Yoga teaching tips variations of Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana) to gradually build shoulder and core strength

7 Variations of Yoga's Side Plank to Gradually Build Shoulder and Core Strength

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Updated: 
March 25, 2021

Vasisthasana, or Side Plank, is an especially challenging asana. It takes the challenge of Plank Pose (Phalakasana) and literally turns it on its side, offering support from only one arm, one leg, and one side of the core.

But because it’s such a challenging posture, it’s also an incredible strength builder. It effectively targets the arms, shoulders, side body, obliques, hips, and legs. But it isn’t exactly the easiest pose to just jump straight into.

It takes patience, endurance, and skill to progress to such a challenging posture. So thankfully, there are many variations and progressions of Side Plank available to us to help us gradually build the needed strength to practice Vasisthasana, particularly in the shoulders and core.

How to Build Strength in Yoga’s Side Plank: 7 Variations

Each of these progressions gradually adds more weight to the upper body and core. So move slowly and methodically through these variations, and only progress to the next posture when you feel fully ready, which may take some time.

1. Knee-Down Side Plank

Yoga teaching tips to practice Knee-Down Side Plank (Vasisthasana) variation with less load on the core

This variation lessens the load on your core and upper body by allowing one knee to relax to the floor.

  1. Start in a Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana) with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your knees.

  2. Spread your fingers wide and root down firmly into the perimeter of your palms. Ever so slightly, grip your mat with your fingertips. 

  3. Hug your shoulders directly into their sockets.

  4. Stretch your left leg back behind you and open your hip to stack your left hip over your right and point the toes of your left foot toward the left side of your mat.  

  5. Release the big toe side of your foot to the floor so that the inner and outer heels and balls of the left foot are grounding, and root down into your right hand, your right knee, and your left foot.

  6. Spiral your chest open toward the left side of your mat as you reach your left arm toward the sky. 

  7. Lift your waistline farther up away from the floor to strongly activate your obliques. 

  8. Hold here for about five deep breaths before returning to Tabletop Pose. Then practice the pose on the other side.

2. Balancing Knee-Down Side Plank

The benefits of practicing Balancing Knee Down Side Plank (Vasisthasana) version for balance and upper body strength

This variation adds a little more weight to your upper body and core while also adding an element of balance.

  1. Start in a Knee-Down Side Plank as described above.

  2. Root down firmly into your right hand and your right knee, and activate your core strongly by cinching in around your waistline as if tightening a corset. 

  3. Float your left leg off the floor and let it hover at about the height of your hip. Kick back firmly through your left foot to create a strong activation through your whole leg.

  4. Hold here for about five deep breaths before switching sides.

3. “Kickstand” Side Plank

How to gradually build strength in Side Plank yoga Pose (Vasisthasana) in Kickstand Side Plank

This variation increases the load in your upper body and core even more, but allows for help with balance by using a small “kickstand.”

  1. Start in Balancing Knee-Down Side Plank as described above.

  2. Bend your left knee and flex your hip to draw your knee toward your chest. Place the ball of your left foot onto the floor in front of your hips.

  3. Root down firmly into your left foot and your right hand. Lift your hips high away from the floor until your right leg becomes light enough to lift your knee off the floor and extend your leg straight, continuous with the line of your torso.

  4. Press down into the pinky side of your right foot as you strongly extend your whole right leg.

  5. Root down with the same amount of energy that you lift up away from the floor. 

  6. Hold here for about five deep breaths before switching sides.

4. Staggered-Legs Side Plank 

How to practice Staggered Legs Side Plank yoga pose (Vasisthasana) to help build strength and stability

This variation adds even more load to your upper body and core to help build strength and stability.

  1. Start in Plank Pose with your feet roughly hips-distance apart. 

  2. Spread your fingers wide and root down firmly into the perimeter of your palms. Ever so slightly, grip your mat with your fingertips. 

  3. Hug your shoulders directly into their sockets.

  4. Shift your weight into your right hand and become light on your left fingertips.

  5. Roll to the big toe side of your left foot and the pinky side of your right foot so that your feet are staggered, with the left foot in front of the right.

  6. Cinch in around your entire waistline and hug your navel toward your spine.

  7. Twist your torso toward the left side of your mat and sweep your left arm toward the sky.

  8. Press down into your right hand and your feet to lift your side body farther away from the floor. Feel how this more strongly activates your core.

  9. Hold here for about five deep breaths before switching sides.

5. Standard Side Plank

Yoga student practicing the standard version of Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana) to strengthen and stabilize shoulders and core

This variation adds a further element of balance and control to strengthen and stabilize your shoulders and core.

  1. Start in Plank Pose with your feet touching each other.

  2. Spread your fingers wide and root down firmly into the perimeter of your palms. Ever so slightly, grip your mat with your fingertips. 

  3. Hug your shoulders directly into their sockets.

  4. Shift your weight into your right hand and become light on your left fingertips.

  5. Roll to the pinky toe side of your right foot and stack your left foot on top of your right. 

  6. Cinch in around your entire waistline and hug your navel toward your spine.

  7. Twist your torso toward the left side of your mat and sweep your left arm toward the sky.

  8. Press down into your right hand and your feet to lift your side body farther away from the floor. Feel how this more strongly activates your core.

  9. Hold here for about five deep breaths before switching sides.

6. Forearm Side Plank

The benefits of practicing Forearm Side Plank (Vasisthasana) to lessen pressure on wrists while amps up strength in shoulders and core

This variation takes the pressure off of your wrists but, for many, amps up the strength in your shoulders and core.

  1. Start in Forearm Plank (Ardha Phalakasana) with your inner feet touching each other and your shoulders stacked over your elbows. Align your forearms roughly parallel to each other.

  2. Spread your fingers wide and root down firmly into the perimeter of your palms. Ever so slightly, grip your mat with your fingertips.

  3. Root down against your forearms to plug your shoulders directly into their sockets.

  4. Shift your weight into your right forearm and become light on your left forearm.

  5. Roll to the pinky toe side of your right foot and stack your left foot on top of your right. 

  6. Cinch in around your entire waistline and hug your navel toward your spine.

  7. Twist your torso toward the left side of your mat and sweep your left arm toward the sky.

  8. Press down into your right forearm and your feet to lift your side body farther away from the floor. Feel how this more strongly activates your core.

  9. Hold here for about five deep breaths before switching sides.

7. Traditional Side Plank

How to practice the traditional version of Side Plank asana pose (Vasisthasana) to increase load on shoulders and core

This variation increases the load on your shoulders and core by adding the weight of one leg in the air. This also challenges your balance further.

  1. Start in Standard Side Plank as described above (variation #5). Practice instructions 1 through 8.

  2. Stabilize your balance and your foundation and strongly activate your core.

  3. Draw your left knee in closely toward your chest and then open your hip to turn your knee to face toward the sky.

  4. Either stay as you are or straighten and stretch your left leg skyward. You may wish to loop a strap around the ball of your foot or catch a hold of your big toe with a yogi toe lock by wrapping your first two fingers and thumb around your big toe.

  5. Energetically scissor your legs apart from each other as you press your right foot into the floor and reach your left leg toward the sky.

  6. Lift your waistline higher away from the floor to further engage your core and root down firmly into your right hand as you simultaneously lift your right shoulder away from the floor to activate your upper body more.

  7. Hold here for about five deep breaths before switching sides.

Gradually Build Strength and Stamina

Our yoga practice is a marathon, not a sprint. And when it comes to challenging postures like Vasisthasana, there is no shortcut you can take.

If you progressively load your tissues, you will gradually build strength, stamina, and endurance to potentially progress to more challenging variations. 

So take your time and enjoy the journey! After all, there is no end to your practice. There is no final destination to reach. There is only the journey that offers us endless wisdom and insight through its many lessons.

 

Yoga for Pelvic Floor Health a course by Jessica RealePT and Patty Schmidt for YogaUOnline Education

 

Leah SugermanLeah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.