A powerful arm balance, Side Plank Pose — Vasisthasana (VAH-shees-THAH-suh-nuh) — challenges your ability to stay calm and focused. Its name comes from the Sanskrit word “Vasistha,” which literally means, “most excellent” or “best.” The word implies the spiritual contentment that those on the yogic path can attain. Many great yoga sages have been named “Vasistha.” Thus, the pose is also sometimes referred to as “Sage Pose.”
Benefits of Side Plank Pose
Vasisthasana strengthens your wrists, forearms, shoulders, and spine. It increases flexibility in the wrists and the full variation (see Modifications & Variations, below) also opens the hips and hamstrings. This pose tones the abdominal muscles and improves balance, concentration, and focus. Vasisthasana is often used as a preparation for more challenging arm balances.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Please avoid this pose if you have an arm, shoulder, or wrist injury. Vasisthasana requires a lot of strength to be performed correctly. It is very easy to injure yourself if you move into it too soon. If you do not yet have the strength to do the pose in proper alignment, practice a modified version until you can support your full body weight correctly. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Lower your hips and shift your weight forward to come into Plank Pose (the top of a push-up): Palms flat, body extended, with your legs reaching through your heels.
Step your feet together and press your weight down through your right hand and forearm. Then, roll your body to the right, balancing on the outer edge of your right foot. Stack your left foot on top of your right foot and keep your legs straight.
- Beginners can lower their right knee and shin to the mat, keeping their hips lifted while building strength in the arms and torso.
- Extend your left arm to the sky, reaching through your fingertips as you lift your hips and firm the triceps of both arms. Feel the muscles across your shoulder blades flex. Firm your thighs, and press through your heels into the floor.
- Bring your body into one straight line. Gaze at your top thumb. Press down through your bottom index finger.
- Hold for up to 30 seconds. Exhale as you slowly return to Plank Pose, then into Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat on the opposite side. After both sides, rest in Child’s Pose (Balasana).
Modifications & Variations
Vasisthasana is a powerful arm and core strengthener when practiced correctly. However, it takes time to gain enough strength to hold the pose for more than a breath or two. Remember to take it slowly and be careful not to strain your arms, wrists, elbows, or shoulders. Try these simple changes to find the variation that is suitable for you:
- Bring your bottom knee and shin to the mat until you have enough strength to fully support your body weight.
- For a variation of the previous modification, keep your bottom leg extended, bend your top knee, and step your top foot in front of your body.
- More advanced students can practice the full version of the pose, as taught by BKS Iyengar. Bend the top knee and draw it toward your chest. Reach inside your bent leg and grab your big toe with the first two fingers and thumb of your top hand. Inhale as you stretch your leg straight up toward the ceiling, eventually bringing the top leg perpendicular to the floor. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then return your top foot to its original position, and repeat on the opposite side.
Vasisthasana can build arm and core strength quickly. However, it’s vital to ensure you are performing the pose with correct alignment; otherwise, it’s very easy to injure your shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- The foundational alignment for this pose is found in both Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and Plank Pose. Thoroughly review the instructions for these poses before practicing Vasisthasana!
- Stack your top foot directly on top of your bottom foot, just as if you were standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
- To learn the correct weight distribution in the pose, practice it with the soles of your feet pressing against a wall.
Find Your Own Excellence
To practice Vasisthasana correctly, it’s important to remember that yoga poses can’t be conquered or forced. Instead of using sheer muscular effort in the pose, bring your thoughts to your breath and to the power of the present moment. Release your need to achieve a certain outcome and simply be in the now. Stay present with the challenge. The essence of yoga will be revealed to you when you can discover calmness, grace, and ease even in the most physically difficult poses.