Plank Pose — Kumbhakasana (koom-bahk-AHS-uh-nuh) — is an arm balancing yoga pose that tones the abdominal muscles while strengthening the arms and spine. Its name comes from the Sanskrit words "kumbhak," which means "breath retention," and "asana," which means "pose." In the traditional practice of this pose, you would hold your breath for a brief moment before lowering your body into the low push-up position (either Chaturanga Dandasana or Ashtanga Namaskara). Plank is an essential component of Sun Salutations and is often used as a transitional pose, in which the breath is not held. It can also be practiced on its own to build strength and stamina.
Benefits of Plank Pose
Plank Pose tones all of the core muscles of the body, including the abdomen, chest, and low back. It strengthens the arms, wrists, and shoulders, and is often used to prepare the body for more challenging arm balances. Plank also strengthens the muscles surrounding the spine, which improves posture.
Practicing Plank Pose for several minutes builds endurance and stamina, while toning the nervous system. As part of the Sun Salutation sequence, it is often practiced many times during Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga classes.
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Do not practice the full version of the pose if you have carpal tunnel syndrome — either practice the pose on your knees in Half Plank Pose or on your forearms. Those with osteoporosis should also avoid Plank Pose due to risk of fractures. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders. Breathe smoothly and evenly through your nose. Bring your thoughts to focus on the present moment.
- Spread your fingers and press down through your forearms and hands. Do not let your chest collapse.
- Gaze down between your hands, lengthening the back of your neck and drawing your abdominal muscles toward your spine.
- Tuck your toes and step back with your feet, bringing your body and head into one straight line.
- Keep your thighs lifted and take care not to let your hips sink too low. If your butt sticks up in the air, realign your body so your shoulders are directly above your wrists.
- Draw your pelvic floor muscles toward your spine as you contract your abdominal muscles. Keep your head in line with your spine. Broaden across your shoulder blades and across your collarbones.
- Draw down through the bases of your index fingers — do not let your hands roll open toward the pinkie fingers.
- Press the front of your thighs (quadriceps) up toward the ceiling while lengthening your tailbone toward your heels.
- Hold the pose while breathing smoothly for five breaths. If you are using the pose to build strength and stamina, hold for up to five minutes. To release, slowly lower onto your knees, then press back into Child's Pose and rest. Those practicing Sun Salutations should move directly from Plank into Chaturanga or Knees-Chest-Chin Pose.
Modifications & Variations
Plank Pose can be an excellent core and arm strengthener when practiced correctly. It can take some time to build up enough strength to hold the pose for more than a breath or two. Take it slowly and be careful not to over-stress your arms and shoulders. To deepen or lighten the pose, try these simple changes to find the variation that works best for you:
- If your arms or abdominals are not yet strong enough to support your full body weight, you can lower your knees to the floor (this is called Half Plank Pose). Be sure to keep your head and spine in a straight line.
- To deepen the pose, try lifting one leg at a time. Hold the lifted leg for five breaths. Then, repeat with the opposite leg for the same amount of time.
- If your wrists get sore, roll the top edge of your mat a few times. Place the base of the palms of your hands on the rolled portion of the mat, with your fingers gently curling. Press down through the base of your index fingers.
Plank Pose can build a lot of strength and stamina throughout the body when it’s done with the correct alignment. Keep the following information in mind when practicing it:
- Do not allow your hips and butt to sag too low or poke too high — it’s important to keep your body in one straight line, from shoulders to heels.
- Keep your shoulders aligned directly over your wrists.
- The distance between your hands and feet should be the same in both Plank Pose and Downward-Facing Dog. Move back and forth between the two to get a feel for the correct distance.
- Keep the space between your shoulder blades wide while broadening across your collar bones. This action helps to prepare you for deeper arm balances, like Crow Pose.
- Never lock your elbows in the pose — doing so can lead to hyperextension and injury. Instead, keep them soft by engaging your biceps and triceps, creating a "micro-bend" in the joint.
Lengthen & Strengthen
Practicing Plank Pose will strengthen your core and arms in no time. Holding it for extended periods will build endurance and determination. Find a variation or modification that works best for you, and then watch as your power increases!