Asana of the Month: Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)

Each month we choose a pose to focus on in each class through strong attention to alignment, variations, and/or modifications as a way to grow and expand our yogic horizons. – Asana of the month contributed by Asana Girl (aka Danielle Polen)

Writing in Yoga Journal, Iyengar yoga teacher and Stanford-trained scientist Roger Cole states that, while “[n]o single posture is the antidote to an overdose of Chaturanga Dandasana, … if you had to pick just one, Purvottanasana would probably be your best choice …. [because] it stretches most of the muscles that Chaturanga strengthens …. [I]t [also] strengthens opposing muscles. Purvottanasana stretches pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, the anterior deltoids, rectus abdominis, obliquus abdominis, iliopsoas, and, to some extent, rectus femoris. It strengthens the rhomboid muscles (which draw the shoulder blades toward the spine, antagonizing the pectorals), the posterior deltoid muscles (which pull the arms backward, antagonizing the anterior deltoids), the erector spinae (which backbend the spine, antagonizing the abdominal muscles), and the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles (which extend the hips, antagonizing the iliopsoas and rectus femoris). In short, while Chaturanga primarily strengthens the front of the body, Purvottanasana stretches the front of the body and strengthens the back of the body. This makes the two poses wonderfully complementary.” In sum, he concludes, “Purvottanasana is an excellent pose to teach your students to balance a practice that’s heavy on the Chaturanga.”
Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose or Intense Stretch of the East):
Purva = front, or east
Uttana = intense stretch
Benefits:
  • Strengthens the arms, wrists, and legs 
  • Stretches the shoulders, chest, ankles, feet, and throat 
  • Tones the buttocks and hamstrings
Cautions/Contraindications:
  • Wrist, shoulder, or neck injuries 
  • With a neck injury, support the head on a chair, wall, or other prop
 
Preparatory Poses:
  • Tabletop Pose (a variation of the pose with the knees bent and torso and thighs approximately parallel to the floor) 
  • Virasana (Hero’s Pose) and Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero’s Pose) 
  • Shoulder openers such as the arm positions of Gomukhasana (Cow-Face Pose) and Garudasana (Eagle Pose) 
  • Plank Pose 
  • Vasisthasana (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Vasistha, aka Side Plank) 
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) 
  • Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
Song that Most Comes to Mind While in the Posture:
Boney M.’s cover of the Tommy Roe/Freddy Weller 1969 hit single “Dizzy”
[also sort of how I used to feel when sitting amidst studio owner Kimberly Wilson’s über-floral, Laura Ashley-inspired home décor!]

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