Vasisthasana and Vishvamitrasana are named after the priest Vasishtha and the king Vishvamitra.
These two sages were in a long battle with each other over a magical, wish-fulfilling cow named Nandini. Competition and greed are two basic human emotions very evident in their story.
The fundamental difference between both sages is also the main difference between the asanas. As one sage attained his spirituality with effortless grace the other attained it with determined practice.
Vasishtha, a divine son of the god Brahma and a member of the priestly caste, Vasishtha was destined by birth for high spiritual achievement and Nandini being a cow gifted by the gods, he naturally felt his claim on it.
Vishvamitra, though a king wasn’t quite so blessed. Having been born kshatriya he didn't have Vasishtha’s spiritual advantages. He didn't quite have much to compete with Vasishtha in the spiritual realms.
Vishvamitra was strong-willed. He tried to seize Nandini by force but failed. As their battle of strength and wits continued, both sages displayed their spiritual achievements for which they’re still renowned. Vasistha displayed his tolerance and his control over his emotions; even though Vishvamitra and his warriors had slain a hundred of Vasistha’s sons, he remained calm.
During the battle, king Vishvamitra realised he does not only desire the wish-fulfilling cow but also spiritual strength. He set out on his journey to become a Brahmin and after various hardships, succeeded. It is believed that after Vishvamitra transferred and became a man of god, even Vasishtha came to pay his homage, impressed by his determination.
That is what we experience while practicing these two asanas, both equally strengthening and powerful, one is achieved with a natural grace (Vasisthasana) one is achieved with determination and practice (Vishvamitra).
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