Originally printed in the Isis Scrolls.
In this monthly column, certified Anusara Yoga Instructor, Robyn Smith, owner of Inner Freedom Yoga, will answer your queries about healing pain and injuries through yoga poses. Please send in your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I always have trouble "feeling" the correct position that my body should be in for Plank pose. Usually my teacher comes over and tells me that my middle is sagging. But I feel that if I raise my middle, my butt also goes up and my lower back gets irritated. Any ideas?
You are correct to be concerned about your lower back alignment in Plank pose. Plank pose done properly, activates your Third Chakra, the center of your individual power and confidence, and should feel steady and solid like a wooden plank. A sagging middle or a lifted pelvis in Plank pose is an energy drain, allowing your power to “spill out” from your middle. It suggests your core strength is not being used, or is not yet strong enough for the pose, potentially leading to wrist and lower back discomfort.
Good Plank pose alignment is exactly like good Mountain Pose alignment: your thigh bones should move toward the back of your legs and your tailbone should move toward your heels, toning your lower belly. However, in plank, the inner thighs and belly muscles have to work much harder against the pull of gravity to keep your lower back, legs and pelvis (the heaviest parts of your body) in good alignment! To rediscover your personal power and access these important muscles, I suggest finding them first in Mountain pose and then practicing Plank pose on your knees for a while (an easier version), before returning to the full pose.
Mountain Pose: Come to a standing posture with your feet parallel and hip width apart. Place a yoga block on the narrow setting between your upper inner thighs. Slightly bend your knees and pull your block back with your inner thigh muscles, without locking your knees. Your legs should be straight. Feel how your sit bones expand and your lower back curve increases? This is an important action for creating a lower back curve. Now, keeping your block pulling back and more weight in your heels than usual, lengthen your curve by gently scooping your tailbone down toward your heels. You should feel your pelvic floor and lower belly tone and lift. These are the core muscles you will need to call upon for the full Plank pose. Now if you lift your arms up parallel to the floor, you’re doing a standing plank pose! Let’s put these exact instructions into Plank pose on the knees.
Plank Pose on the Knees: Come to Plank pose with a yoga block on the narrow setting between your upper thighs and your knees on the floor. Because of gravity’s pull, your pelvis and belly will want to hang toward the floor. To use your inner thigh and belly muscles for good alignment, inhale and lift the block with your inner thighs and feel your thighs and sitting bones lift and expand, increasing your lower back curve (see picture A). Now, keeping your thighs lifted, exhale to scoop your tailbone toward your heels with confidence. Feel your legs firmly hug the block and your sitting bones narrow. This strong movement should tone the pelvic floor and lower belly muscles and lengthen the lower back curve you had before. However, it should not be so powerful that it overrides the first movement: pushing your hips and thighs down or sagging, flattening, or rounding your lower back. Now try pulling your hands and knees isometricly towards each other. This action strengthens your core even more to prepare you for the full pose. You are now in the optimal position for the pelvis and back in Plank pose (see picture B). The block is a great tool to help activate your inner thigh muscles, but is not required once you have found them. I also recommend using a mirror at your side to check your alignment.
When you are consistent in your alignment and strength with the knees down, try the full Plank pose again to restore your individual expression of confidence and power. The instructions are the same as above with the knees lifted.
Take care and enjoy your new personal stamina and core strength!
Robyn Smith is a certified Anusara Yoga Instructor, Integrative Yoga Therapist and Hanna Somatic Educator who has been teaching yoga since 1994 and helping individuals with chronic pain through Somatics and Yoga Therapy since 1998. She offers classes, workshops, teacher trainings, retreats and privates in Arcata and beyond. She can be contacted through www.innerfreedomyoga.com or (707) 440-2111.