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Exploring the Myths of Asana—Vasisthasana



Vasisthasana, or Side Plank Pose, is named after the great Indian sage Vasistha. The story begins with King Ram, who was an incarnation of Vishnu, one of three main Hindu gods responsible for the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe. Vishnu is the maintainer.

King Ram appeared on earth to restore dharma, or righteousness. But after his travels throughout the world, where he witnessed many devastating events, he fell into a deep state of depression. Vasistha saw this state of mind as a great opportunity, however. According to Alanna Kaivalya, author of Myths of the Asanas, “One must first see cracks in the ceiling before one can start to see the light shining through it.” King Ram was actually on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough, he just didn’t know it.

King Ram was skeptical. His lack of vision clouded his perception, but Vasistha showed him that it was this clouded vision that would help him to find clarity. Thus began a dialogue between King Ram and Vasistha that became the Yoga Vasistha, one of the main yoga philosophy and mythology texts.

The Yoga Vasistha teaches about jivanmukta, the state of the soul who is liberated while living. Jiva is the individual soul, expressed through the different aspects of human life; and mukti means liberation. “The magic occurs, explained Vasistha, when the individual soul merges with absolute freedom, so we can be, as the saying goes, in this world, but not of this world,” states Kaivalya.

Ram became one of the most well revered kings in Indian history. He even appears as the main character in India’s epic, the Ramayana. Vasistha’s teachings are thought to be responsible for Ram’s great achievements and success in life.

The symbolism of Vasisthasana is evident in the pose itself. A careful balance on one hand, the pose requires focus on what’s important. Clouded vision often arises at first, but clear focus is required to truly maintain the posture. With the body facing one direction, only part of the whole truth is seen. One must turn to complete the pose on the other side to view another perspective. This aspect of the pose reflects the challenge King Ram faced when he met Vasistha.