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Strengthening Yoga Poses

Upward Plank Pose | Reverse Plank

Purvottanasana counteracts the effects of Chaturanga by stretching the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and anterior deltoids.

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If you frequently practice Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) or take every vinyasa your teacher offers, you’ll develop a strong upper body—and possibly a muscle imbalance. That’s because all of those push-ups cause your chest and shoulders to become tighter and your back to become weaker. This can lead to injury—unless you incorporate poses like Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose) to counterbalance these actions. 

While Chaturanga strengthens the front of your body, Upward Plank Pose stretches the front and strengthens the back. In fact, Purvottanasana asks you to engage just about every muscle in your body. Practiced correctly, you’ll stretch tight muscles in your shoulders, chest, and the front of your ankles, while strengthening your arms, wrists, and legs.

Practicing complementary poses will help you build strength that is balanced with flexibility—and help you continue to practice yoga safely and injury-free.

Upward Plank Pose Basics:

Sanskrit: Purvottanasana (purr-vo-tahn-AHS-ah-nuh)

Pose type: Arm balance

Targets: Full body

Why we love it: “This pose activates every muscle in my body,” says Yoga Journal staff writer Ellen O’Brien. “For that reason, I used to dread it—and as a result, I put way too much pressure and tension into my arms and shoulders. Once I learned how to stretch, expand (and breathe!) into the pose, I found myself enjoying it much more.”

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Pose benefits

Upward Plank Pose strengthens your arms, wrists, and legs, while stretching your shoulders, chest, and front ankles.

Upward Plank Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Begin seated in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your legs extended forward and your hands next to your hips, with your fingertips pointing forward.
  2. Touch your big toes together and keep a small amount of space between your heels.
  3. Flex your ankles to draw your toes toward your knees. Press forward with your big toe mounds.
  4. Rotate your inner thighs down, and firm your outer ankles into your midline.
  5. Lean back slightly, and slide your hands back about 8 inches.
  6. As you inhale, move your shoulder blades in, and lift and open your chest.
  7. As you exhale, point your feet, reach toward the floor with your big toe mounds, and lift your hips.
  8. Press toward the floor with your big toe mounds. Rotate your inner thighs in and down while  you directing your buttocks toward the backs of your knees.
  9. Press down with your hands to lift your thoracic spine toward your sternum and your sternum toward the ceiling. Inflate your chest.
  10. Allow your head to drop back, making sure the curve of your neck is a continuation of the curve of your upper back
  11. Hold for 5–10 breaths. Press into your feet and hands as you exhale; life your hips and chest as you inhale.
  12. Release back to the floor.

Beginner’s tip

Practice with a chair support: Sit near the front edge of the seat and wrap your hands around the back edge. Inhale to lift your pelvis, then extend each leg with as you inhale.

Teaching Purvottanasana

  • Students can modify this pose by placing their hands on two blocks. The blocks extend the length of the student’s arms, making it easier to get the soles of their feet towards the mat. If you’re advising a student who has wrist pain, have them slant the blocks against a wall to decrease the angle of wrist flexion in this pose.
  • This is a great pose to insert into a a Chaturanga-heavy sequence, since it stretches the front of the body and strengthens the back of the body.

Upward Plank Pose Variation: Reverse Tabletop

Woman does variation of Upward Plank Pose

Begin seated on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Press your hands into the floor behind you (palms facing down and fingertips facing forward). Slowly begin to lift your hips and press your chest upward. Avoid dropping your head back. Instead, keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine (or chin may be tucked slightly). Hold for several breaths, then slowly release your hips back down as you draw your chin in toward your chest.

Preparatory Poses

Marjaryasana (Cat Pose)

Bitilasana (Cow Pose)

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Plank Pose

Dolphin Plank Pose

 

Follow-up Poses

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)

Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)

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