Understanding Vinyasa Flow Yoga... Part 2: Plank pose
Here’s part two in this series of blog posts covering some of the essential foundation poses within a vinyasa flow style of yoga. I hope this is helpful to yoga beginners and more seasoned practitioners alike.
If you haven’t read the first post - which looked at Downward Facing Dog - and also included an intro to this blog series and what it’s all about - I suggest you do that now. Check it out here.
This time we’re exploring plank pose. This pose shows up a lot in a typical vinyasa flow yoga class, and it’s likely we’ll spend quite a lot of time in it through repeated vinyasa or sun salutation movements, and it’s often held just on it’s own for long periods too.
So, let’s consider the foundational elements of plank we can benefit from getting our heads and bodies around, and let’s also explore some variations to offer more diversity to our practice.
Remember there are many variations of each posture. Variations help us find options that suit us each time we come to the yoga mat, and even at different stages through the duration of a class as well. What may have felt good for you at the beginning of class, may not still be the case towards the end.
In my practice for example - on occasions my wrists are feeling a little sensitive, I will choose to do my plank on fists, or on blocks, and if my abdominals or my lower back are feeling a bit tired I will bring my knees down.
Aim of the pose
The main aim of this pose is to build strength and stability in the body. It also helps focusing and concentrating the mind, due to the challenging nature of having to resist gravity and maintain your own equilibrium - ie a balance of effort and ease.
Check out my video for a full and comprehensive guide to your plank experience:
Table top (hands and knees) pose sets the foundation for plank
The experience you have in setting up and holding an engaged and mindful table top pose is the basis for plank as well!
You want to feel a moderate resistance of the floor away through your hands, which results in some engagement of the shoulders.
As well, a lift in the abdomen gives you stability from your centre. You should still maintain the natural curve of your lower back.
Once you’ve got these things in place, you can move your knees further back and try and to maintain all that activity.
Any indication of a collapse in the shoulders, or a lack of stability in the lower back, that is probably where you want to stay and hold.
Or if you’re feeling ok in those places, then step your feet back so your knees are off the ground.
Try to be aware of those same focus points and also add in a feeling of extending actively back through your heels.
Hand placement - it’s not one way for everyone
While you’ll often hear that wrists should be directly under the shoulders, this sometimes doesn’t suit everyone’s wrists. When we have the wrists under the shoulders our wrists are at an 90 degree angle.
In our daily life it’s not that often that we put our wrists into a 90 degree angle, and we don’t typically bear weight on them at 90 degrees either.
So, especially for yoga beginners this weight bearing and angle combination might not be appropriate.
It’s therefore important to be mindful of how our wrists feel in our vinyasa flow yoga practice and to work on bringing in stability and strength by engaging our forearms more.
If wrists placed directly underneath your shoulders feels like too much pressure on your wrists, then try working with the hands a little bit further forward, no more than an inch or so ideally - but see if that feels better? You could also take your plank pose with hands in fists instead, or on your forearms.
And as mentioned above - by working more actively with your hands, the forearms will be utilised and this has an important action in helping strengthen and support around the wrist area.
The key action I’ve introduced to my plank pose in recent years is a pressing of my finger tips into the mat.
Essentially - being more engaged in my whole hand. It looks like a slight clawing action of the hands and this is really helpful for getting the forearm muscles involved!
Gaze slightly forward
Ideally we want to keep the back of the neck in a neutral alignment - ie a slight inward curve.
If we drop our head low we then have to hold more weight in the neck, and it’s likely your shoulder position will suffer as well.
Similarly, if you look too far forward and end up craning into the back of the neck - which is not a great practice for the long term.
So, to find the balance, set your gaze point to the front of your mat, or roughly 4-5 inches forward of your hands.
Want to know more…
Check out my video for a full and comprehensive guide to your plank pose experience, a foundational posture for building a strong and steady vinyasa flow yoga practice: