An asana to boost self confidence - Vasishtasana

Different schools of yoga lay emphasis on different aspects of yoga. The Iyengar school, for example, lays a lot of emphasis on alignment and the Ashtanga yoga system lays emphasis on the Breath, Bandha (internal locks for channeling prana, the life force) and the Dhrishti (gaze). However people seldom talk about how various asanas influence the mind states. Asana practice after all, is a tool to reduce the turbulence and conflicts in the mind, according to Patanjali in sutra 2.48. It is this aspect of asanas that I wish to touch upon in this article.

Mind and the body: The two sides of a coin

The mind and the body are like two sides of a coin (Ref 1). It is very difficult to change the state of the mind by thinking about it. It is much more easy to influence the mind through the body. This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the renowned psychologist, talks about in his internationally acclaimed book "Flow", which talks about the states of ecstacy experienced by musicians and athletes when they are in the zone (Ref 2). This is also the reason that the Buddha taught the mindfulness of the body first and only then the mindfulness of feelings, the mind states and the dharma.

Using the body to influence the mind

We are all well familiar with how the body is influenced by the mind, for example, when the mind is stressed and fearful, we lose appetite, feel butterflies in the stomach etc. The contrary is also true. We can influence the state of the mind by using the body. In her book, "The calm brain", Dr. Gayatri Devi, an American Neurologist, talks about how Doctors use the inversion table to calm people when they have a panic attack. This is because when the body is inverted, the heart has to work less hard to pump the blood to the brain. The heart rate decreases as a result. This decreased heart rate, then, tells the mind that all is well and it therefore relaxes. In the yoga system, inversions like the Shoulder stand and head stand are often used therapeutically to relax the body. This is why they come at the end of the asana practice.

An inversion table

BKS Iyengar in salamba sarvangasana

Sage Vasishta with his wife Arundathi and the divine cow, Kamadhenu, the bestower of desires.

Vasishtasana- an asana to boost one's self confidence

Vasishtasana is the first asana in the third or advanced-A series of the Ashtanga yoga system (though in the Ashtanga system, it is known by the name Vishwamitrasana). This asana is named after sage Vasishta, a powerful yet kind sage in the Indian mythology. Much in the same way that Krishna gives a discourse (the Bhagavad Gita) to Arjuna in the battlefield when Arjuna is in a state of despair, Sage Vasishta teaches King Rama about the secrets of yoga (known by the name "Yoga Vasishta") when Rama is plunged in depression at the state of affairs in the world.

Even though this asana is placed in the third series of the Ashtanga yoga system, it is not a notably difficult asana. With a little practice and the right use of the Moola Bandha one can master this asana. There are a few aspects in this asana that are noteworthy because they result in a upward flow of energy toward the uplifted thumb and the toe, giving the mind a boost of self confidence. These aspects are illustrated using the photo of the renowned yoga teacher, Laruga Glaser, demonstrating this pose below.

1) The right palm is touching the ground providing stability and establishing a strong connection with the ground (hastha bandha).

The right foot is turned outward planting it firmly on the ground. This provides additional stability (pada bandha).

2) The hip is lifted. This is a very important aspect. This engages the Moola bandha and sends the energy upward.

3) The legs and the arms are straightened further directing the energy upward.

4) The Gaze is toward the lifted toe. This completes the asana giving the mind a boost of confidence.

Balance (Ref 3) is a challenge in this asana and when the aforementioned factors are established, the balance comes easily and when there is balance, the mind becomes calm.

The next time you do an asana, see what effect it has on your mind. You might find something profound, something so powerful yet cheap and accessible that you can reach out for, again and again.