Vajrasana Flow

Thunderbolt Flow

"Living your yoga is not just doing it, but being it." - Judith Hanson Lasater

Vajrasana Flow

Introduction to Vajrasana Flow

Thunderbolt Flow (Vajrasana Flow)

This flow sequence, often used in the Viniyoga tradition, is based on the static pose Vajrasana, which translates as Diamond or Thunderbolt pose. Traditional Thunderbolt Pose is often assumed in seated yoga practices such as meditation or pranayama.

When transformed into a breath-based movement sequence, Thunderbolt Flow brings free movement and circulation to the whole back and shoulder girdle, with a wide variety of ways to customize it to suit your yoga practice.

When practiced correctly, Thunderbolt Flow gently engages the spinal extensor muscles, creating a foundation of back strength for the yoga poses to follow. Depending on which arm variation you choose (see below) Thunderbolt Flow can be a way to both loosen and strengthen the muscles of the shoulder girdle. By pressing your lower legs and feet into the yoga mat as you come back up to the starting position, you’ll also begin to engage your quadriceps.

While we are illustrating a pared down sequence here, creative use of arms, head turns, breath ratio, etc. makes this a very versatile choice for bringing foundational alignment, strength, and stretch to the whole body.  Add core breathing and Thunderbolt Pose becomes a great way to warm up for whatever the rest of your yoga practice brings!

How to Practice Thunderbolt Flow

  1. Begin standing on your knees with your hands resting on your sacrum, palms facing out. (Use cushioning from a folded up yoga mat or blanket, as appropriate.)
  2. On an inhalation sweep your arms overhead, lengthening your spine. (Avoid hunching your shoulders up around your ears here. Think of expanding your front and back body with your breath instead.) Your arms should be overhead with palms facing each other at the top of your inhalation.
  3. On your next exhalation, begin to draw your abdominal core muscles to your spine and think of creating length in your spine, as you draw your upper torso toward your thighs.
  4. Continue to exhale as you bring your chest toward your thighs. At the same time, allow your arms to begin sweeping back to your starting position on your sacrum with palms facing out. 
  5. Keep the length in the back of your neck throughout and be careful not to move into a forward head posture. If anything, tuck your chin slightly, so that the crown of your head is close to or resting on the floor at the end of your exhale.
  6. On the inhalation, lead the movement with your chest and endeavor to lengthen your spine in a neutral position, without exaggerating any of your spinal curves or displacing your head.
  7. Pause, as appropriate, to allow the yoga pose to register on your body, then initiate each subsequent repetition from this position. Repeat 4-5 times, then rest in traditional Thunderbolt pose, with your hips resting on your heels. 

Can’t be on your knees? No worries. This sequence – and all variations of it – work just as well from a seated position in a chair. Simply sit with your feet flat on the floor and follow the rest of the instructions. You can also practice Thunderbolt Flow as a standing yoga sequence.

How to Practice Standing Thunderbolt Flow

  1. Begin standing in Tadasana with your feet approximately hip-distance apart.
  2. On an inhalation sweep your arms overhead, lengthening your spine. (Avoid hunching your shoulders up around your ears here. Think of expanding your front and back body with your breath instead.) Your arms should be overhead with palms facing each other at the top of your inhalation.
  3. On your next exhalation, begin to draw your abdominal core muscles to your spine and think of creating length in your spine, as you draw your upper torso toward your thighs.
  4. Continue to exhale as you bring your chest toward your thighs. Let your knees bend slightly. At the same time, allow your arms to begin sweeping back to your starting position on your sacrum with palms facing out. 
  5. Keep the length in the back of your neck throughout and be careful not to move into a forward head posture. If anything, tuck your chin slightly, so that the back of your head is in alignment with the rest of your spine.
  6. On the inhalation, lead the movement with your chest and endeavor to lengthen your spine in a neutral position, without exaggerating any of your spinal curves or displacing your head.
  7. Pause, as appropriate, to allow the pose to register on your body, then repeat 4-5 times.

Practice Tips

Once you’ve learned the basic sequence, the variations are endless, depending on the desired effect. Here are just a few ideas for making a Thunderbolt Flow suit your yoga practice:

  1. One-Arm Sweep Follow the instructions above, but work with only one arm at a time in order to feel each side separately. This variation is particularly useful in situations where you are working to recover range-of-motion on one side while still allowing the other side to work to capacity. The challenge will be to keep your weight evenly distributed on both legs.
  2. Head/Neck Rotations To add a component of stretching and mobilizing your neck, add head turns to the sequence. When you inhale, turn your head forward. As you exhale, turn your head to one side, so that at the end of the exhalation, you’ve got one ear toward the ground. Alternate head turns with each repetition.
  3. One-Arm Sweep with Head/Neck Rotation To create an integrated stretch across the whole head-neck-shoulder area, combine the one-arm and head turn variations as follows: Begin in the downward position with both palms on your sacrum facing out. On the inhalation, sweep your right arm overhead, with your head facing forward. On the exhalation, lower your torso and sweep your right hand back to your sacrum as you turn your head to the left. On your next inhalation, sweep your left arm up as you turn your head back to center. Repeat on the other side.
  4. Arms Sweep Forward For more of a core and strength challenge, sweep your arms straight up in front of you on the inhalation. On the exhalation, bring your arms straight down with control, ending up with your palms on the floor in front of you.

Recommended Use

Choose a variation of Thunderbolt Flow that best prepares your body for the rest of your asana sequence. You can also use this flow between yoga postures, as a way to rebalance and neutralize your spine after doing twists or asymmetrical poses.

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