to bone)
- Hug the Midline
- Shoulder Loop: Head of the arm bone up and back, shoulder blades integrated
- Inner Spiral (back leg or base leg) – keep the curve on your lower back (emphasis)
- Move the inner edges of the leg in and back
- Thigh Loop – keep the curve on your lower back
- Outer Spiral (front leg, extended leg) – Move the inner edges of the leg forward and out (emphasis)
- Pelvic Loop: Move your seat bones to your heels
- Organic Energy – Root to Rise (emphasis)
- Expansion from the focal point to the periphery
– When teaching Full Vashistasana, try to take a shorter stance so that the back foot can reach the floor. That also allows your students to be able to get more mobility in their hips and to flex their back knee.
– If you want your students to get strong in Vashistasana, try using the wall. It is a good place to teach them stability first, and then how to push from the focal point (pelvis) to the periphery (root to rise)
Gianni Chávez Man Ging
E-CAT® – E-RYT500 – YACEP®
Human Development® Coach
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