To Jump Back or Not to Jump Back (to Plank)
Jumping back is a exciting and athletic transition in vinyasa yoga.
From standing forward fold (uttanasana) at the front of your mat, you have the option to step back to plank then lower to the yoga push-up (chaturanga dandasana) or to jump back.
Some teachers or traditions offer the option to jump to either plank or chaturanga, but many cue to avoid landing in plank. Ever wondered why?
Think about the point of contact on the floor in both plank and chaturanga — the wrists. Imagine that point of contact as the axis of a see-saw. A see-saw balances only when the board is centered over the axis.
In chaturanga dandasana the wrists are at natural waist level (elbows flexed to about 90 degrees). Everything from the natural waist and up is forward of the elbow and wrist. Everything waist-down is behind. They balance each other much like a see-saw.
In plank, approximately 90% of the body weight (15 pound head/ neck on a 150 pound person) is behind the wrists.
Jumping back repeatedly and landing with 50% of the body weight on the big toe (which usually touches the floor first) is very different than landing with 90% of the body weight on that (relatively) small joint.
Static vs. Dynamic Biomechanics
The difference is not simply 75 pounds landing on the big toe vs. 135 pounds (90% of 150). When you look at dynamic as opposed to static analysis (i.e. the difference between analyzing a held pose vs. understanding the body in motion), you must add in velocity.
Force equals mass times acceleration.
The pounding that your big toe takes during a jump-back is directly related to:
1) The amount of weight landing in it. Your bodyweight is not particularly changeable, especially within one yoga practice. The difference between choosing to land in chaturanga or plank is huge, however. Your choice between the two changes the amount of weight. And chaturanga places significantly less weight in the toes.
2) The speed at which you jump back. Controlling speed in a jump-back requires muscular strength and whole body stability, regardless of which pose is your landing of choice. You cannot make a meaningful improvement in muscle strength within one asana practice. You can, however, first build over time a solid and stable chaturanga. Once achieved, you can easily slow down the velocity of a jumpback via the see-saw effect of landing in chaturanga, as opposed to plank.
If you choose to land in plank, both the velocity + the percent of your body weight are substantially higher.
If it isn’t yet clear, we recommend jumping back to chaturanga only.
C’mon, What’s the worst that could happen?
Some of the effects of jumping back with a major thud are these:
First, broken toes. You can break your toe with a jump-back. It happens fairly frequently.
Second, bunions. The repeated forces of an uncontrolled jump-back will lead to torsion and poor alignment in the great toe joint. Pretty!
Third, excess force will be distributed up the joints of the body. The lumbar spine will also be vulnerable to the impact.
A highly controlled jump-back lands in chaturanga in (relatively) slow motion, adding minimal force to the big toe and reducing all of those possible side-effects.
The population that is able to control a jump-back into chaturanga is tiny: Perhaps 3% or fewer of your students in a general, all-levels vinyasa yoga class.
Does this mean eliminating the cuing of jump-backs in all but the most advanced classes? Maybe. You might also consider creating crystal-clear “If [this], then [that]…” suggestions in your teaching.
One cuing option for the jump-back might be:
“If you can hold chaturanga dandasana for 5 breaths with good form, then try sliding back from uttanasana to chaturanga on a blanket next to your mat. If you can also control the blanket transition without collapse, with easy breathing, then you have my permission to jump back to chaturanga only (not plank).” Of course this requires massive self-awareness on the part of the student, but it gives clear steps to build toward a pose — something we often lack in asana instruction.
Here’s a visual (with fancy ambient music for fun):
As always, Yoga Anatomy Academy would be delighted to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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