Ever have that frustrating moment when you move from downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) into plank pose and you find yourself having to readjust your feet or hands (i.e. your plank is too short or too long)? Have you heard your teacher tell you that your hand and foot positions should be exactly the same in downward dog and plank? We have! Articles online and videos try to demonstrate this technique as a way to make your practice “fool proof.” But the truth is that this direction will NOT work for EVERY BODY. Don’t you love being set up for failure?
Let’s talk about body proportion. It’s actually pretty simple: If someone has really short arms in comparison to the proportions of the length of their torso and legs then there will definitely be shifting of hand and feet positions when transitioning from dog to plank. Vice versa, if someone’s legs are really short in comparison to the above proportions that will also entail shifting. The usual direction to, “Get on all fours. Keep your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees a bit behind your pelvis, now lift the pelvis into the air,” does not take into account the individual differences between torso and limb lengths when then transitioning into plank. Therefore, if you’re in class and you hear these kind of guidelines be aware that they may not apply to you and don’t think there’s something wrong with you or your practice.
You may just have to shift to get the “correct” positioning from d-dog to plank, IF you want an elongated spine. If you are actually trying to work your abdominals in a different way than the usual extended plank then moving into it with the pelvis tucked under a bit can be useful (be aware if you are also rounding the shoulders and thoracic spine, if that’s not what you intend to do). Think of it as an upside down boat pose. Or if you’re really opposed to the idea of having to shift hands and feet every time (which we kind of don’t get, what’s wrong with moving around anyways, yoga IS a MOVEMENT practice) then just bend your knees. Voila! If you happen to move into a short plank, but want the extended version or your not getting the spinal extension you want in d-dog then bend your knees. This is the direction they give for “tight” or “short” hamstrings anyways right? Is the relationship of the back line of the body becoming clearer? There is a relationship between the back of the legs and the spine. You can negotiate this relationship so that you find a functional compromise (not struggle and force something that causes injury or frustration) and apply that same technique this particular transition. And yes, you can do a plank with bent knees. Try it…how are your abs feeling now? How does this change affect your experience?
Play with this idea the next time you do yoga. Can you adopt certain modifications that make your practice adapt to your body, reducing stress, frustration and allowing for exploration (isn’t that why we do yoga anyways)? Or are you trying to force your body to adapt to a practice with guidelines constructed out of theories that don’t always apply to everyone the same way? Put your tapas where your mouth is (yeah, we said it, jealous?) and create a yoga practice that really is individualized for you instead of just saying that’s what you do. Teachers, same goes for you. Allow students to embody each asana in a personal way. Don’t be afraid to move beyond clichés and create classes that allow each unique student to gain the idiosyncratic benefits of a personalized practice.