The most flexible students can work with three variations of the classi plow. And because it's natural to follow a sequence from the first to th last, we can consider them stages of the plow as well as complete posturi in their own right. In all three postures you can either extend the arn behind you, flex them overhead, or use them to support the back.
For the first stage lie supine on the floor and bring the feet overhe with the heels and toes together and the knees extended. Keep as mu< 1 weight on the upper hack and as little on the shoulders as possible, whi , means trying to keep the spine (including the neck) straight as you low the toes to the floor. II' you choose to keep the feet and toes flexed, you c 1 stretch the hands overhead toward the feet and grasp the tot Alternatively, you can extend the toes while extending the arms behind \ u and interlocking the fingers (fig. 9.12a). In any case, the more hip Ilexibil y you have, the closer the thighs will be to the chest and face and the m. e limited will be flexion in the neck. Instead of 110° of flexion between ie chest and thighs, as we saw in the half plow, this posture shows more 1 e 160°, perhaps 120° in the hips and 40° in the lumbar region. The lower p t of the chest will be lifted off the floor, creating an angle between the m k and the sternum of about 30° (fig. 9.12a). This is a useful posture in its c n right, especially for stretching the hamstrings.
You can come into the second variation of the plow from the first. If tl y are not given specific directions, this is the one most students will do >r the simple reason that it is the only one they can do. The posture will 1< k different depending on hip and spinal flexibility. Those with excellent p flexibility will ordinarily hold the back straight, flex the hips I20c, id lower the feet overhead (fig. 9.12b). The angle between the neck and ie sternum will be about 8oc. They can either grasp their toes with their finf: rs or extend their arms behind their back, fingers interlocked (fig. 9.12b! n any case, this posture allows those with excellent hip fiexibility either o make full use of it or to flex their hips 70-110° and make up the differei e with spinal flexion. In the latter case, the posture will obviously leave 1 ie back more rounded posteriorly and will push the feet further to the rear n that case, students may not be able to reach their toes with their fingert 1
Compared with the first variation, the average intermediate student will reveal about 90° of flexion in their hips and about 70° of flexion in their lumbar spines, again for a total of t6o°. More weight is on the shoulders, the chest is lifted to a more perpendicular position, and the angle between the neck and the sternum will be 60-90° depending on individual constraints.
The third variation takes you into a completely different posture. For this one you push your feet even more to the rear and press the sternum against the chin for the first time, creating a 90° bend between the head
Figure 9.12a. For the first variation (or stage) of the plow, the feet are pushed minimally overhead, the hips are flexed maximally, and the mid-back is kept as close to the floor as possible.
Figure 9.12b. For the second stage of the plow, the feet are pushed further overhead, hips are flexed moderately, and the back is now perpendicular to the floor.
and the chest. It is now more convenient to extend the ankles (plantar flexion of the feet) and rest on the upper surfaces of the toes. In this stage both the hips and the lumbal- region will be less flexed than in the second variation, perhaps 60' each in the hips and lumbar spine, for a total of 120' instead of the 160° that is characteristic of the first two variations (fig 9.12c). The chest will now be fully perpendicular, at a 90° angle from th( floor and from the neck, and if you want to do so you can take the optior of pressing the hands against the back exactly as you did in the classi shoulderstand and for the same reason—to keep the sternum locked tight! against the chin. Alternatively, to sharpen the pose, instead of bracing tli chest by pressing the hands against the upper back, flatten the arms an forearms against the floor behind the back with the fingers interlocki and the palms pressed together. That arm position lifts your weight ev< , higher on the shoulders and pushes the extended toes even further to tl rear (fig. 9.12c).
Notice that the first variation is more like the inverted action postu with respect to neck flexion, and that only in the last variation of the pl< v series is the head and neck in the full 90° shoulderstand position. Not e also that all three variations are relatively passive, even though you a e stretching muscles on the back side of the body from head to toe, and th t this makes the poses especially useful for those who have difficulty wi 11 forward bending. In contrast to the sitting forward bend, gravity aids t e plow series whether you are flexible or inflexible, so be watchful that yc r body weight does not pull you further into the posture than is prudent strength and flexibility in the plow
No matter what version of the plow you are working on, if you wist o lengthen the hamstrings, keep the knees extended as a first priority; if >u wish to work on adductors, abduct the thighs; and if you wish to impr e hip flexibility without being impeded by either the hamstrings or ie adductors, bend the knees, bring them together, and pull the thighs cli jr to the chest. Notice that if you support the thighs with the elbows in 1 is last variation, you will be moving into what may now be an old favorit — the relaxed easy inverted action posture.
With the thighs abducted in the plow you can work with certain streti « that are not accessible in any other posture. First, to work specifically >n hip flexibility, come into the pose with maximum abduction and Ilexioi of the thighs: you will be stretching both the hamstrings and the adducti s. Notice how far you can abduct the thighs. Then with the thighs abduct d, push more to the rear into a posture that is comparable to variation tw< of the plow, and notice that when you do that the thighs can be abducted ex ;n further. The reason for this is simple. The shift from flexion in the hips o
9 THE \HOl 'LUKKSTANn 521
flexion in the lumbar region takes tension off the hamstrings and those adductors which have a posterior origin along the inferior pubic rami, and this in turn permits more abduction. This situation becomes increasingly pronounced the further to the rear you plant your feet. These are great stretches. After the struggles many students have with sitting forward bends in which the thighs are abducted and gravity is thwarting rather than assisting the bend, working with the abducted thighs in the plow or propped plow is a pleasure.
Next, keeping the feet together, bring them to one side and then the other as far as possible. This combination of a twist with a deep forward bend can be done from any stage of the plow, but try it first with the hands overhead in variation two, which is a comfortable intermediate balancing position. Slowly lift your toes just off the floor and slide them to one side as far as is comfortable. Then slide both feet slowly to the opposite side, again barely touching the floor. Keep the knees as straight as possible, don't hold your breath, and tiy not to bounce from one side to the other.
The only way you can develop the tension needed to raise the toes just off the floor in this posture is to tighten the back muscles and hamstrings. But as you raise the feet the hamstrings come under tension and tend to flex the knees, and that has to be resisted with the quadriceps femoris muscles. This is an exercise that can only be done inverted.
The last exercise in this series is to combine the plow with sitting forward bends and leglifts in a dynamic sequence. If you are slender and lightly muscled it should be done on a mat or soft surface. Start in the usual supine position with the hands beside the thighs, palms clown. Then do a slow double leglift and come into the plow without using your upper extremities any more than you have to. This is an abdominal exercise. As soon as your feet touch the floor overhead come out of the posture by rolling slowly down, one vertebra at a time. Try to keep your head on the floor instead of raising it up as the middle segment of your back rolls down (which is easier said than done), and hold enough tension in the abdomen and arms to keep your pelvis from plopping down. Then, as soon as the pelvis reaches the floor, slowly lower the feet while keeping the knees extended. Keep going. When your heels touch the floor, roll slowly up into a sitting forward bend and reach forward with the hands. Don't try to bend from the hips or to establish sacroiliac nutation as a priority. It is more natural just to roll forward and down. Keep moving. As soon you are in an easy full forward bend, roll back down to a supine position one vertebra at a time, do another slow double leglift, and again come into the plow. Repeat the sequence as many times as is comfortable.
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