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Becoming Lighter

Plank Pose

Plank Pose

By Mark Goldstein

Becoming lighter is something that many people are obsessed with. As long as we are referring to the shedding of extra pounds, then doing what you need to reach your optimum weight can be a very healthy endeavor. However, that’s not what this months article is about, it is, but it isn’t. 

February’s pose of the month is about being lighter in our bodies while practicing yoga. More specifically, it’s about squeezing in to go up. 

What goes up? Light things. How do we go up, or become lighter in yoga poses? We “squeeze” in, in a yoga way.

Playa Yoga

Think about this… 

When I was a kid, I was a small kid. If we were horsing around and someone was going to get tossed around, it was usually me. One day we were at the beach, and this big guy was trying to show off by threatening to throw me in the water. He was far bigger than me, and when he eventually caught me and was getting a hold of me to lift me up and throw me in the ocean, I went limp. 

So, this big guy was now struggling just to get me off of the ground, and couldn’t. Why? Because I disengaged all of my muscles, I went limp and became way heavier. Why? I don’t know, I’m the yoga guy. You’ll need to ask physics guy about it. All I know is that when you engage muscles, you become lighter. 

Here’s another one. Have you ever watched cheer leaders? I’m not talking about the ones with the pom poms, I’m talking about the ones that throw each other really high into the air, I’m not sure why, but they do. 

In any case, the person being thrown up usually has one person lifting them from under their feet, and on the count of three they propel them into the sky. The person being lifted squeezes their legs together, puts their arms flat to their sides, stands as tall as possible and usually makes a giant fake smile, and up they go like a rocket ship high into the sky. 

Now imaging if this person let their arms go limp, their head fall to the side, and lost that wonderful fake smile…….They might go up a foot or two, but that’s it. 

Same person, same weight, but what is the difference? She didn’t smile! Well, that and didn’t squeeze certain muscles. 

When we “squeeze”, or better yet in yoga terms “engage” certain muscles, we make ourselves lighter, and therefore move more effortlessly, elegant, and relaxed, yes relaxed, in our poses. 

There are many poses that utilize this concept, but I picked one for this February’s Pose of the Month, and that is Plank Pose. 

For some this is not their very favorite pose. Why is that? 

4-Limbed Staff Pose

4-Limbed Staff Pose

Plank pose can be a challenge if you are not used to using your upper strength muscles, those being your shoulder, arm and chest muscles. For those that are challenged by a “lack of strength in these areas, then the engagements that I will be showing you can help you out greatly. You will not only become lighter in this pose, but you might actually find that you enjoy this pose, do it more often, and build up some more of that upper body strength. For those of you with plenty up upper body strength, using these engagements can change this pose in a way that makes you feel more fluid in the pose, less “body builder”, and more “strong dancer”. 

Let’s take a look. 

Plank pose is similar to a push up, but one that is not moving. It takes its name from the fact that we hold the majority of our body in one flat plane when holding Plank Pose. From our feet to our head we are in one straight line, like a plank of wood.

 Seems simple enough, and it is.

 Most of the time Plank Pose is part of a transition between standing and lowering our bodies towards the ground into a lower push-up position pose named “ Chaturanga”

In plank pose we can utilize a number of engagements that will cause us to become lighter in this very strong pose. 

First, we want to spread our fingers wide, as we press out the entire surface of our palms into the floor. Make sure that your arms are straight, but avoid hyper-extending your elbow joints. 

While pressing firmly into the floor, try to move your palms towards each other. They won’t move, try to bring your arms into the center using your chest muscles, and you will feel yourself lift up slightly. This is the “squeeze” that lifts you up! 

Also, engage your abdominals and your thigh muscles. This simply makes you lighter. (again, need to ask physics guy) Lastly, press back into your heels, rather than rolling forward onto your toes, as this will also lighten your load greatly. 

This is Plank Pose, with all of its wonderful engagements. Oh, don’t forget to smile! 

In the practice that I teach, Vinyasa Flow, we rarely hold this pose for long at all, rather, we lower through into the before mentioned “chaturanga”. When this is the case, all of these engagements are still used to lighten ourselves, and to obtain as much effortlessness in our movements. 

There are so many yoga postures that utilize this technique from Handstands to the various Warrior poses. If you would like to know more, please come and practice with me. I offer private yoga classes at our retreat here in Manuel Antonio, or I will come to you. Yoga can be a wonderful part of your life, and I hope that I can be a part of opening that up to you.

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