Santolasana, Phalakasana,Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana, Plank. Whatever you call it, it’s one of those poses that can really push your buttons but it’s definitely one that’s worth investing time and effort in.
As it’s a fundamental part of traditional Sun Salutations, we often move through Plank pose relatively quickly, so it’s easy to cruise through without placing too much attention on our alignment. But if you hold this pose for a while, there are few alignment pointers that will help make your Plank experience easier and way more effective. And hey loathers, you may even start to enjoy it!
Modifications and Contraindications
There are of course modifications that can make the pose more accessible, such as lowering the knees for half plank (which still helps you build upper body strength), or coming down to your forearms for a supreme core challenge. But as with all yoga asanas, it’s not a pose for everyone.
If you have certain back, shoulder, arm or wrist injuries, Plank may actually be contraindicative so practice with caution (or skip the pose altogether).
8 Alignment Tips
For those of you looking for more out of your Plank, here are alignment tips that might help transform the pose from grrrrrroan to great!
1. Set the hands up at the start, shoulder-distance apart.
How we place the hands creates the platform from which the pose is built. It’s common to place the hands too close together or to hover the shoulders out in front of the wrists, and both can make this pose a lot more challenging and uncomfortable for our joints.
Set the wrists up directly under the shoulders and align the wrist creases parallel to the front of the mat. As you spread the fingers wide, distribute the weight evenly through the whole surface area of the hand.
2. Make use of the muscles of the arms and upper back.
When you actively engage the muscles through the arms and the upper back, this pose can actually start to feel really empowering. With straight arms, actively press the mat away from you and draw the tricep muscles in towards each other.
As you do, you’ll feel the upper back and upper arms switch on. Take care not to crunch at all through the shoulders. You want to keep the shoulder blades down the back, away from the ears, creating lots of space for your neck.
3. Engage the core.
It may seem rather obvious, but Plank really does call for power in the core to ignite the epicentre and to prevent sagging in the lower back.
Draw the navel in and up towards the spine and narrow the sides of the waist and as you do, acknowledge that this aspect of your body is the centre of the pose (this helps to take the mind out of it). A challenge here is to keep this core activation going while keeping the diaphragm relaxed enough so your breath is not compromised.
4. Be light and spacious around the heart.
Physically, stay broad and open across the chest. I like the cue “let the collarbones smile,” which will naturally encourage the heart forward. You can imagine you’re shining light from your heart, forward out in front of your mat. I find that helps make my attitude to the pose a whole lot lighter.
5. Power up through the thighs.
If you let your legs have a little siesta in plank, you’ll probably start to sag in the lower back and again, we really want to prevent that. So switch on those gorgeous, powerful leg muscles! Press the tops of the thighs up and as you do this, lengthen the tail back towards the heels. This brings me to my next point…
6. Be a plank, not a banana.
Let’s do what the name suggests. Draw the crown of the head forwards while the tail and heels lengthen back with the body in a glorious long line of strength and awesomeness.
7. Maintain smooth, even breaths.
It’s easy to hold the breath without realising it, but it’s super important to maintain a smooth and even flow of breath. In my classes, I remind students to “let the effort and challenge be in the body, not in the breath.”
Be really conscious of each inhalation nourishing you, and each exhalation releasing unnecessary tension. This is a great way of taking your awareness away from the physical challenge of the pose and into your more subtle layers.
8. Energetic alignment cue.
Plank activates and balances Manipura or the Solar Plexus chakra, our energy centre that effects qualities like willpower, determination, purpose and self-confidence. Simply touching your awareness to the navel or the point in the spine behind the navel as you hold the pose can enhance the qualities of this chakra.
For a little bit more spice, you can imagine the breath flowing in and out of this space. For visual people, you might like to bring to mind an image of a yellow lotus flower.
Plank is incredibly effective at building strength in both the body and the mind. With regular practice, this pose can help you feel more confident about your practice on the mat and that confidence will have a positive effect on your life off the mat. Enjoy!