Fundamental Yoga Pose 4: Plank Pose
Name: Plank Pose/ High Plank
Sanskrit Name: Phalakasana/ Kumbhakasana
Few postures are at once as simple, demanding and rewarding as the humble high plank. Phalakasana is a wonderful pose for challenging both the mind and body and bringing some heat to your yoga practice.
Getting into the pose
Begin on your hands and knees with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Check in with your foundation by spreading the finger tips and pressing them firmly into the mat. Then press the tops of your feet into the mat to create the sensation that you are using all four limbs to actively lift your body off the mat.
Engage the core by pulling the navel in towards the spine. Keep your spine straight and imagine it stretching in one long line from the top of the head to the tailbone.
Once you have established your foundation, stretch one leg out long behind you, followed by the other, to come into a high push-up position. Once you are in plank check your alignment again. This pose challenges the entire body, so squeeze your glutes and quads; keep your core engaged and your back straight; and make sure your booty isn't sticking up in the air. Avoid sinking into your shoulders by pressing into your hands and lifting your upper body away from the mat. Keep length in your neck by directing your gaze just in front of your fingertips.
The temptation to hold your breath while in plank pose can be strong. Once you have found your alignment, bring your attention to your breath, making sure it is even and steady. Ujjayi breath can be used here to help you stay focused on the present moment.
Why we do it
When done correctly, plank pose not only works the arms, legs, and back, but strengthens all four muscles in the abdominals: the external obliques, internal obliques, transversus abdominis, and rectus abdominis.
Why should you care about these muscles? Here are a few reasons:
- A strong core is the best insurance policy against low back pain. Your core muscles support your spine, meaning they are vital for good posture. When your core is too weak to support your body weight, your spine works overtime to keep you upright, causing chronic low back pain.
- Your core muscles help you balance. Without them, you'd topple over every time the wind blew.
- A strong core is essential for good body mechanics. Body mechanics simply refers to the way you move; and moving correctly is essential for preventing injury. A strong core will help you bend, lift, run and jump to your heart's content without putting your body at risk.
In addition to the oodles of health benefits associated with strong core muscles, plank pose also provides an opportunity to build mental strength. In order to rise to the physical challenge of phalakasana, a clear, present mind is vital. Stay in the pose long enough and eventually you will begin to shake and sweat. If you can learn to observe these sensations without judging them, you will learn what it means to be fully present.
When done correctly, plank pose should look like a straight line pointing from the heels all the way up to the crown of the head. If your plank feels a little wavy- if your bum is in the air or your back is arching- it's probably time to modify.
The good news is, plank is easy to modify without losing all of the associated benefits. Simply bend your legs and drop your knees onto the mat. Then make sure your body is a straight line from your knees to your head.
If your wrists are giving you trouble, drop down to your forearms, making sure your elbows land directly below your shoulders. In both modifications, the same rules apply: actively press your upper body off the mat, squeeze your glutes and thighs, engage your core and, most importantly, keep breathing.