How to Do Sleeping Vishnu Pose in Yoga
Sleeping Vishnu Pose is a reclined balancing yoga posture that stretches the hips and hamstrings. Lying on your side with one leg lifted might look relaxing, but it can actually be quite challenging!
In English, this pose is sometimes called "Side Reclining Leg Lift." However, the Sanskrit name for the pose, "Anantasana" (ah-nahn-TAHS-uh-nuh), has a deeper story. The name comes from the word "ananta," meaning "infinite one." This refers to two beings:
- A mythological thousand-headed serpent, named Sesa, upon whom the Hindu deity Vishnu rests at the bottom of the primordial sea
- Vishnu himself
According to an ancient Hindu legend that speaks about the beginning of the universe, Vishnu slept while a lotus flower blossomed from his navel. From that lotus flower was born Brahma, the Hindu god of creation. The raised leg in Anantasana mimics the Brahma-bearing lotus stalk that rose from Vishnu's navel!
Benefits of Sleeping Vishnu Pose
Anantasana stretches the hamstrings, hips, calves, pelvis, and groin muscles. It tones the abdomen, increases hip mobility, and can help reduce low back pain. This pose improves balance and coordination, while also developing greater focus and concentration. Holding your balance in this pose requires a calm and clear mind. Acquiring this ability can help you reduce stress, anxiety, and mental fatigue.
The Bhagavad Gita, 200 BCE
Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing headaches or diarrhea. Those with shoulder, neck, or wrist injuries should modify the pose as needed to avoid further pain (see Modifications & Variations, below). Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin by lying on the floor on your right side. Keep your legs straight, in line with your torso. Extend your right arm along the floor beneath your right ear, parallel to your torso. If you are having trouble balancing, press the soles of your feet against a wall for support.
- Bend your right elbow and gently rest the right side of your head in your palm. Allow your arm to stretch away from your torso to increase the stretch of your right armpit.
- Work toward balancing your body in one straight line, from head to feet. Keep the outside of your right foot pressing into the floor.
- Rotate your left leg so your toes point up toward the ceiling. Then bend your left knee and draw it in toward your torso. Reach your left hand along the inside of your left thigh, and then clasp your left foot’s big toe with the first two fingers and thumb. Exhaling, extend your left leg up toward the ceiling, reaching through your heel.
- Fix your gaze on an unmoving object in front of you. Continue to breathe smoothly.
- Extend the pose actively through both heels. Maintain your balance as much as possible without rolling forward or backward.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release, draw your knee back into your chest, release your toe, and extend your left leg. Roll over to your left side and repeat the pose on the opposite side for the same length of time.
Modifications & Variations
Anantasana will tone your belly and stretch your body, while also challenging your ability to balance. Make the following modifications to find a variation of the pose that works for you:
- If it is difficult for you to straighten your top leg, use a strap. Loop a yoga strap around the ball of your top foot and grasp the ends of the strap in your free hand. Keep your grip soft, but not loose.
- For extra help when coming into the pose, pause after the Step 3 of the Instructions. Then bend your left knee and bring the sole of your left foot to rest on your right thigh. Balance there for a few moments until you feel stable. When you are comfortable with your foot on your thigh, deepen the pose by holding onto your toe and extending your leg up.
- For extra support, press the soles of your feet into a wall. Continue pressing your bottom foot into it as you complete the pose.
- For even more support, practice with a bolster or block secured between your back and a wall.
- If it is very difficult or painful for you to rest your head in your hand, come onto your right forearm, instead. Align your elbow under your shoulder, spread your fingers, and press down through your fingers. Your ribs will lift off the mat, raising your torso slightly. Point your fingers forward in the direction in which you are looking. Do not collapse into your shoulder; keep your right shoulder relaxed and your neck long.
Anantasana can benefit all yoga practitioners, no matter what their level. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Think of your pelvis as the anchor of this pose. The more stable your pelvis is, the easier it will be to hold the balance.
- Keep a straight line through your spine, from head to toe.
- Although regular practice of Anantasana will improve your overall flexibility, tight hamstrings, hips, or torso muscles can make it difficult to balance. Add side-stretching poses into your practice to help with balancing. A few good ones to try are Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana), Gate Pose (Parighasana), and Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana).
Sleep for Balance
Practicing Sleeping Vishnu Pose can add a fun twist to your practice. Balancing and stretching will help create a calm, clear, and focused mindset that you can take with you into your everyday life. Regularly practicing this pose can be a simple way to help your body, mind, and spirit stay balanced.