While you may hate how challenging it is to hold Plank Pose (Phalakasana), you will love how many benefits it gives to strengthen your core. Plank Pose is the key to making almost every other pose easier.
From Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward-Facing Dog Pose, shift your weight forward until your shoulders are directly above your hands on the mat. Your arms stay straight and perpendicular to the ground. Hold your back straight so that your torso is parallel to the floor. Straighten your legs behind you and remain on the balls of your feet.
Press your index fingers and your thumbs firmly into the mat to activate all of your shoulder muscles. Tuck your shoulder blades into your spine. Do not round your back. Roll your shoulders apart from each other, expanding the chest.
Actively engage your thigh muscles to keep the knees straight and roll your thighs slightly in toward each other. Tuck your tailbone in line with your back so that you do not lift your buttocks up. Look down at the floor in between your hands while letting your throat and eyes remain relaxed.
Stay in this pose for 30 seconds and gradually increase the duration over time up to a minute. Plank Pose is a transitional posture in the Sun Salutation sequence that you pass through before and after Adho Mukha Svanasana.
To get more stability and strength in Plank Pose, use a yoga belt. Loop the belt around your upper arms right above the elbow joints and tighten it so that your elbows cannot move out from underneath your shoulders. When you come into Plank Pose with this belt, push your arms against the resistance of the belt. Engage your inner-arm muscles as you focus on rotating your shoulders away from each other.
If it is difficult for you to hold the full plank pose, then try the preparation for it using two yoga blankets. Fold the blankets so that they create a total height of at least 6 inches. Put your hands on your mat right underneath your shoulders. Kneel on the blankets and cross your ankles behind your thighs. Keep your arms straight. In this position, you have less weight to bear in your core and your arms. That makes it easier to focus on straightening your back without sinking your chest down in between your shoulders.
To help with pulling the shoulder blades in and spreading the collarbones, bring your head up after you are in Plank Pose. Look straight ahead of you, keeping your neck in line with the rest of your spine. Let the movement of your head help slightly pull your sternum forward, which helps tuck in the shoulder blades and adjust your shoulders.
Ask a partner to help you activate your thighs and align your tailbone properly in this pose. Before you come into Plank Pose, loop a yoga belt loosely around your thighs. Then after you are in full Plank Pose, ask your partner to adjust the belt so that it wraps around the roots of the thighs. Then they should lift up the belt slightly as you press your tailbone down to resist the belt while lengthening your entire back.
When you become comfortable in Plank Pose, then try the one-legged variation for a greater challenge. After you are in the full Plank Pose, raise one leg up so that it becomes parallel to the floor. Extend your lifted leg through the heel and keep your whole back long, holding the leg up for 20 to 30 seconds. Exhale as you lower the foot back down. Then lift the other leg and hold it up for the same amount of time.
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