Yoga Basics and Alignment Plank Pose
Yoga Basics and Alignment
by Laura Jones-Miller
When I first started practicing yoga I remember thinking how very strenuous and balance defying every pose felt. When I was introduced to the Plank Pose I remember thinking: “Thank goodness, this one looks pretty easy”. HA! We all got into the “plank” without a hitch…it was after being guided through the adjustments that things started heating up. I do not mind telling you that we were only in the pose for about 30 seconds before I was shaking, sweating, and breathing hard. I was also having grand fantasies about collapsing face first onto the mat (okay…it wasn’t a fantasy…I actually did collapse face first onto the mat!)…The point of telling you this is not to scare you away…I just don’t want you to underestimate the pose…any pose for that matter. Poses are designed to build strength and stamina…(with the exception of Corpse Pose at the end of a practice)…they aren’t supposed to be easy! My best advise to you is to focus on the body part(s) being strengthened instead of the physical challenge you are experiencing… which, I promise will get easier with practice and time.
Plank Pose is exactly what it sounds like. It is a very fundamental pose in yoga…and very important. You will learn great patience while learning to hold yourself sturdy like a wooden plank. This pose looks deceptively easy but it is really quite challenging, as anyone will tell you, after holding it for longer than 30 seconds or so. Your body will often shake as you practice it. This pose is very instrumental in strengthening the abdominal muscles. The plank prepares and strengthens you in preparation for moving gracefully in and out of other poses. Plank Pose is wonderful for strengthening arms and wrist with little risk of injury…which it really great for beginning students who are building up the needed strength to practice yoga. After practicing plank pose for a while you will notice great strength improvement in your upper back, lower back, abdominals and neck…something you will be truly grateful for!!!
Because Plank Pose is so fundamental to your practice, it is very important that you learn proper alignment from the get go. A well aligned plank will be not be too rounded nor too bowed…true alignment in Plank is demonstrated as a long clean line from the top of your head to your heels. Your thighs and abdominals will be STRONGLY engaged while your shoulder and neck will remain relaxed but steady. You want to look like an arrow in a long clean line…You will feel your muscles firing as you hold the steady still pose. Your breathing rate will begin to increase as you body holds steady and still. You will need to engage pranayama (breathing) to assist you in remaining calm and powerful. It is a beautiful strength posture in its simplicity. One of the secrets for increasing your strength in plank is to keep your core muscles engaged by SLIGHTLY rolling your rear end under…you will feel the abdominal muscles catch when you’ve tucked the bum under enough…it should be a subtle movement. This should assist you in holding the posture for longer. Little by little, with practice and patience, your strength and stamina will increase.
When practicing plank pose stability is your friend. If you squirm about and hold your body limply you will sag at the core and struggle. You will not strengthen your muscles as efficiently. Once you engage the core (with the small pelvic tilt) you will feel lighter and more stable…this will enable you to hold the pose for longer thus allowing the limbs and abdominals to strengthen…which, of course, is our goal!
* The Steps to Plank Pose
1. Start on all fours.
2. Line up your shoulders directly over your hands and your hips directly over your knees (as you did when aligning for Downward Facing Dog)
3. Inhale into your spine and lift the head and tail upward. You should feel a stretch in the front of your body.
4. Now, with the exhale, round your spine and tuck your head and tail under while lifting your belly.
5. You can repeat this wave-like motion several times until you find your plank. Remember to keep the slight tail tuck which engages the abdominals and gives your plank stability.
6. As you hold your plank you can pull your shoulder blades up, back, and down to (repeating several times) to help relax your back.
7. Make sure you are pushing your heels toward the back of the room to assist in keeping the plank taut. You can pedal the legs and feet a few times on each side to stretch out the leg muscles. No posture need be static. Allowing the body to move in fluid motion assists in building muscle strength. When you have settled the body into your plank and are pushing your heels toward the back of the room, imagine you can feel yourself getting longer. Make sure you are pressing evenly into all ten toes.
8. Remember to keep your arms straight and to evenly press hands and fingers into the mat.
9. Remember to continue long slow inhales and long slow exhale. Be careful not to hold your breath (a tendency people employ when something is taxing).
!0. You can rest in Child’s Pose for a few breaths when you are tired. Then, try again.
11. If your wrist begin to feel sore or tired you can cup the palm of your hand as if there were a golf sized ball under it. This takes the preasure from the wrists and moves it to the fingertips. You can also make a fist and do the plank from fisted hands (wrist facing toward each other).
12. Be careful, as always, not to hyper extend the elbows. You can do this by keeping a micro bend in the elbows. The biceps should be firing.
12. The head should be in line with the shoulders. If you feel like you are applying undue tension to the neck, relax you head for a moment and then return it to the space between your shoulders.
13. SMILE and let your face relax as you breath into this beautiful practice called yoga!
xox, and namaste
PS. Ali here: as I was searching my new computer for a basic plank photo I realized I might need to refresh my plank photo repertoire – I have let go of the basics (not a single plank picture on this computer) 🙂 I included an old elbow plank transition and I DO have a million plank variation photos. BUT lets get to basics first! 🙂
Thank you Dear Soul Laura!!! Love
Leave a Comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.
It, as always, is my pleasure…Such a beautiful life to be able to share in our fine yoga community…Thank you Ali, for the gift of yoga. You have such a beautiful heart…xox,L
Laura, this was so funny!!!!!!! You are such a big and light hearted soul! <3 Love