I contemplated the back itself. The low-back, that lumbar region, which in some people tightens and in others is an area of weakness, a place where they hang out or push into vulnerable areas to compensate for tightness elsewhere. Then there’s the upper-back, another common area for trouble to pop up. Shoulders and upper traps can leave us feeling weak or achy.
Vasisthasana, or the variation of side-plank pose I’ll present here, addresses both upper and lower back, as well as core-strength. As you go through the variations, contemplate which works best for you. Sometimes we want the final pose, but we’re actually more connected to the actions of the pose in an earlier stage. As you practice ask yourself: Am I working with integrity? Can I focus on the actions of the pose? Or am I wanting to get ahead of myself?
To get a sense of the shoulder action in vasisthasana, stand with your right side about 18 inches away from the wall. Place your right hand on the wall, palm flat, hand directly in line with your shoulder. Press that hand into the wall and move your right shoulder blade down away from your ear (first you might have to lift it up to find the downward action). As you bring the shoulder blade down toward your waist, keep the right hand firmly on the wall and straighten the arm. The sensation can become intense through the forearm as well as the shoulder. This work isn’t as easy as it looks! Repeat on the other side.
Place your mat against a wall. Then lie on your right side with your torso parallel to the wall, your knees bent. Your elbow is below your shoulder and your forearm presses into the floor. In this first stage keep your hips on the floor. Now, take the shoulder action you learned above and apply it here. Press the forearm down, move the right shoulder blade down toward the waist. Lift the ribs away from the floor, keeping the head in line with the spine, the shoulder blades and hips also in line. Do you feel how when you lift the ribs the core muscles engage along the underside of the body? Make sure as you lift the ribs that the shoulder blade stays moving down and there’s the sense of lifting away from the floor, not sagging into the shoulder joint.
Remember, this is an effective way of working this pose and if the next stages are too much, you can happily strengthen your back here.
Start as above, but then lift your hips, so that only your calves, ankles and feet stay down. At this stage, keep your head drawn back toward the wall so the chest stays open. If you feel wobbly, you can place the left hand on a brick or chair.
Now notice what happens when you had the pelvis into your lift. It’s a heavy piece of anatomy! Make sure it stays lifting. If not rest it down, go back to stage one.
Repeat on the other side.
Vasisthasana Stage Three
When you’re ready to try this stage, do as above, then extend the legs straight out. Place one foot on top of the other and pull the little-toe edge of the top foot toward the knee. Keep the buttocks lengthening toward the heels, press the heels away from the buttocks. Keep lifting the whole body up -- ankles, knees, hips, ribs -- all lifting away from the floor. Shoulder blade draws down and forearm presses into the floor.
The wall is helpful here to check your alignment. Heels, buttocks, shoulder blades, back of the head -- should all be parallel to the wall.
Repeat on the other side.
(A big thanks to Caroline Bradfield for taking these photographs. An enthusiastic student and budding photographer!)