I wouldn't say that I love Vasisthasana, Side Plank, but I do think the posture has a lot of value. Especially in a Vinyasa class where Chaturanga is very prevalent, Side Plank teaches students to engage all parts of the body while balancing on one hand. I use this posture frequently as a gateway to many hand balancing postures to get students aware of the importance of shoulder alignment and stability.
Although I might not love Vasisthasana, I do love the expansive feeling of Vasisthasana B. Here's some tips on general alignment and form in traditional Vasisthasana and how to explore variation B.
Hand Placement in Vasisthasana:
When I first started to practice yoga I always moved my hand to the middle of my yoga mat the moment I heard the instructor say, "Side Plank". I would grimace and move my hand a few inches closer to my other hand and I was miserable for every breath I took while holding that godforsaken pose. Light bulbs went off once an instructor told me to keep my hand in the same place as High Plank when I transitioned to Side Plank. It now seems so intuitive! I gained more ease and strength in Side Plank with this revelation.
Notice the difference in the body alignment with the shift of the hand to center verses keeping the hand in place. When the hand is moved to center the body is forced into an angle and the hand has to be readjusted to transition back to High Plank. When the hand doesn't move the body is in a straight line and the joints align in a supportive manner with the shoulder stacked directly over the wrist. For some students a slight shift of the hand forward can be helpful. The body is still in one strong line with the shoulder over the hand and wrist.
When I started to break down this transition in my classes, even with well seasoned practitioners, I had a lot of students thank me for pointing out this subtle yet important difference. One student said he voluntarily stayed away from Side Plank due to some shoulder issues, but he said that once he stopped moving his hand to the middle of his mat he was able to hold Side Plank without pain. Try it out!
A strong and stable Vasisthasana is essential before variations are added. Once you feel confident with traditional Side Plank, start to play with lifting the top foot. Eventually you may move towards Vasistasana B, however, there's quite a bit of prep work that needs to be done before you reach down, grab your big toe, and extend your leg up.
Upavistha Konasana--Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend
When attempting to lift the top leg in Side Plank, it's essential that the inner thighs, groin, and hamstrings are warm and ready. This seated forward fold variation does just that. Be mindful that the knees don't drop too far forward in the fold. Use your abductors and rotate the things slightly back to keep some engagement in the legs during the stretch.
Triangle Pose is really just Vasisthasana B without balancing on your hand. In Triangle focus on simultaneously stretching and engaging the legs while lengthening both sides of the torso and rotating the top shoulder away from the floor. These same concepts translate into the big Side Plank variation.
Uttitha Padangustasana--Hand to Big Toe Pose
Similar to Triangle Pose, Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose is Vasisthasana B in a different dimension. Stretch your standing leg and extend out through your lifted heel. Be sure to engage your abdominals to help with balance. The same muscles, and more, will have to be engaged when balancing on one hand with the big toe hold.
Anantasana--Side Reclining Leg Lift (Vishnu's Couch)
I believe it's absolutely impossible to not grin in this posture. Try it out! Once you're able to balance I dare you not to smile! Vishnu's Couch is simply a lower risk Vasisthasana B. You're able to figure out the mechanics of grabbing your big toe without having to balance on one hand. Don't let this cute posture deceive you though. It's quite hard to balance on your side with one leg in the air. Engage your abdominals and extend up fully through your top heel and the balance will come.
Of course the basic level of Side Plank is essential before you grab your big toe and extend your top leg. As pointed out in the video play with either keeping your hand in place or moving your hand a few inches forward when transitioning from High Plank. Engage your legs and abdominals, turn your top shoulder away from the floor, reach up through your top hand, and push down and slightly forward through your bottom hand. If you're still working on your balance in this one simply lower down to your bottom knee.
If you're ready to add on to your Side Plank start with your solid traditional variation. Actively push through your bottom hand and hug your abdominals in toward your spine. To add the big toe hold lift your hips away from the floor, bend your top knee and draw your heel toward your groin. Reach down with your top hand and grab your big toe. Although it seems like it'll topple you over, the extension of your top leg will help to balance you out. Broaden your chest and maybe even look upward. Revel in your ability to balance on one hand, kick your top leg up, and smile all at the same time. Enjoy!