full side plank and modifications

FULL SIDE PLANK WITH MODIFICATIONS

STEP-BY-STEP VASHISTHASANA BREAKDOWN

FULL SIDE PLANK

FULL SIDE PLANK AND MODIFICATIONS: VASHISTHASANA

USING THE WALL AS A PROP

Full Side Plank (Vashisthasana) has many modification options and variations to help make it more accessible or more challenging. I love teaching this posture with a foot on the wall to increase stability and provide a frame of reference for shifting the weight out of the hand and into the foot. 

Some people avoid props, thinking of them as a “crutch.” For sure, they can be used as a way to avoid challenges if that is your intention, but they can also be used to increase body awareness and help you develop technique. Props are neither good nor bad; it’s just a matter of how and why you are using them. Is it that you want to avoid challenge or that you want to face challenge intelligently and appropriately?

In the video tutorial below, I show how to modify side plank by placing your top foot on the wall. This reduces the required balance and will allow you to focus on the foundations of the posture, like the strength of your hand and wrist. Press your thumb and pinky fingers into the ground. Then focus on your bottom foot, pressing the instep of your foot into the wall. Eventually, you will be able to place the whole standing foot on the ground, which will give you strength and the power to lift the hips up. Lastly, keep your shoulder externally rotating, as indicated in the video.

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Full Side Plank & Modifications • Vashisthasana at the Wall

This Side Plank tutorial footage is taken from the July 2021 Immersion, titled BALANCE

Full Side Plank Setup

What I don’t discuss in this particular clip is how the setup of this posture is exactly like Wild Thing. This means your pelvis is more open toward the sky, while in standard Side Plank, your feet are stacked. The spine is in a backbend as well, unlike the standard variation, where the spine is neutral.

There are other alignments you could explore, but these will tend to give you the greatest access to the full Side Plank variation where you grab the top foot and extend the leg. If you want to practice the full class, be sure to check out Class #9 of the July 2021 Immersion, called Balance

 

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Three Full Side Plank Modifications and Variations

  1. Foot on the Wall: Once you rise up into Wild Thing, place the back foot on the wall and push your weight toward the wall, even if it means both knees are bent. This is not only okay but an indication that you are doing it properly.
  2. Tree Pose: The next step is infinitely more challenging because it requires greater balance and flexibility. Take the foot off the wall, similar to Tree Pose but without placing the foot on your inner thigh (though that is also another variation). I suggest pushing your knee into your hand to get your hip flexors active. Hip flexor strength becomes key when you attempt to straighten the leg. Often the tension of the hamstrings is too much and people have to let go of the foot. If your hip flexors are strong and used to engaging in this position, then they can help out by keeping the top leg closer to your upper body, lessening the chances that you’ll have to let go of the foot when extending the leg up to the sky.
  3. Full Side Plank or “Extended Vashisthasana”: Pull your knee in as tight as possible in order to grab your foot. Either stay as a modification or begin to kick the foot to the sky, straightening the top leg. Pro tip: It’s helpful to keep the bottom, weight-bearing leg bent while extending the top leg upward. 
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Can’t Straighten Your Legs?

This is normal and really shouldn’t be your focus. This is an incredibly physically demanding posture that requires extreme flexibility. Even with slightly bent knees, the posture is still visually stunning and, I would argue, even more biomechanically sound because bent knees typically trigger more muscle engagement.

 

 

Edited by 300-hour Chromatic yoga teacher, Donna Morin.

 

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Pigeon Without Knee Pain

Pigeon Pose

without Knee Pain

Why Stretching your hips might cause knee pain

Pigeon Pose is one of the most widely beloved postures in the yoga practice across a multitude of styles. This is for good reason. However, the issue I see most often with this posture is that it comes with little guidance as to how to activate your muscles and align your bones and joints, and as a result many people experience pain in their knees or quite simply never find an increase in hip mobility.  In this video I share my top three steps to a deep stretch in the hips without compromising the knee joint.

In my most recent online workshop, “Hips: Rock and Unlock Em” I go over some key actions in detail, and guide students into one of my favorite variations of pigeon posture – so if you like what you get in this video, definitely check out that full 2 hour workshop that goes over all you need to know about hip opening.

The key point that I go over in the video below and in the online workshop is that some of the hip muscles cross both the hip joint AND the knee joint, and so when we stretch the hips we are also stretching the knee. In addition, many hip stretches require putting pressure on the knee joint in order to rotate the thigh bone in the hip joint. One of the techniques I personally use is something called a facilitated stretch in order to target the belly (middle) of the muscles rather than the attachment points near each joint. Facilitated Stretch simply means an activation of the same muscles that are stretching. In the case of pigeon, I aim for the activation of the buttock muscles.

The Gluteus Maximus in particular is my focus because it feeds into the IT band, and the IT band connects to the knee joint. Any stretch of the buttocks could result in a straining of the knee. I find it incredibly helpful to activate the buttocks in order to ground and stabilize the knee joint. In addition, I also offer an activation from the other surrounding joint – the ankle. By activating certain muscles of the ankle I have found more access to spaciousness in the knee.

To be fair, nothing is fool proof. I have, however, tested these techniques among various body types over the past ten years and I have found it to be incredibly effective for most students. The result is deeper stretch in the hips and less or no strain or pain at all in the knee. That being said, this is your body and you have the greatest understanding of it when you tune in to how you feel and what you feel. The online Hips workshop is designed to help you with exactly that – Learn to feel your body on a more specific and nuanced level. Enjoy this free tutorial and as always let me know if you have questions about your body or your practice. If the video is helpful please share it!

Facilitated Stretching

Increases your range of motion while maintaining muscle integrity. Facilitated stretching is the activation or engagement of the muscles that are stretching. Activating the muscle while stretching causes the Golgi tendon organ to send a signal to the spinal column, and the spinal column speaks back, telling the muscles to relax.

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3 Steps for Pigeon Pose

Step 1 - Evert the ankle

Everting at the ankle joint aligns the shin at the knee joint, and activates the outer shin muscles (fibularis muscles). In addition, when in pigeon pose, it supports the external rotation at the femur bone (front leg) in the hip socket. When everting, you can try rolling the calf muscle forward toward the front of your mat to initiate external rotation at the knee. This can help to open the inner portion of the knee.

Step 2: Press outer Front knee Down

From your buttock muscles, press the outer front knee down and as a result, you should feel your hips lift up a little bit. If you don’t feel this you may have to think about pulling your front knee toward the back knee. Once you get your buttocks to activate, your femur (thigh bone) will begin to externally rotate. This action supports more congruency (more space) at the knee, and begins a facilitated stretch.

Step 3: Rotate The back Hip inward

Rotating the back thigh bone will help to rotate the pelvis toward the earth. Because the muscles of the front hip are connected to the pelvis, if you rotate the pelvis it lengthens the muscles causing a deeper stretch. I only recommend this if you are feeling at ease in the front knee. If so, go slow because it is very easy to lose what you have already created in step 1 and 2.

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Sit, Stand, Walk.

Keeping the buttock muscles healthy and supple can really help in finding comfort when sitting, standing, or walking. Since most of our day is spent doing one of these three things, I highly recommend taking the time to do postures like pigeon pose, and do them well.

Listen To Your Body

Alignment cues and muscle engagements can be highly beneficial, so take the time to feel how they land in your body. There is no magic action or alignment for everyone, so I really encourage you to explore these actions while truly listening to your body. This particular set of cues might be what creates an “aha” moment for you, or it could be the complete opposite, so try them and ask yourself what you feel and what your experience is. Try to dissociate feeling bad with effort, and good with doing nothing. They sometimes correlate and sometimes not. If these actions wound up being right for you then I recommend practicing them whenever you are doing pigeon, and always maintain awareness of what your body is feeling. Through deep focus and exploration you will be able to collect the right actions for you.  If you found this useful, please share this post and if you are wanting to increase strength and flexibility of your hips and hamstrings check out the Hips & Hamstrings Immersion

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