Embrace Vashistasana (Side Plank)
It seems like there are as many variations of asanas (poses) as there are teachers. Each school of yoga has its own philosophy about how to proceed with the physical asana. Each teacher reinterprets it for their style and each student adjusts it to fit their body. Your good judgment and awareness of breath will be the best teacher for you. Try to embody the spirit of the pose. The directions I’ve given here are just guidelines. Yoga is about being receptive. So be receptive to your own body and its needs. If you are star shaped don’t squish yourself in a cube. As you continue to grow in your practice keep the spirit of it alive.
Take a moment to think about what yoga is to you and why you practice. Is it to get your leg behind your head or to find a deeper connection with your self?
Having said that, Vashistasana (named after the great sage—and also known as side plank) is a wonderful pose to follow after Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon). Here are some tips and a series of asanas to help you embrace this pose.
BUILD YOUR BASE. For this pose, you need strong shoulders and arms. Make sure you lift out of your shoulders and wrists and try not to sink into them. That may sound counter intuitive considering that you are supporting you body with one arm, but bring awareness to these areas and engage your fingers.
STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE. I cannot emphasize enough how important a strong core is. I don’t mean that you need to do sit-ups until you get a six pack, but building a little fire can go a long way in maintaining the health of your spine and your digestion.
ENERGIZE YOUR HAMSTRINGS. I think this is everyone’s Achilles’ heel. Hamstrings can be such a challenge, but fortunately there are a lot of ways to open them up. The biggest opening that needs to happen is in your mind. So keep that thought when you are telling yourself you can’t.
BREATHE. What’s the most important element of your yoga practice? BREATH! If you are not breathing, you are not present. Go as slowly as you need to for maintaining your breathing at all times.
Preparing for Vashistasana
One of the greatest gifts the yogis have given us is the Marachyasana pose – head to knee forward folds. They massage the organs (especially the liver and kidneys) and improve digestion. One variation is keeping your torso lifted and pulling the thigh closer to the body for more of a shoulder stretch and hip opener. Or you can fold forward to explore the more contemplative aspect of this pose.
Anjaneyasana (low lunge) is my all time favorite pose. I have almost completely given up teaching Virabhadrasana (Warrior 1) in favor of this pose. I believe the key to pure bliss is to engage your back quad firmly and draw the femur bone up to the back of your leg towards your hamstring. Stretch out that hip flexor as much as possible! As you bring more awareness to the back leg, re-balance the weight between the front and back leg. I like to use my shoulders to open my chest by bringing the blades together on my back, which lifts my chest like it was on a tray.
If you run, the Ardha Hanumanasana (half splits) should be your pose! It is an amazing hamstring stretch. Remember that your hips should be square and the extended thigh should be rolling slightly inwards. Try not to overextend the knee — a slight bend will still get you an amazing opening.
Ardha Hanumanasana is named after Hanuman, the monkey god. He is as much known for his mischievousness as his courage and devotion. So try to take a playful attitude with this pose. You have to be playful or you would never even think of trying it! You have to be courageous or you would never stay in it, and you have to be devoted or you will never learn. A perfect example of a physical pose that helps us work through a multitude of personal and emotional experiences. It’s an amazing hamstring stretch and make sure your hips are square and the back thigh is slightly rotated inwards.
Upavistha Konasana (wide leg seated forward fold) is a big hip and hamstring opener, and an even bigger mind opener. It takes a lot of breath to be in this pose. You can sit up on a bolster or rolled blanket if it’s too intense. The anatomical emphasis should be on moving from the hip joints and maintaining the length of the front torso.
What is a day without Plank Pose! I personally would rather hold plank pose than do a Chaturanga. The heat that builds from a static pose is incredible, especially in the one-legged variation I’ve shown here. Plus there is less chance for injury. And it’s perfect for strengthening your arms, wrists and spine, all of which need to be strong for Vashistasana… and life!
To strengthen and open your hips, what better pose than Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle)? I mentioned it in the last post on Ardha Chandrasana and it’s still top of my list.
And now for Vashistasana, side plank pose!
Your wrists are normally the last thing you think about… until they hurt, that is. It takes constant awareness to reprogram yourself for healthy engagement with your wrists. First tip: It’s very important to lift out of the wrists. To do this, you need to engage the fingers and sides of your palms. It will create a small tunnel at the base of your palm and you will develop the strength to lift the ulna and radius out of the wrist, as opposed to letting it sink in. I have loose ligaments and have had wrist problems all my life. The only way I’ve found to combat them is through poses like this. Practicing proper engagement of the hands has done worlds of good and after an eight hour day sketching on the computer, my wrists are still happy!
Your arms should be strong. Don’t lock your elbows and make sure your hand is not directly under the shoulder, it should be slightly out. Shoulders need to be in the socket and not over-extended or sunken down. The shoulder blades should be on your back. Keep your core strong in order to support the spine and keep the weight out of the arms. And finally, open your hamstring to allow you to reach your leg towards the sky. The supporting leg should be strong and the foot fully engaged on the floor by pressing the inside and outside edge of that foot.
Photos of Hannah by Quotidian Photography