It took me a long time before I understood the purpose of contemplating and chanting to Hindu gods, goddesses, and sages. I practiced yoga many years before ever coming across teachers who commonly told stories about Vishnu or Saraswati and then offered devotional mantras to them. The first encounter I had involved an instructor walking in to class, not saying much, and then leading us through a chant to Krishna (something I was confused by and unenthusiastic to do considering chanting Hare Krishna had other connotations in my mind at that time).
Then I came across a wonderful teacher while living in Vancouver named Shelly Tomczyk who lived and breathed the teachings of Bhakti, or devotional, yoga. She explained the myths, their relevance, and why they’re important to reflect on sometimes as yoga practitioners.
Of course, the stories revealing different goddesses and sages aren’t meant to be taken literally but rather seen as different parts of who we are and what we experience that we’ve disconnected from. For example, we each have the resilience of Ganesha or the devotion of Hanuman and by learning the stories and chanting to each figure is a way in which we can connect to that fortitude or dedication to love. It’s a way of reminding ourselves that we are strong, or we are loved.
One of my favourite goddesses to talk about is a woman named Akhilanda (or Akhilandeshvari). She is known as the Goddess who is “never not broken.” In other words, she is always fragmented, broken open, and falling apart. She is the reflection of when things begin to break apart internally or externally in our lives. The most intriguing aspect of Akhilanda is that she derives her strength and power from being not put together- something few of us experience in such a state.
Her strength from being never not broken comes from the fact that it is through the cracks that we can see deeper into ourselves than at any other time and be open to what comes next. When something is broken open, things that were hidden before are then exposed. This explains the experience of hindsight and why greater insight will often come only when something is ending. Instead of struggling to quickly rebuild ourselves, when broken open, it is an opportunity to be interested about what just occurred and to open oneself to what is possible next. This takes what is often perceived and experienced as a terribly uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty and creates a deep well of opportunity and learning.
Breaking things open and breaking them down is also helpful because it removes their mystery and power. For instance, we all know when overwhelmed in a situation its easier to psychologically wade through that period of our life by doing one thing at time rather than attempting to address them all at once. The same goes for yoga poses. Many poses appear intimidating and quite complex but we gain power and knowledge when they’re broken down. Such is the case with Vasisthasana.
This pose, despite its demanding nature on your hamstrings and side body, is actually quite simple when taken for what it is.
Full Vasisthasana is two basic poses combined- Vasisthasana and Utthita Hasa Padangustasana. One must master both these prerequisite poses before effectively achieving full Vasisthasana. Once that has occurred, there are several tricks for achieving the leg up variation.
The easiest way to assume full Vasisthasana is too simply pick the top leg up, swoop it into the air, and grab the foot with your top hand. For most of us, this is inaccessible due to tight legs and Psoas muscles.
Here is the easiest way of accessing the pose from my experience. Start in regular Vasisthasana. Bend both knees and grab the big toe of your top leg with top hand. Keep the top leg bent initially. With the bottom knee bent lift your hips up and back toward the back of your mat as if you were moving them into Downward Facing Dog. This will enable you to access the power of the bottom leg more and flatten the bottom foot entirely which will stabilize the pose more fully. Keeping your bottom knee bent for now, begin to straighten the top leg upward. As you do this slowly, keep pushing through your bottom foot and hand as much as you can. Once the top leg is straight, then fully straighten the bottom leg keeping as much power in the leg as possible.
A deeper refinement from here is to push the tailbone and pubic bone forward and in. The butt tends to move way back in this pose while the glutes and core go to sleep. This can compromise the hamstring attachments and destabilize the SI Joint.
One other tip to help stabilize full Vasisthasana (and this really goes for just about any variation of Side Plank) is to practice the pose with your bottom foot on the wall. To do this, come into Vasisthasana with the outer edge of the foot (pinky toe side) on the floor and the inner edge (big toe side) on the wall. This will enable you to push into the accessing greater strength and stability along the side body (obliques, abductors, etc).
Sean Haleen’s classes are noted for their humor and depth. Focusing on alignment, students wishing to learn about their bodies and the different concepts of yoga philosophy in detail will enjoy his public classes. Click here to see his weekly class schedule.
Photography by Ryan Scott. firstname.lastname@example.org