Plank pose is a great posture for strengthening the abdominals, arms, shoulders and back muscles. We have been practicing this in class and will continue next half term, extending the duration and possibly having a go at some variations such as leg raises and side plank. EXCITING!
Here is a handy guide to help you to learn the safe way to do the plank pose…
Begin on all 4s ensuring you are near the top of your mat and that the shoulders are over the wrists. Your gaze is down. Breathe in relaxing the tummy muscles then breathe out and squeeze them back towards the spine – keep your spine in neutral.
Holding the tummy muscles inwards extend one leg so that your leg is straight. Press the toes into the mat. Consciously breathe in and out of the chest.
If you feel comfortable in the wrists and in your lower back, extend the other leg in the same way. Try to hold for 5 smooth breaths resting after in Childs pose.
In Plank pose, be aware of where your hips are – sometimes they droop downwards and sometimes they stick up in the air. Both positions indicate a weakness. If you can’t hold the hips in a straight line between the shoulders and the heel it’s best to come down. Work with some of our other postures to build up strength in the wrists/tummy/back/shoulders before trying again. Examples are Marjari-asana and the Shakti Bandha asana. You can extend 1 leg in a half-plank and hold this for 5 breaths to get the ‘feel’ of the posture.
You can read more about the benefits of Plank pose on this webpage.
Test your balance and train your core with this challenging standing yoga posture. This is a step by step guide to Shiva’s Twist – you may like to practice near a wall when you first try so that you can use it for support. It’s best to practice in bare feet on a sticky yoga mat to reduce the risk of slipping.
Before you begin..
Shiva’s Twist is a challenging posture. Loosen off your shoulders with a few shoulder rolls before you begin. Then stand for a few breaths in a well-balanced Mountain pose, taking your awareness from the ground up – feeling the feet relaxed and evenly balanced on the floor, knees a little soft. Then carry on feeling the buttocks soft, shoulders relaxed and arms hanging heavy. Each time you inhale feel the spine lengthen and stand up a little taller. Find a spot on the wall opposite to fix your gaze on.
Build the pose…
Let the weight sink down on the right side, take the weight down through the right foot lifting the left knee up to hip height. On your next breath raise the arms up out to the sides to shoulder height. Stretch the fingers away and bend the elbows so that the fingers point upwards. Keep the breath relaxed and smooth as you hold the balance. Keep your gaze on your focus point and gently press the elbows backwards to feel the shoulder blades squeezing together.
Try this static pose on both sides.
Add the twist… complete the pose ‘Shiva’s Twist’
Once you feel stable in the basic posture, take a deep breath in and holding the arms and chest in their positions, twist towards the lifted leg. Find a new spot to fix your gaze upon and hold the twisted version for 3 or 4 breaths. Then untwist and come out of the pose carefully.
Repeat on the other side.
Stand in Mountain pose (Tadasana) to relieve the tension in the standing leg and upper back. After a few breaths, on exhale fold forward into standing forward bend, knees soft and head heavy to allow the spine to lengthen. After a few breaths, on inhale uncurl back to Mountain.
If you find this posture too difficult you could try the tree balance and when you are comfortable with standing on one leg, come back and try Shiva’s Twist again.
You can find out more about the benefits of Shiva’s Twist here.
The Tree Pose looks simple but takes strength in the supporting leg and flexibility in the bent leg/hip. (That’s not to mention the concentration).
Try first off, balancing next to a wall so that you can place one hand on the wall for support – follow all the same directions for the Tree Pose but you will have one hand on the wall to steady you.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Start off in Tadasana with the feet parallel and about 20cm apart. Our lady in the picture (fig. 1) has them a bit close together for my liking. If you have your feet too close together you can feel off balance before you even begin!
Warm up your feet and ankles by alternately peddling the feet 5 or 6 times.
Next take the weight down through one foot and then turn out the other knee pivoting on the big toe. You can keep the big toe on the floor and bring the foot to rest against the standing ankle, I recommend this if you haven’t done Tree Pose before. As you progress, pick up the foot and press it into the calf muscle and eventually coming in to the full posture that our lady is doing in fig. 2 with the sole pressing into the thigh.
Don’t and I repeat DON’T push your foot against your knee joint or this could cause an injury.
Focus the gaze on a spot ahead of you. Hold the hands in either of the positions in fig. 3 or fig. 4.
Try to hold the pose for 3 breaths at first – then change over and do the other side. Work up to holding for 6 breaths. Take your time and breathe deeply.
For the best benefit work 3 times on each side – you could work through all 3 foot positions, progressing to the full position.
Last term we worked on grounding postures including ones which had lots of earth contact and ones that worked especially in the pelvis area. Hopefully this work gave an experience of feeling supported, having strong ground beneath us and good foundations on which to build both stable postures and a stable life. In the last couple of weeks we worked with Janu Sirsasana, a complex forward bend. Read on to learn the benefits of this posture.
Janu Sirsasana (JAH-new shear-SHAHS-anna), may look simple, but it combines elements of a forward fold, twist, and side body stretch. The Sanskrit name translates to ‘Head-to-knee pose’ and it stretches the hamstrings, back, and groin while offering the benefits of a twist, such as massaging and stimulating internal organs. Because it is soothing to the central nervous system, Janu Sirsasana is also a great way to relieve stress in the body and mind.
Due to the intensity of this stretch it’s not advised to practice it on it’s own at home – you do really need to build up to the opening of the hips and lengthening of the back and back of the legs. Also, for this pose especially, it’s good to take your time to prepare with the various modifications we have talked about in class. It’s always best to practice safely – if you fancy some home practice over the half term try the Cat Sequence that was handed out in week 4.
You can also work with the cat and cow postures as detailed in a previous post here