Anyone can do yoga — and you don’t need to go to class regularly to start seeing the benefits. All it takes is ten minutes of your time, in the comfort of your own home, or you can slot it into your regular exercise regime. This week: How plank pose builds core strength and helps you pull yourself together, both physically and mentally.
Think plank pose is all about having arms of steel? Think again. In class recently, I observed my students as they held plank for several breaths during their sun salutations. A petite lady in her 60s aligned herself beautifully. Gracefully and, almost effortlessly, she suspended her torso in the air. Meanwhile, a strapping rugby player with bulging biceps was shaking and sweating, red in the face as he tried to hold his body in a straight line.
You see, plank pose isn’t all about arm strength. It’s to do with core stability and how you use every part of your body — from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes — to help you become longer, leaner and stronger all over.
Plank pose teaches you to hold yourself together, strong and long, just like a plank of wood. And the toned arms, strong shoulders and firm abs your will gain from mastering this somewhat daunting pose will bring you confidence and strength in both body and mind.
HOW TO DO IT
Come onto all fours, placing your wrists under the shoulders and knees under hips.
Start to notice your inhale and exhale. Feel the breath, smooth and cool, as it travels into the lungs, filling them like big balloons, and soft and warm as it exits the body.
Step back to bring the body into a straight line, as if you were about to do a press-up. Stack the shoulders over the wrists and straighten the legs.
Now for those all-important, energy-boosting tweaks. First, press firmly into the fingers and thumbs to take the weight out of your wrists. Pull up with your pelvic floor and pull the navel in towards your spine. This creates an energy lock (called uddiyana bandha) that tones the abs and makes the body feel so much lighter and more at ease in plank. Zip the inner thighs together and push back with the heels as fiercely as you can. Lengthen the neck and try to keep the shoulder blades glued to your back.
Keep pushing into your hands and back with your heels to bring energy into the posture — the more energy you build, the easier it will be.
Come back to the breath. Notice its ebb and flow. Relax the jaw and soften the throat and face muscles. Keep lifting… and breathing.
Hold for as many breaths as you like. To release, drop the knees to the floor and come into child’s pose by sinking the hips back to rest on the heels and bringing the forehead to the ground. Rest here.
Repeat as many times as you like.
CAN ANYONE HAVE A GO?
If you are new to yoga or have a weak back or core, you may struggle, but don’t be put off. Practise with your knees on the ground to start with — you will soon be able to hold this variation for a few breaths. Keep at it, doing several repetitions at a time. For those with wrist or shoulder issues, bend your elbows and bring your forearms to the ground, interlocking the fingers. This will free up the wrists and stabilises the shoulder joints.
Published in the Irish Daily Mail Good Health supplement, Tuesday March 3, 2015.