Nurture your love-hate relationship with Plank Pose. A beginner’s best friend, it’s the perfect precursor to more challenging arm balances.
Plank Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions
Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana. Then inhale and draw your torso forward until the arms are perpendicular to the floor and the shoulders directly over the wrists, torso parallel to the floor.
Press your outer arms inward and firm the bases of your index fingers into the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then spread them away from the spine. Also spread your collarbones away from the sternum.
Press your front thighs up toward the ceiling, but resist your tailbone toward the floor as you lengthen it toward the heels. Lift the base of the skull away from the back of the neck and look straight down at the floor, keeping the throat and eyes soft.
Plank Pose is one of the positions in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. You can also perform this pose by itself and stay anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Contraindications and Cautions
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Modifications and Props
Do Adho Mukha Svanasana with your index fingers and thumbs pressed against a wall. Inhale the torso forward, as above, and press the crown of your head against the wall. Use the pressure of the head on the wall to learn about the release of the shoulder blades down the back.
Deepen the Pose
Open the space between the shoulder blades. As you press the outer arms inward, push the inner borders of the shoulder blades into this resistance. Make sure you don’t narrow across the collar bones to do this. This is a useful action to learn for poses like Bakasana and Sirsasana.
To help strengthen the arms in this pose, loop and secure a strap around your upper arms, just above the elbows. Push the inner arms out against this strap. Release the outer arms from the shoulders to the floor, and lift the inner arms from the bases of the index fingers to the shoulders.
- Strengthens the arms, wrists, and spine
- Tones the abdomen
A partner can help you learn about the lift of the top thighs in this pose. While in the position, have your partner loop a strap around the topmost thighs, just where they join the pelvis, and lift up. Press your tailbone down, against this lift, and lengthen along your back thighs through your heels.
Just as Adho Mukha Svanasana has a one-leg-lifted variation, so does Plank Pose. After coming into the position, inhale and lift one leg parallel to the floor. Press strongly through the raised heel and lengthen through the crown of your head, keeping the tailbone pressed towards the pubis. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, exhale the foot to the floor, then repeat with the left leg for the same length of time.
Revolved Side Angle Pose
This revolved variation of Utthita Parsvakonasana requires a lot of flexibility to twist so deeply and ground the back heel.
Since most students can’t easily keep their back heel down in this pose, a modified version will be described here with the back heel raised off the floor. See Deepen the Pose below for a brief description of the full pose.
parivrtta = to turn around, revolve
parsva = side, flank
kona = angle
Revolved Side Angle Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions
Stand in Tadasana. With an exhalation, step or lightly jump your feet 3½ to 4 feet apart. Rest your hands on your hips. Turn your right foot out to the right 90 degrees and turn your left foot in slightly to the right. Align the right heel with the left heel. Firm your thighs and turn your right thigh outward, so that the center of the kneecap is in line with the center of the right ankle.
Exhale and turn your torso to the right until you’re facing directly out over the right leg; as you do this, lift your left heel off the floor and spin on the ball of the foot until the inner left foot is parallel to the inner right foot. Then exhale again and bend your right knee. If possible, bring the right thigh parallel to the floor. Keep your left leg active by pressing the thigh up toward the ceiling and extending strongly through the left heel. At the same time, resist the lift of the left thigh by pressing the tailbone toward the pubis.
With another exhale turn further to the right and lean the torso down, placing the left hand on the floor inside the right foot. Dig your right thumb into the right hip crease and push the thighbone down toward the floor. Firm the shoulder blades into the back ribs and lean the torso back slightly, away from the inner thigh. Stay in this position for a few breaths.
If this position seems challenging enough, stay for the recommended time. If you want to go further, bend your left elbow and bring it to the outside of the right knee. Resist the knee and elbow against each other. If possible, straighten your left elbow and reach the hand toward the floor (if you can’t reach the floor, support your hand on a block). You can keep your right hand on your hip, or stretch it over the back of the right ear with the palm facing down. Then turn your head to look at the right arm. As in all twists lengthen and soften the belly, extend the spine with each inhalation, and increase the twist as you exhale.
Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up, exhale to release the twist. Reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time to the left. Then return to Tadasana.
Contraindications and Cautions
- High or low blood pressure
If you have any neck problems, don’t turn your head to look at the top arm; instead look straight ahead with the sides of the neck lengthened evenly, or look down at the floor.
Modifications and Props
Here’s an exercise that will help you deepen the twist in this pose by modifying it in an unusual way. Perform steps 1 through 3 in the main description above, with a block underneath the bottom hand. Shift onto the outside edge (little-toe side) of the back foot, and walk the block away from the inner foot about 12 to 18 inches. Lean the torso back away from the inner bent leg, as if doing a backbend, and on an exhalation, twist the front of the torso to face up at the ceiling. You can press the free palm against the sacrum, or stretch the arm over the back of the top ear.
Deepen the Pose
Advanced students will want to keep the back heel as much as possible on the floor. Be sure to rotate the back foot in more than you do for most other standing poses, about 45 to 60 degrees. Take a little support under the back heel if needed at first.
- Low backache
Most of the standing poses are appropriate preparations for this challenging standing twist, especially Parivrtta Trikonasana. You might also try wide-open groin poses like Baddha Konasana and Upavistha Konasana; thigh stretchers like Virasana and its reclining variation; and hip openers like Gomukhasana.
Beginners often have difficulty maintaining their balance in this pose, especially with the back heel lifted off the floor. To improve your balance, support your heel, either by standing it on a sandbag or thick book, or by bracing it against a wall.
- Strengthens and stretches the legs, knees, and ankles
- Stretches the groins, spine, chest and lungs, and shoulders
- Stimulates abdominal organs
- Increases stamina
- Improves digestion and aids elimination
- Improves balance
A partner can help you deepen the twist in this pose. Perform the pose with the outside of your back leg and hip braced against a wall (for the purposes of this description we’ll say you’re twisting to the right with your left leg and hip on the wall). Have your partner sit on the floor outside your right thigh and hip, facing you. She should press one foot against your outer thigh, just above the knee, and the other foot against your right hip (now the pelvis is squeezed between your partner’s foot and the wall). Reach your left arm out toward your partner. She should grasp the forearm and gently tug the arm toward her as she pushes her feet on the thigh and hip. Have her pull according to your capacity.
You can perform this pose with your hands in a modified Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal). Perform steps 1 through 4 in the main description above. Press the bent elbow against the outside of the bent knee, but don’t straighten the arm. Then bend the top elbow and press your palms together. You probably won’t be able to touch your thumbs to your sternum, as you do in traditional Anjali Mudra. Open your elbows wide, stretching your bottom elbow toward the floor, the top elbow toward the ceiling. Use the pressure of the elbow against the knee and the palms against each other like a crank to increase the twist in the upper back.