If you’re the type of yoga practitioner who looks for every opportunity to take a vinyasa, more power to you. Literally: flowing to and from the characteristic “push-up” position of Chaturanga builds upper body strength and endurance. But if you don’t counter this pushing action with the appropriate amount of pulling action, you can develop muscle imbalances. Your chest and shoulders can become tighter while your back becomes weaker, which can lead to injury.
Purvottanasana (Reverse Plank or Upward Plank Pose) can help address that imbalance. While Chaturanga strengthens the front of your body, Upward Plank stretches the front and strengthens the back.
“Purvottan” means “intense east stretch” in Sanskrit, and you’ll feel certainly feel the stretch throughout your whole body while in this pose. As you move into Purvottanasana, you’ll activate through your legs, core, shoulders, and arms, seemingly engaging every muscle. The pay-off: you’ll stretch the overly tight muscles in your shoulders, chest, and the front of your ankles, while strengthening your arms, wrists, and legs.
Like every yoga pose, alignment is key in Reverse Plank and creates space in your body. Breathe into the expansiveness. And remember that while you want to build strength in yoga, balanced strength is what allows you to keep practicing safely for years to come.
Sanskrit: Purvottanasana (PUR-voh-tun-AHS-uh-nuh) purva = east uttana = intense stretch
Pose type: Arm balance
Targets: Full body
This energy-boosting pose can fight fatigue and help you build confidence in yourself and your practice. Reverse Plank strengthens your core, neck muscles, thighs, shoulders, and arms. It also stretches your shoulders and chest as well as the palm sides of your wrist (your wrist flexors), which can counteract the negative effects of typing.
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Press your feet and hands down even more firmly into the ground and lift your hips and chest higher.
To modify or deepen the pose, try one of these variations.Photo: Christopher Dougherty
Begin seated on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the mat. Press your hands into the mat about 8 inches behind you, palms down with your fingertips pointing forward toward your heels. Slowly begin to lift your hips and press your chest upward.
Avoid dropping your head back. Instead, keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine or tuck your chin slightly. Stay here for several breaths. Slowly release your hips back down as you draw your chin in toward your chest.Photo: Christopher Dougherty
Place a chair on the mat or against a wall. Sit on the chair with your knees bent. Bring your hands to the front edge of the chair with your fingertips facing forward and curled under.
Slowly walk your feet away from the chair. Lift your hips and press your chest upward. Push down into the chair so it doesn’t slip. Extend your knees to straighten your legs if it’s comfortable for you. Stay here for several breaths. Bend your knees and slowly walk your feet back in toward the chair.Photo: Christopher Dougherty
Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Place a wedge behind you with the thick side of the wedge facing you. Bring your hands onto the wedge so that your fingers point away from you going down the incline.
Lift your hips. Avoid dropping your head back; instead, keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine or tuck your chin slightly. Hold for several breaths.
Make sure you spend time in your practice opening your shoulders, arms, and wrists before coming into this posture.
Marjaryasana (Cat Pose)
Bitilasana (Cow Pose)
Dolphin Plank Pose (Forearm Plank)
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Purvottanasana is a backbend that is similar to Ustrasana (Camel Pose) in how your shoulders engage. However, your hips extend less in this pose, which in turn focuses the stretch more on your shoulders, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor. It combines upper body extension with a lift of the pelvis to lengthen your front body and strengthen your entire back body.
In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.Illustration: Chris Macivor
The posterior deltoid muscles extend your shoulders back and away from your torso. This creates an intense stretch of the anterior portion of the deltoids in your shoulders, the pectoralis major on your chest, and the biceps muscles on your upper arms.
The triceps extend your elbows, and the posterior portion of the deltoids extend your shoulders, synergizing to deepen the stretch through your front body.
Your knees are straightened by your quadriceps.Illustration: Chris Macivor
Your back arches thanks to the work of the erector spinae along the spine and the quadratus lumborum in the lower back. Activate the gluteus maximus in your buttocks to push your pelvis up and out, accentuating the arch of your back. Your hips are straightened further by the adductor muscles along the inner thigh, especially the adductor magnus. Purvottanasana stretches the flexor muscles at the front of your hips, including the psoas.
When you engage your hamstrings, this action presses your feet into the mat and causes an upward force that synergizes the lift of your pelvis. The peroneus longus and brevis muscles along the back and side of each calf help press the balls of the feet to the mat. Your feet are stretched out and curved downward by activation of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. This requires some length in the muscles at the front of your lower legs. Poses such as Virasana (Hero Pose) can help stretch those prior to coming into Purvottanasana.
Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and by Ray Long.
Here are a few sequences to try that feature Upward Plank.
About our contributors
Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.