Vasisthasana (side plank pose) has long been one of my favourite asanas to practice. It’s a wonderful preparation for more challenging arm balances, and as a vinyasa yogi, I love its versatility when used for transitions.
Below are some side plank variations that you can incorporate into practice and yoga classes. Let’s review the more traditional side plank alignment, much of which is appropriate for the variations that follow.
There are many ways to come into side plank (directly from down dog or from a lunge, for example), but I often find that moving into it from plank pose is the simplest. The side plank is an often overlooked exercise for building strong abs.
Few moves are as good for your midsection as the side plank, yet despite this, it’s often overlooked in favour of the standard face-down, forearm supported, regular Joe variety of plank. There’s nothing wrong with that, but by ignoring the side plank you’re ignoring the often weak muscles that play a prominent role in averting back pain.
Side-bendy Side Plank:
This variation is similar to wild thing, but with a side bend instead of a back bend (and it tends to be a little kinder to the shoulders than wild thing). It’s also a great first step for transitioning into wild thing, but I think it’s a pretty cool pose in its own right as well.
- Begin by coming into side plank on your right side, as described above.
- Bend your left knee, and lightly rest the ball of your left foot on the floor behind your right leg.
- Reach your left arm alongside your ear as you would in side angle pose, spinning the pinky side of your hand down toward the floor.
- Gaze down, forward, or toward your left hand.
- Stay and enjoy the stretch along the left side of your body for five breaths.
- To come out of the pose, you can move into plank or down dog.
- One way to do this is to simply plant your left hand in the same position as you would to come into plank or down dog, reach your left leg back into a three-legged dog, and then step your left foot forward into a lunge.
Rockstar With a Kick:
Okay, so this is kind of a variation of a variation. Rockstar itself is a version of side plank that people tend to love or hate.
- Begin in downward dog.
- On an inhale, lift your right leg up into a three-legged dog.
- On an exhale, bend your right knee and bring it across your body, toward your left upper arm.
- Keep your knee here as you spin your left foot to the floor, toes pointing to the left.
- Bring your left hand to your right shin and see if you can hug your knee a little closer to your chest (a.).
- Now, keeping your bent knee in toward you, release your shin.
- Then, instead of straightening your right leg and lowering the pinky-toe side of your right foot to the floor (as you would in your typical rockstar side plank), kick your right foot straight out to the right without lowering your leg.
- Then, reach your left arm up to the sky (b.). Stay for a few breaths, gazing down, forward, or toward your left hand, aiming to keep your right foot lifted away from the floor (try not to let it drop!).
- To come out of the pose, plant your left hand, bend your right knee into your chest, and step back to downward dog.
Kneeling Vasisthasana B Variation:
This is a great prep for, or alternative to, vasisthasana B (in which you bind the big toe or hold the pinky edge of the foot of the top leg and then straighten the leg, aiming the sole of the foot toward the ceiling), and it can actually provide a greater balance challenge than the “full” expression of the pose!
- Begin in a kneeling side plank position with your right knee down and your left leg extended.
- Make sure your right elbow crease is pointing toward the space between your right thumb and index finger, and that you do not sink into your right shoulder or allow it to roll forward.
- From here, bend your left knee and place your left foot on the floor in front of your right shin.
- Lift your left foot away from the floor and take hold of the pinky-toe side of your left foot with your left hand, drawing your left knee toward your left shoulder.
- Stay open across your chest and keep both shoulders rolling back.
- You can remain here or straighten your left leg out in front of you, as you did in rockstar with a kick, except this time you’re holding on to the foot (a.).
- Remain here, or if your hamstrings are up for it, lift your left leg up to the sky, externally rotating your left thigh and bringing the sole of your left foot to face the ceiling (b.).
- Keep pressing your right hand into the floor.
- Gaze down, forward, or up toward your left hand.
- To come out of the pose, bend your left knee (if it’s not already bent), place the sole of your left foot on the floor, and then come onto hands and knees.
Side Angle Hover:
This strength-building side plank variation provides an extra challenge for your obliques and is an excellent preparatory pose for arm balances like visvamitrasana and eka pada bakasana (one-legged crow pose). It’s kind of like side angle pose, but with the bottom foot hovering off the ground (hence the name) and the heel squeezing in toward the sit bone.
- Begin in plank pose (a.).
- On an inhale, lift your right foot away from the floor.
- On an exhale, bend your right knee, bringing it to touch (or come as close as it can to touching) your right upper arm (b.).
- Keeping your right knee where it is, spin your left foot to the floor as you would do to come into side plank on the right side, pivoting your left heel to the left (c.).
- Bring your left hand to your hip, or reach your left arm up to the sky, gazing toward your bottom hand, straight ahead, or up toward your top hand (d.).
- Try your best to keep your right knee from sliding down, and keep squeezing your right heel toward your right buttock.
- Stay for five breaths.
- To come out of the pose, plant your left hand, and come onto the ball of your left foot.
- From there, you could step your right foot forward into a lunge, transition to downward facing dog, or simply return to plank pose and repeat on the second side.