Yoga Plank and Facilitating the transition between Plank and Upward Facing Dog

Yoga Plank and Facilitating the transition between Plank and Upward Facing Dog

// January 25, 2023


Many people are not aware that Plank in Yoga and a typical fitness based plank-press-up position are different. This is why they so often struggle to make the transition through Plank into Cobra or Upward Facing Dog.


The typical plank-press-up trains the biceps and pectoral muscles, with the main work being across the front of the upper body. Yoga Plank requires the strength on the opposite side of the body, through the triceps, posterior deltoids and trapezius muscle of the upper back.


During the lowering phase of Yoga Plank the strength needs to be maintained across the back of the arms and shoulders, in order to facilitate the transition into the next position which is usually either Cobra or Upward Facing Dog. Both of these back bends are formed by opening the pectoral and biceps muscles, whilst elevating the upper back by engaging the upper back trapezius, triceps, rear deltoids and core muscles.


If the practitioner has lowered to the floor using the typical biceps and pectoral strength of a fitness plank, their body is locked in the wrong muscular contractions for flowing one movement easily into the next. A degree of force against the shoulder joints is required to bring the ribcage forward between the arms and the spine is pushed into a back bend by the arms. When the strength is focused to the back of the body and the abdominal core, however, the shoulder joints easily accommodate the forward and upward flow of the trunk, and the back and core muscles systematically co-ordinate the upper spine into a back bend.


When the spine is articulated vertebra by vertebra into a back bend, it produces positive effects. The spine is mobilised efficiently, which is beneficial to spinal health and gently enlivening to the nervous system. Pushing the spine into a back bend by exerting pressure from the long bones of the arms against the soft spongy intervertebral discs has the reverse effect and constitutes wear and tear on the spine.


In simple terms of technique, it is also useful to know that even though the body lowers to perform the transition from the low Yoga plank into Cobra or Upward Dog, these moves deploy active body strength, rather than sink with gravity. As the body makes contact with the floor or finds the lowest point in the flow manoeuvre, it is necessary to hold onto all the core and back strength that is already active and to convert it into the forward and upward flow of the coming back bend.


Chaturanga Dandasana

Yoga Plank is known in Sanskrit as Chaturanga Dandasana, which means Four Limb Stick Position, with the spine being the “stick”.


Frequently regarded as a transitioning practice, Chaturanga Dandasana is an important practice in its own right. It consciously centres us in our physical strength. The act of focusing so much strength all at once in this highly structured position, particularly when moving quickly in Yoga flow practices, assimilates not only physical strength, but also mental concentration.


This type of concentration is known in Yogic philosophy as “one pointedness of focus” — or Eka Grata in Sanskrit. Eka Grata forms an important stage towards the ability to meditate with absolute focus. The role of Eka Grata in Yogic philosophy is placed in context in the ancient text of the ‘Yoga Sutra of Pantanjali’, see Book III, sutra 11, 12.



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