The Plow pose in yoga is one of those postures that folds you over and makes you look as twisted as a pretzel. It offers multiple benefits, including stretching the spine and calming your mind, but it's often avoided by practitioners and some teachers because of the pressure it puts on your cervical spine and neck.
Knowing a little more about the pose can help you determine if it's one you want to include in your practice. The most important determining factor is whether or not it's safe for you. After that, weigh the pros and cons of the pose to decide if you want to fold upside down.
First Things First
Plow pose is often entered from Shoulder Stand, so achieve this pose first:
- Lie on your back on a mat. Lift both legs up the ceiling to form a 90-degree angle with your torso.
- Place your hands behind your low back and use your core to lift your hips and legs higher toward the ceiling. You are now balancing on your shoulders and back of the neck. Keep your core tight, your legs pulled together and your gaze to your navel.
To then move into Plow:
- Lower your legs behind your head to the floor.
- If your toes touch the floor and you feel safe, allow your hands to release from your lower back and clasp them together on the mat under your back. This is an advanced variation and best done only under the guidance of a trained teacher. If you're feeling unstable, keep supporting your lower back.
When to Avoid
It's recommended you avoid Plow, and probably Shoulder Stand, if you have any of the following:
- Diarrhea or menstrual cramps
- An injury to the neck, cervical vertebrae or shoulders
- High blood pressure, as the pose naturally increases blood pressure
For practitioners with glaucoma, an eye condition that affects the optic nerve, inversions such as Headstand, Shoulder Stand and Handstand are usually discouraged. These poses further increase the already too-intense pressure on the optic nerve.
A study published in PLoS One in December 2015 suggests that Plow, along with Downward Dog, Standing Forward Bend and Legs Up the Wall be added to the list of contraindicated poses for those suffering from glaucoma. The research demonstrated that intra-ocular pressure does rise during these postures, risking complications for a yogi with glaucoma.
Benefits to Plow
Plow offers a practitioner who doesn't have one of the above conditions a lot of benefit. Many yogis find that it just feels good as it strengthens and loosens up tightness in the back, shoulders, neck and abs. When relaxed in the pose, you're struck by an overwhelming sensation of calmness. Once you come out of it, you often feel a refreshing surge of energy.
In yoga theory, Plow also stimulates the throat chakra — or energy center — and the thyroid gland. This helps improve your ability to communicate and strengthens immunity.
Moreover, Plow may benefit diabetics as it "squeezes and compresses" the abdomen to spur the release of secretions from the pancreas, as well as other hormones, notes a paper published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism in May-June 2015.
Cons of Plow Pose
As with any yoga pose, if you find Plow increases your anxiety levels or feels uncomfortable, it's just not for you. Because of the awkward positioning of this pose, many people just don't like practicing it.
An opportunity to overstretch the neck also exists. If you pull the shoulders too far away from the ears, you compress the throat, which can make it hard to swallow and lead to feelings akin to suffocation.
Unlike poses such as Forward Bend or Reclined Twists, Plow requires many people to use a prop to protect the delicate vertebrae of the upper neck. If you go prop-free, you risk putting too much pressure on these bones. A folded blanket or towel suffices — but you may need to pile up more than one if you feel as if you're choking in Plow. Place this prop under your shoulders and upper arms to elevate your shoulders, effectively making the bend at your neck less intense and potentially injurious.
Plow isn't very beginner friendly either. You want to have a good connection between mind and body before attempting it. This will help you know if you need a prop or are experiencing sensations, such as a pinched nerve, that require you to quickly exit.
Practitioners with tight hamstrings also find Plow frustrating. Although the pose feels good on their neck and shoulders, it's nearly impossible for them to reach the floor with their toes behind them. This problem is alleviated by rolling into Plow and placing your feet on the seat of a chair placed just behind you. If you're in a crowded yoga class, this isn't always practical, however. Bending your knees can sometimes help if the stretch is too intense on your hamstrings.
- PLoS One: "Intraocular Pressure Rise in Subjects With and Without Glaucoma During Four Common Yoga Positions"
- Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Yoga: An Endocrine Therapy"
- Chopra Center: "Speak Your Inner Truth With the Fifth Chakra"
- Arhanta Yoga Ashram India: "Plough Pose - Halasana"