Before Vishvamitra was a sage he was a king. On one of his military journeys he stopped at the hermitage of the Sage Vasistha. Vasistha greeted Vishvamitra and his army amiably, providing as much food as they could eat. King Vishvamitra was amazed by the amount of food that was produced and asked Vasistha how he was able to do it. Vasistha told him that he had a magical cow. Vishvamitra wanted the cow for himself and asked the sage for it. The sage refused this request and Vishvamitra decided to challenge Vasistha to a battle over the cow.
King Vishvamitra was very strong, but he was no match for Vasistha’s mystical powers. Realizing this, Vishvamitra gave up the battle and decided to become a sage himself through the practice of yoga.
The practicing yogi Vishvamitra was known for his bad temper. He cursed people and ended up diminishing his own powers in doing so. Indra, one of the demigods, became fearful that Vishvamitra would overthrow him. Indra sent a beautiful enchantress to Vishvamitra to distract him from his practice. Full of lust, Vishvamitra was indeed thrown off his course. But eventually he realized his error in judgment and resumed his meditation practice. Eventually Vishvamitra did become a sage, embodying those qualities necessary in a sage: patience, forgiveness and compassion. Even Vasistha came to respect him.
Life often progresses in this fashion; we go through periods of growth and then feel as though we take a step backward only to leap forward once again. The difficulties that Vishvamitra experienced in his sadhana (spiritual practice) are reflected in the difficulty of the pose named for him. This is symbolic that the path of yoga, as with other spiritual pursuits, is not always easy, but certainly is worth the effort.
To take the pose Vishvamitrasana, start in a variation of side angle pose with the hand placed on the big toe side of the foot as shown here:
Keep pressing firmly into the index finger and thumb on that hand and draw your shoulder blades down your back firmly. Your tailbone will need to turn down slightly toward the heels to help keep the core stable. Lower the top hand to the outside of the front foot and begin to play with the idea of lifting that front foot from the floor. Press into the back edge of the back foot strongly here. you will turn your upper body open to the side as the foot lifts from the floor.
This pose is definitely not for everyone. It requires open hamstrings, hips, and shoulders as well as a strong core for balancing. It’s a good idea to get lots of practice in Vasisthasana (side plank) before trying it. You really need to be quite warm and have done several lead in poses before taking visvamitrasana to open the shoulders, hips and hamstrings. Always do a difficult pose like this with a qualified instructor first. If you have never taken this pose, be prepared to fall on your butt a couple of times before getting the feel for it! Don’t be discouraged, look at the fall as a lesson in humility.