Want to learn more about Purvottanasana, or Upward Plank Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Purvottanasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, myths, a step-by-step video, modifications and more.
When I was new to yoga, Purvottanasana was a pose we often modified in class to what I call Reverse Table. I can still remember seeing a photo of Christina Sell in the full pose and thinking something like, “Wow — I could never do that. And why don’t we ever practice the full version?”
Here is that picture (isn’t the internet amazing – I just Googled it and found it).
This led me on a journey to discover what other poses I thought I knew but were actually modified versions of the pose. This journey helped transform my experience of Uttanasana, Janu Sirasana, Malasana, Vasisthasana and others.
It also helped shift the way I teach these poses. I want everyone to know where the poses go, even when we’re working on a modified version. Having a vision of what might be possible one day gives us something to work towards, even if the “final form” isn’t the point of the practice.
- Purvottanasana Quick Facts
- Purvottanasana Benefits
- Precautions & Contraindications
- Misconceptions & Myths About Upward Plank Pose
- Purvottanasana Pose Breakdown
- Modifications & Variations
- Yoga Poses Related to Upward Plank Pose
- Related Posts & Videos
- Gear & Resources for This Pose
- A Final Note About Upward Plank Pose
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Purvottanasana Quick Facts
|English||Upward Plank Pose / Reverse Plank Pose|
|Meaning||Purva means the East.|
Ut means intense.
Tan means to stretch.
Asana means pose or posture.
Purvottanasana means an Intense Stretch of the East. The East is a metaphor for your front body. Often this is called Reverse Plank or Upward Plank Pose.
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Purvottanasana here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
Reverse Plank Pose targets your posterior chain — the muscles on the back of the body including your Gluteus Maximus, Erector Spinae, Hamstrings, Trapezius and Posterior Deltoids. With focus on the front of your body, Purvottanasana also strengthens your abdominal muscles.
The main physical benefits of Purvottanasana include:
- Strengthens your triceps.
- Strengthens your quadriceps.
- Strengthens your hamstrings.
- Strengthens your wrist extensors.
- Strengthens your posterior deltoids.
- Strengthens your trapezius.
- Strengthens your erector spinae.
- Strengthens your gluteus maximus.
- Strengthens the adductors of your legs and hips.
- Strengthens your calf muscles.
- Stretches your anterior deltoids.
- Stretches your wrist flexors.
- Stretches your pectoralis major.
- Stretches and opens your psoas muscles.
- Stretches the front of your shins.
- With proper focus it strengthens your rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus.
- Opens your chest.
- Elongates your spine.
- It is a great hip opener.
- Helps improve core strength.
If you want more on the benefits of yoga, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
- If you have wrist, neck or shoulder injuries you will likely want to avoid practicing Upward Plank Pose until your injuries have healed.
- If you have high blood pressure, do not take your head back all the way. The shape of the full pose brings your head below your heart. If you have high blood pressure, keep your head lifted and above your heart.
- Avoid Purvottanasana if have a severe migraine.
- If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, skip practicing this pose, or modify by balancing on your fists instead of palms. See Modifications below.
- If you have cervical spondylitis, you’re likely better off not practicing this pose.
- If you hyperextend your elbows easily (“lock-out” your elbow joints), be extra aware of not hyperextending in this pose as a lot of pressure will go into your elbow joint, putting it in a dangerous position. Instead think of putting a small, nearly invisible bend in your elbows so your muscles in your arms support you.
Misconceptions & Myths About Upward Plank Pose
The East in Hindu mythology
In Hindu mythology the East is a metaphor for the front of your body, the part of you that, every day, you put out into the world, full of potential.
As the East is the direction of sunrise, it is also symbol of new beginnings. Every day the sun rises in the East and each day is filled with potential. When practicing Purvottanasana, your chest and heart lift up towards the sky, just as the sun rises in the morning.
Paschimottanasana, in some ways the polar-opposite of Purvottanasana, literally translates as Intense Stretch of the West, because the West is a metaphor for your back.
Your Thyroid and Yoga
People love to claim that yoga will fix your thyroid problems. Well, you know I love to debunk yoga myths.
You can dive into this study, which analysed the multitude of studies related to the functioning of the thyroid and yoga, and concluded that there was no correlation.
“None of the studies across this span of time from thirty years ago to the one conducted in 2017 show any statistically relevant change to the basal T3 or T4 levels of the study groups. Again, the limited findings of success of yogic practices to actually change thyroid function would compel this author to not be in support of the use of yoga to treat thyroid disorders.”Therapeutic effects of Yoga on Thyroid Disorders
I have also read that Purvottanasana “ensures better functioning of the liver, spleen and kidneys” without any information on what improved functioning of these organs might look like, or how that is achieved.
I’ve said it before but it apparently needs repeating: You cannot take part in the functioning of your internal organs. They just work on their own.
Practicing yoga isn’t going to improve the way your liver, kidneys, thyroid adrenal gland, or spleen operate. A consistent yoga practice will likely strengthen your heart, so it’s not that there is zero effect on any of your organs. But a single pose is not going to improve the function of a specific organ, like your thyroid gland. That’s just not how it works.
Purvottanasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Purvottanasana / Upward Plank Pose
- Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose).
- Place your hands flat on the ground, a little behind your hips with the fingers pointing towards your toes. If you have tight shoulders, turn your hands so that your fingers point out to the sides. Place your hands so that your wrists are roughly under your shoulders.
- Push down through your heels and push down through your hands. Lift your hips off the ground.
- Push through your hands and lift your chest as you turn your upper arms out and draw your shoulder blades toward each other.
- Take your head back and look up, or even slightly back behind you. Lengthen through the back of your neck to help keep your neck engaged so that it can support your head.
- Engage your Gluteus Maximus (aka tighten your butt) and lift your hips higher, while also engaging your inner thighs so that your legs don’t turn out.
- With your hips high, point your toes and if possible bring all of your toes down to the ground. The higher you lift your hips, the closer you will get to bringing all toes down to the ground.
- This is Purvottanasana.
- To come out, lower your hips down to the ground. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold) makes a good counter-pose to Purvottanasana.
Modifications & Variations
If you are new to the pose
- Have your wrists under your shoulders.
- Engage your butt to help lift your hips.
- Keep your neck engaged to support your head.
If you are brand new to Upward Plank Pose
Consider practicing Reverse Table instead of the full version of the pose. For Reverse Table, keep your knee bent and and your feet flat on the ground. Practice this variation until you build the strength to hold yourself in Purvottanasana.
If your wrists hurt when practicing
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, or your wrists are sore for another reason, you can use a yoga wedge under your hands. Set up the wedge so the thick edge is towards the back of your mat. This decreases the amount of extension needed at your wrists.
Another option is to do the pose on your fists instead of having your palms flat. This can present its own problems though — the weight of your body pressing down into your fists can hurt your knuckles.
A third option is to do the pose on your forearms instead of with straight arms, a variation sometimes called Kona Purvottanasana.
Hips up = toes down
To help lift your hips higher, place yoga blocks under your hands. This will lift your chest and hips off the ground more than without the blocks, which gives you more opportunity to bring your toes to the ground.
If you can’t hold your hips up
Set up in Dandasana while sitting on 3 or 4 blocks. With your legs stretched out in front of you, lean back some and place your hands on the ground underneath your shoulders. Do all the work of Purvottanasana here that you can without lifting your hips off the blocks.
If you are not comfortable leaning back
Set a chair up behind you and sit in Dandasana. Reach for the seat with your hands. Lift the body up pressing the hands on the edge of the chair.
If your neck hurts in the pose
You can look straight up, or look past the tip of your nose instead of taking your head back. However, if you would like to get the extension for your neck, you can place a chair behind you with a bolster laid on the seat of the chair so that it hangs over the front of the seat. Set up for Purvottanasana with your back towards the chair/bolster combo. When you take your head back, rest your head over the bolster.
If your elbows or knees hyperextend easily
Put a slight, practically-invisible bend in your elbows and/or knees so that you do not hyperextend them. Straighten your arms and legs, but do not over-straighten them.
By adding the tiny (tiny!) bend to your elbow and knee joints, you encourage the muscles that support your elbows and knees to be active. Focus on activating the muscles in your back and your gluteal muscles so that your knees don’t have to work excessively.
What to do with your head
In Light on Yoga, Mr Iyengar instructs, “Throw the head back as far as possible.”
Don’t do that. Throwing your head back implies releasing the muscles of your head and neck, which can lead to unwanted compression in the discs between your vertebrae.
Instead, carefully lower your head back, while keeping the back of your neck long and working to engage your neck to hold your head, and prevent it from simply dropping back. This is good for your spine, for the blood flow to your head, and helps build strength in your neck.
If you have tight shoulders
Your fingers don’t have to face forward. If you have tight or weak shoulders, turn your hands out so that your fingers point out towards the sides.
If your thighs move apart
You might find your thighs drifting apart in Reverse Plank as you lift your hips. To avoid this, use a yoga strap to bind your thighs together. Alternatively, squeeze a yoga block between your thighs. Or do both.
The block is my preferred option as it will help you build strength in the adductors of your legs (your inner thighs) which are the very muscles you need strength in to prevent your legs from turning out.
This is a variation where you set up on your forearms instead of having your arms straight.
Salamba means supported, and this is a supported or restorative variation of Purvottanasana. Using a yoga chair, you set up the seat of the chair with yoga blankets and a folded-up mat to support your back.
Purvottanasana with knees bent
This is also called Reverse Table Pose. Instead of setting up in Dandasana, you start with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. When you come up, keep your knees bent and over your ankles, plus keep your shoulders over your wrists.
Eka Pada Purvottansana
From Purvottanasana, slowly lift one foot off the ground. Extend your lifted leg up and point or floint) your toes. Lift your leg as close to perpendicular to the ground as you can. Hold for a few breaths and repeat on the other side.
Yoga Poses Related to Upward Plank Pose
- Phalakasana / Plank Pose
- Bitilasana / Marjaryasana / Cat & Cow Pose
- Vajrasana / Thunderbolt Pose
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana / Low Lunge
- Banarasana / High Lunge
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
- Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose
- Dandasana / Staff Pose
- Paschimottanasana / Seated Forward Fold
- Chaturanga Dandasana / Four Limbed Staff Pose
- Dhanurasana / Bow Pose
- Virasana / Hero Pose
- Viparita Karani / Legs Up The Wall Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Anjaneyasana / Son of Anjani Pose
- Urdhva Dhaurasana / Upward Bow or Full Wheel Pose
- Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana / One Leg Upward Bow Pose
- Ustrasana / Camel Pose
- Eka Pada Purvottanasana / One-Legged Reverse Table Pose
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Phalakasana Benefits & Yoga Pose Tutorial
- Post: Paschimottanasana Benefits & Yoga Pose Tutorial
- Video: Purvottanasana Yoga Pose Breakdown
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Sustainable Cork Yoga Mat by Corq
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
- Foam Yoga Wedge
- Folding Yoga Chair
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Good for the planet and great for your practice!
A Final Note About Upward Plank Pose
Purvottanasana makes a great pose to counter the effects of working on your computer, sitting for a long period of time, or anytime you feel like you need to help opening up. So keep working at this pose and keep lifting your hips! It’s a great butt strengthener and really helps open up the front of your body.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your understanding of Purvottanasana. I want these posts to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply and I hope this post helps you see this fairly common pose with new awareness and understanding.