What’s the primary force that gets you into a strong, open vasisthasana (side plank with the top leg lifted and the big toe bound), with energy that you can actually feel expanding inside you? It’s you. You bringing your most expansive awareness game to some focused work at the far reaches of your body—from a stable base hand and foot through a skyward heel and chest. With this awareness, you’ll be able to enter vasisthasana without any forceful effort, and once you’re in it, achieve the ideal rotation of your hips for a pose charged with spacious prana. Vyana, your expansive life force energy, is what vasisthasana is all about. Place your awareness wisely, and you’ll know you’ve arrived not by the height of your heel, but by the free-to-be-me sensation of your energy coursing outward, expressing who you are, fully.
In order to gain this kind of awareness, there are three areas of focus you’ll want to include in your practice when sequencing up to vasisthasana.
Standing hip openers: Open your hips with poses like warrior II, reverse warrior II, triangle, and utthita hasta padangusthasana B (extended hand-to-big-toe pose B—the one with your extended leg open to the side). Be very conscious of maintaining the external rotation in the front or raised leg.
Standing hamstring stretches: Prepare your hamstrings for vasisthasana with forward bends like (standing forward fold), (pyramid pose), and (standing wide-legged forward fold).
Upper-body lateral strengthening poses: Strengthen your shoulders with side planks, half moon, and side-bending variations of triangle and (side angle pose) that keep you light on—or even completely off of—your resting arm. (Work these areas on a regular basis to build your conditioning for vasisthasana, but when doing a practice that includes vasisthasana, don’t go too heavy on this work so that fatigue won’t limit you.)
Foundation: Start by establishing the optimal length of your foundation. For everyone, the critical distance between your foundational hand and foot in vasisthasana falls somewhere between your downdog and your plank placement. Stepping back one ball-of-foot length from downdog works for most people, but you’ll be able to find your personalized length by following the steps below (and doing the check-in). Finding your optimal foundation will help you feel lighter and more lifted in vasisthasana.
Step 1: From downdog, step your feet back the distance of the length of the ball of your foot.
Step 2: Shift forward, bringing your shoulders right above your wrists—your hips will be a bit higher than they would be in plank.
Step 3: Begin shifting the weight into your right hand; raise your left arm straight up and stack your feet. Really focus on your feet here; flex your ankles to 90 degrees, resting on the outer edge of your bottom foot. (Those with more flexible ankles may be able to find more stability by flattening the sole of the bottom foot to the floor.) Push your right hand down and forward—toward the front of your mat—and lift your hips as high as they can go.
Check-in: Check that the angle between your right (bottom) arm and your body is slightly greater than 90 degrees. (If not, go back to Step 1 and adjust your foundation length.)
Step 4: Bend your left knee and draw it in toward your chest. With your left hand, reach along the inside of your left leg and hook your big toe with your first two fingers. To make this happen, you may need to temporarily allow your back to round forward, and to let your hips dip a bit.
Step 5: Keep your left knee tightly bent and your fingers holding strongly on to your big toe as you rotate your left knee from forward-facing to upward-facing (external rotation of the hips). Draw your bent left knee up the left side of your body, aiming it as skyward as possible. Maintain the bend in your knee, and with your right hand push down and toward the front of your mat, re-establishing the lift in your hips and the straightening/extension of your spine.
Step 6: Push your left heel directly upward to straighten your left leg. Peak your pose by lifting even more from the back of your left thigh, while tilting your chest upward. Raise your gaze up as high as you can while maintaining ease in your neck. You’ve now got the ideal lift and rotation in your hips, and have arrived at your most open, most energized vasisthasana!