Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose)

Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana
[oot-T-HEE-tuh chuh-tour-RUHN-guh duhn-DAAH-suh-nuh]

Fun Fact:

Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana--what a mouthful!  In the US, most yoga teachers just refer to  this posture as "Plank Pose".  It's oh-so-much easier to say during the flow of a vigorous sun salutation!

Uttihita is the Sanskrit word for extended.  Chaturanga means four-limbed.  Dandasana means staff pose.  What does a staff have to do with this posture?  Some teachers use a staff as a reference tool for checking body alignment!

This pose is also known as Kumbhakasana.  Now I'll be honest here, I had no idea there was a second Sanskrit name for Plank Pose, so I had to Google it to find the significance.  Apparently Kumbhak is the Sanskrit word for the natural retention of breath (roughly translated as "empty pot").  Some yoga practitioners believe that by exhaling all the breath and holding Plank Pose, the body and mind become stronger through building tolerance of the discomfort of not breathing.  If you ask me, I'd rather just breathe.  But that's only my opinion!  

The Good Stuff:
  • Builds strength in the wrists, arms, shoulders, back, legs, and abdomen
  • Increases strength and stability in the core and shoulders
  • Lengthens the spine
  • Creates awareness of bodily alignment
  • Prepares the body for more strenuous arm balances

How To:
  • Start on your hands and knees.  
  • Bring the palms directly under the shoulders.  Spread the fingers wide and be sure each middle finger points straight forward.  All of the knuckles press into the ground to evenly distribute weight across the hands, protecting the wrists.
  • Step one foot back and then the other.  Legs straight and toes tucked under.  Press out through the heels.  
  • Engage the abdominals, and firm the legs and buttocks.  Ideally, the body (ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles) should be in one straight line without any sagging or arching.  The gaze is at the floor and the neck is kept long.
  • Breathe.
  • Take notice of the shoulders.  Be sure the shoulder blades don't "wing out".  If they do, imagine pushing the ground away from you, making as much space as you can between the ground and your chest.  
Watch Out!
  • If you have wrist injuries, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or wrist pain be sure to avoid this posture or practice with modifications
  • Modifications for minor wrist discomfort include, but are not limited to:
    • Bringing the hands into fists and balancing on the knuckles rather than a flat palm (inner wrists face in toward each other)
    • Rolling your mat or a towel and placing the towel/mat under the heel of your hand to reduce the angle of the bent wrist 
Building Strength:
  • If you find you're not quite ready for the full Plank Pose, give Half-Plank a try!  From Plank Pose, bend the knees and let them come to the ground.  Flatten the tops of the feet on the floor.  Keep the spine straight from the neck to the hips.
A Little Challenge:  
  • Mastered Plank Pose already?  Try it "Eka Pada" Style!  Eka Pada means one foot.
    • From Plank Pose, inhale and lift one leg straight off the ground.  Extend out through the heel and reach the crown of the head forward to keep the spine long.  Breathe and hold for 10-20 seconds. On an exhale lower the leg to the ground and repeat on the other side, holding for the same amount of time.

Off the Mat:

  • OK, so you're not really going to be dropping into Plank Pose out in public.  But I'm sure you could steal a minute or two to practice it at home!  Especially if you're a nighttime TV watcher.  Try turning commercial time into Plank Time. It's much more healthy than sneaking out to the kitchen to get some ice cream, right? See if you can hold Plank Pose (or Half Plank) for the duration of one commercial and then build up to two or more!  

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