Upward Plank Pose is an intermediate back-bending yoga pose that builds strength and flexibility. It is sometimes used as a counter-pose to forward folds, such as Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana), and full-body, strength-building poses, such as Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana).
This pose is commonly referred to by several different names, including:
- Upward Plank
- Reverse Plank
- Inclined Plane
- Inclined Plank
- Upward Plane
However, the Sanskrit name for this pose, "Purvottanasana" (PUR-voh-tun-AHS-uh-nuh), actually translates to "Intense East Stretch." This comes from four words:
- “Purva” — meaning “east"
- “Ut” — meaning “intense”
- “Tan” — meaning “to stretch”
- “Asana” — meaning “pose”
Ancient yogis practiced facing eastward as the sun rose, so the front side of the body (facing the sun) was considered the “east” side. This pose provides a deep stretch, which can feel intense. Just remember not to push the pose too far. Injuring yourself just to gain a deeper stretch is not the goal of yoga. Take it slowly and modify the pose as necessary. With time, you may find Purvottanasana invigorating, instead of intense!
Benefits of Upward Plank Pose
This pose simultaneously strengthens and stretches your shoulders. It strengthens the arms, upper back, legs, glutes, and wrists; and stretches the chest, abdomen, tops of the feet, and ankles. This pose builds core strength while challenging and improving balance, as well. Regularly practicing Purvottanasana helps calm the mind, increases energy levels, and is also therapeutic for fatigue.
Yoga heals, nourishes, and challenges us. The practice infiltrates every corner of our lives.
Do not practice Purvottanasana if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, a shoulder injury, or wrist injury. Purvottanasana requires a good amount of strength to be performed correctly. If you do not yet have the strength to do the pose in proper alignment, practice Reverse Table Pose (Ardha Purvottanasana) or supported Reverse Table until you can support your full bodyweight correctly. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your arms resting at your sides in Seated Staff Pose (Dandasana).
- Bring your hands several inches behind your hips and rotate your palms so your fingertips point in the same direction you are facing (toward your toes). Keep your hands shoulder-distance apart. Externally rotate your upper arms as you press your hands down firmly into the mat. Draw your shoulder blades firmly into your back and allow your chest to lift naturally.
- On an inhalation, press your hands and feet down firmly and lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Keep your chest lifting and your spine in one straight line. Work toward pressing the soles of your feet into the floor while keeping your legs straight and firm. Do not squeeze your buttocks.
- If you are comfortable here, then you can slowly release your head. Allow it to drop back, opening your throat. Softly gaze toward your cheeks.
- Hold for up to 30 seconds. To release, slowly lower your hips to the mat. Come back to Dandasana with an exhalation.
Modifications & Variations
Purvottanasana is an excellent arm-strengthener and front-body stretch when practiced correctly. It can take some time to gain enough strength to hold the pose for more than a breath or two, so be sure to take it slowly and never force the pose. Try these simple changes to find a variation that is suitable for you:
- If you cannot yet support your bodyweight with your legs straight, practice Reverse Table Pose (Ardha Purvottanasana). Attempting to force your body into Purvottanasana can quickly lead to injury.
- More advanced students can come into One-Legged Upward Plank Pose (Eka Pada Purvottanasana) by lifting one foot off the floor. Reach through the ball of the foot, and lift the entire leg up toward the ceiling. Then lower your foot and repeat with the other leg.
- For a deeper internal experience in the pose, bring your gaze to your "third eye" — the space between your eyebrows — and concentrate on your breath.
Practicing Purvottanasana can be invigorating and uplifting for your mind and body when practiced correctly. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Keep your neck long. If you feel any compression in your neck, tuck your chin slightly and do not let your head drop all the way back.
- Keep your upper back strongly engaged to help lift your body.
- If your shoulders, arms, or wrists feel fatigued, you will lose the integrity of the pose and can get injured. Ease up and practice Reverse Table Pose (Ardha Purvottanasana) instead.
- Do not collapse into your shoulders. Lengthen your spine and your arms. Keep your shoulders away from your ears and your neck long. Make sure your upper back and shoulder blades are working firmly throughout the pose.
- Keep your shoulders above your wrists. Ask your teacher or a friend to check your alignment if you are unsure.
- Do not over-use the muscles of your back body (back torso, shoulder blades, hamstrings, glutes) to shove yourself into the pose. Utilize the muscles of your front body (chest, abdomen, quadriceps) with equal effort as those of your back body. Imagine your body as one compact force, both sides working equally and together.
Lift to Lengthen
Practicing Purvottanasana can be a great way to counteract forward bends, like Paschimottanasana, and strength-building poses, like Chaturanga. It can also re-balance your body after a long day of working at a computer, driving, and other forward-facing actions that can cause slouching and rounded spines. Opening up the whole front side of the body is invigorating, but doing so requires as much courage and inner strength as it does physical strength. Let go of your desire for outcomes and bring your awareness to the present moment. As you practice lifting your heart to the sky, you might discover that true power comes from within.