Weekly Asana; Vasishtasana (Side Plank Pose)
Today, we are going to be talking about Vasishtasana or Side Plank Pose. For me, this pose is an integral part of a strong and healthy yoga practice, as it strengthens and tones the whole side body. In Sanskrit, Vasistha literally means “most richest/excellent” and the pose also pays homage to a number of sages in the Vedic writings.
Vasishtasana has some great benefits as it really works the whole side of the body, toning the abs, obliques, buttocks, legs, and the intercostal muscles of the ribs and chest, with the supporting arm and wrist also being strengthened. In the full pose, the hamstrings are stretched. This pose also helps to improve inner awareness and balance.
Before I describe the pose please just use caution at home if you have any wrist, shoulder, or hip injuries as this pose is intense and may exasperate the problems. Also, please ensure you that you repeat the pose on both sides to balance the body.
1. Beginning in Plank pose and keeping your core engaged, bring your left hand beneath the center of your chest and move it slightly forward by an inch or so, making sure there is a slight angle to protect the wrist. The fingers point towards the front of the room.
2. Keep a micro bend in your left elbow with the inside crease or eye of the elbow facing towards the right side. Spread and extend the fingers of the left hand, pushing the palm firmly into the earth.
3. Inhale as you begin to roll onto the outer edge of your left foot, lifting your right hip and shoulder. Begin stacking the right hip and shoulder over the left side and open the chest towards the right side of the room.
4. Imagine as if you are pulling up from the inside of the left thigh, bringing it towards the ceiling to make sure the hips are lifting to the right height, not too low or high. You want to create a straight line from the feet right to the top of the head. Make sure the left shoulder is over the left elbow. The gaze is towards the right side of the room. If the shoulders are sore then the right hand can be extended along the right leg or placed on the right hip with the elbow pointing up.
5. There are several different positions for the right leg, traditionally starting by stacking your right foot on top of the left foot with straight legs and toes flexed. If you need support for the hips or you find your shoulders and chest turning in or out, you can bring the sole of the foot down on the ground in front of the left leg with the toes pointed towards the direction you are facing, or behind the left leg with toes pointing more towards the left heel, right knee pointing up. This action will help reduce the weight on the left side body and provide a better opening of the chest.
6. To come into a more intensified version of the pose raise your right leg, bending the knee as necessary, trying to bring the foot up towards the right hand and clasp the big toe with the two “peace” fingers of the right hand as in Utthita Hasta Padangustasana. Extend the heel of the right foot up towards the ceiling as you straighten the right leg. The gaze is towards the right hand. You can also extend the right hand towards the ceiling and lift the right leg up as high as you can. Hold here for 5 breaths or longer, come back to plank and then repeat on the opposite side, releasing with a Vinyasa, Down Dog or Childs pose afterward.
Incorrect hand positioning. The supporting arms elbow not being underneath the shoulder. Elbow locked. Ribs sticking out, and core not engaged. Hips to high or low is also something to watch for.
A block between the thighs can help keep the hips positioned correctly.
A wall can be used in several ways to help support this pose. If tipping forward or backward is an issue you can position yourself length wise along the wall and push either the raised leg or arm against the wall for stability. Also, facing out and grounding the heels back against the wall with extended legs can help raise the hips and strengthen the pose.
Straps are also useful around the bottom of the raised foot in the more advanced pose, helping to add support while allowing you to deepen the hamstring stretch.
The left knee can also rest on the ground with the right leg extended to give more support through the core and help keep the hips level. Make sure to support the knee with a blanket or fold over your mat if you have any sensitivity or knee injuries.There is also the option of bringing the sole of the right foot onto the inside of the left leg, making sure to avoid the left knee, and pointing the right knee up toward the sky much like in Vrkshasana or Tree Pose
Prep Poses: Plank, Downward Facing Dog, Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana, Prasarita Padottanasana.
Contributing author: Aryeh Altman. Aryeh is one of our teachers at our Downtown, Midtown, and Vaughn locations. As a graduate of the Yoga Tree teacher training program, sis classes are geared towards helping students strengthen and stabilize, both in body and mind.