Vasisthasana is typically (in the Iyengar system) the first in a series of three “one-arm” balancing positions.
Today was one of the first times I’ve attempted this variation of Vasiṣṭhāsana in a public class since the injury to my right shoulder in February 2014. It felt more stable than just about any time before the injury as well. I used to wobble. In truth, unbeknownst to me, I had torn the Subscapularis long ago, probably while pulling snow off my roof with a roof rake, after many Sun Salutations in a vigorous Winter Solstice celebration.
I don’t wobble now. Conclusion? One needs a fully attached Subscapularis for this pose. I tried this on the left side, which I injured in December 2014, and had surgery on in May 2015. It’s not wobbly, but it isn’t strong yet. It feels like it wants to give out, and I don’t want that to happen while I’m bearing weigh on it. I’m doing it modified, to build up strength.
This summer I was happy once again to sit in satsang with my teacher Sara Davidson Flanders, who brought Bill Mahony back to Rhode Island to speak about the Upaniṣads. “The Light of the Heart is Vaster than All the Worlds” was the title of the workshop. I mention this because we discussed that this pose was named after Vasiṣṭha, one of the ṛṣi (rishis), or seers, sages, to whom the Vedas were ascribed. Indeed, in Light on Yoga (1966), B.K.S. Iyengar describes him as follows.
Vasiṣṭha was a celebrated sage or seer, the family priest of the solar race of kings, and author of several Vedic hymns, particularly of the seventh Maṇḍala of the Ṛg Veda. He was a typical representative of brahmanic dignity and power and is one of seven sages who are identified with the stars of the Great Bear.… (309-310)
Also, in The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination, Mahony writes this of the ṛṣi
Vedic poets hoped that the gods not only would find delight in their verses, but would also keep those songs with them. “May this hymn of praise rest in our heart,” Vasiṣṭha sang to Varuṇa, for example, in Ṛgveda 7.86.8.
I think of this pose as heart–expressive. It’s weight–bearing on one arm, and the free arm is extended to the sky. To pull this off, the shoulder blades need to be together on the back, supporting the heart from the back body, thought of as representing “the Universal.”
How wonderful it is to think that in this āsana, we celebrate this connection between our embodied particularity, and whatever name we give to that which undergirds this existence. How wonderful it is for me once again to be participating in this enactment, at least on the right side, and to see it as soon possible on the left.