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Few poses express joy and beauty like the vivacious full variation of Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose). The top leg extends gracefully up and away from the grounding leg and arm. From the strength of that grounding, extension, and lift, the upper body is able to open into an offering of the heart. Preparing for and practicing this pose present an opportunity to experience the joy of an open heart. They also serve as a reminder that the physical practice of yoga can not only inspire you through its beauty but also can help you begin to grow from the inside out.
In order to create the extension in your legs and the lift in your chest that will allow you to open into all the glory of the full Vasisthasana variation shown here, you’ll need to create heat in your upper back, fire up your core strength, and create space in your hips and hamstrings. You can warm up for this practice with three rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) A and B. Then, take a long Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) followed by a vinyasa back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) before coming into Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) on each side. You can begin to activate the strength in your core, arms, and legs by taking Forearm Plank and Dolphin Pose for 30 seconds each and then stepping back to the top of your mat for Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) A and B. You’re now ready to give this Challenge Pose a go!
After you’ve taken the two prep poses, come into your fullest expression of Vasisthasana at least twice. You can think of practicing big, challenging poses like this the same way you think about making pancakes—the first one is always a do-over! When you release from full Vasisthasana, move through a vinyasa and take five breaths in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) to release your shoulders. Then, rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose). Finish the practice with three rounds of your favorite backbend followed by Happy Baby Pose, a simple reclined twist, Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), and Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Lie on your back, bend your right knee into your chest, and hold your right big toe with your right thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Keep your left leg flat on the ground with your left foot flexed. Completely relax your shoulders down into the shoulder sockets and encourage the tips of the shoulder blades to move down the back. Keep the shoulders as they are, and begin to extend your right leg toward the ceiling. If you find your shoulder immediately pulling away from the floor, use a strap to hold your right foot.
Once you can comfortably extend the right leg, begin to rotate externally from your hip socket so that your right heel spins in and the toes spin out. Place your left hand on your left hip to help remind you to keep that hip and your left thigh grounded. Start to open your right leg out to the side. Let your right leg hover above the ground and focus on maintaining the external rotation in your right thigh and spaciousness in your right hip. Take 5 deep breaths; then return to the center and switch sides.
Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose), variation
Come into Plank Pose with your shoulders over the wrists and the fingers spread. Root down evenly through every knuckle. Step the feet together, and move the left hand to the center of the mat. Roll onto the pinkie edge of the left foot, stacking the right foot directly on top of the left. Keep the feet flexed. Extend the right arm toward the ceiling, stacking the right shoulder over the left.
Draw the bottom tip of the left shoulder blade down the back to free the neck. Lift the frontal hip points toward the heart and reach the tailbone toward the heels. Stack the right hip above the left. Take 8 breaths here. If the balance feels tricky, look toward the floor. To challenge yourself more, look in the same direction as the front of your body or even up toward the fingertips. Return to Plank, and either go directly to the second side or rest in Child’s Pose before balancing on your right hand.
Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
Time to combine your flexibility, strength, and sense of adventure! Come back to the variation of Vasisthasana that you just practiced, balancing on your left hand. Keep your gaze low to make it a little easier to balance as you set yourself up to lift your top leg. Bend the right knee, and hold the mound of the big toe with your right thumb, index finger, and middle finger.
Slowly extend the right foot toward the ceiling. As you bring your right leg closer to straight, anchor the bottom leg deeper into the floor by pressing the sole of the left foot down into the mat as much as possible. This action enables you to lift the hips and the top leg even higher. Root into the heel of the left hand as the tip of the left shoulder blade glides down the back, and open your chest and your heart toward the ceiling. Slowly turn your gaze to look up at the top foot and hand. Take a huge exhalation of relief and freedom! Breathe here for 5 breaths. Release back into Side Plank and then Plank. Then, take a vinyasa and release into Child’s Pose before continuing to the second side.
Kathryn Budig is a vinyasa flow teacher who is based in Los Angeles.