Optimizing Yoga Transitions
The transition from a high plank to a low plank, also known as a caturanga, to an upward-facing dog is one that I find many people overlook. In caturanga, your toes are tucked and in an upward-facing dog, your toes are untucked; the tops of your feet and toes are pressing into your mat. What most people do is they will untuck their toes (one foot at a time) while they are transitioning from low plank to updog, which is commonly known and referred to as a “back-bend”. While this is extremely common among yoga asana practitioners, it is not the best way to treat your spine over years and decades to come. By asymmetrically entering a back-bend, one may eventually experience back pain or may be prone to future injury.
So what are some solutions to this problem? There are three options that you can take to better support your spine while taking this transition in class. If you are working on building upper body and core strength, here is an option to focus on first. Take caturanga while on your knees, then gradually press into updog. You may also want to skip the caturanga. With this option you would lower your body from high plank to your mat, then from the ground press into updog. If you are practicing this version, you can supplement this practice with tricep, shoulder stability, and core exercises.
If you are capable of holding your low plank for a few breaths, this next option is for you. While you remain in a low plank, the bottom of the caturanga, you would flip both of your feet (untuck the toes). Now you are in low plank with the tops of your feet pressing down into the mat. From there you would press into updog.
Lastly, the final solution is slightly more advanced. Starting from the low plank with your toes tucked, remain in the low plank position to roll forward onto your tiptoes, then use momentum press into updog. It is crucial to keep your whole body engaged and as buoyant as possible in order to successfully perform this transition safely.
Overall, the key takeaway from this is that you need to enter the back bend symmetrically instead of asymmetrically. Remember to start small and have a teacher assist you with your alignment for maximum safety and efficiency!