By Gwen Lawrence
A very basic pose used widely in the Yoga world as well as the sports world. Although this pose looks to be an insignificant transition move, it is a critical pose to asses your body. This pose like several in yoga tend to go untaught and teachers hold and assumption that the student is versed in the nuances of the pose. That is a mistake, Plank is a great teaching tool for the student.
How to: Plank Pose
The best way to get to this pose is to start in downward facing dog. From there, press forward so that your shoulders are over your wrist joint, it is important to make sure wrists are directly under the shoulders and the wrist forms a 90 degree angle. The body should be in one line from the top of your head to the heels. You should not dip your hips or raise your hips. This is the same positioning as top of a push up. You need to push back through your heels and forward through a neutral neck out through the top of the head. At the same time, press firmly down through your whole hand and do not let your chest sink.
While here, check that you have a hand that is totally engaged into the floor. Make sure hands are flat and fingers spread, with even spacing between each finger. It is important not to press so firmly in this pose that you end up with a hyperextend elbow. From there gently slide your shoulder blades down your back so your shoulders are out of your ears and your neck elongated. Your head should be a natural extension of the spine. If you have slight pressure in the low back here then pelvic tilt until the feeling dissipates. Legs are strong, straight and engaged. You also need to take a quick peek at your heel and make sure they are pointing directly up to the sky, and foot is square.
Benefits of Plank Pose
Done properly and with consistency, the most noticeable benefits include:
- Strengthening of the arms, wrists, spine, quads, abdominals
- Toning of the core
For the lay person or the yogi, plank pose elongates the body and lengthens the neck. It helps the determination of a neutral body position. Building the strength in the back is a great opportunity to counteract all the wear and weakening the back undergoes on a daily basis. Building a strong back and abs at the same time are great for spinal support and the development of better posture.
For the athlete, this pose is particularly important for developing wrist integrity. Whether you play soccer and are in constant danger of falling on the wrists, play racket sports and power in the wrist is crucial, or you are an offensive lineman and strength in the wrist will determine how long and well you play your position. Plank pose will help these and many more sports. Every athlete should be able to open their wrist to the 90 degree angle to avoid future injury and wear. Holding plank will accomplish that goal. Having your body n the plank with knees off the floor give the athlete the body weight to build strength while they are increasing flexibility.
There are a few variations to enhance the athletes’ performance. One variation is plank pose on the forearms. Here, instead of the wrists being under the shoulders you would have the elbows under and elbows shoulders width apart. This variation will open the shoulder joint for the athlete. The full expression of the pose is having the forearms parallel, which will only happen if the shoulder joint is clean and open. Holding forearm plank as you will quickly notice is a great abdominal, and shoulder strengthener.
The other variation in this pose to further the flexibility of wrists is wrist turns. While holding plank you would turn one hand around at a time until you could turn each wrist 180 degrees someday. Hold for several breaths returning the first hand to neutral position and turning the next. It is important in wrist turns that you make sure the turning hands wrists are still under the shoulder and 90 degrees. Watch how much heat you create in the body quickly by holding wrist turn variation.
Although you should always consult your physician and research a properly-trained teacher before starting a yoga practice, there are a few instances where you should avoid this pose entirely: If you have a history of carpal tunnel syndrome, and if you have a history of degenerative low back problems.
NOTE: Even with history of carpal tunnel syndrome under the supervision of a highly qualified Yoga Teacher, plank pose can help the recovery of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Have fun exploring this pose and learning about your body.