Why Holding Plank is the Worst—And Best
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Before I started going to a studio to practice yoga, I exercised at home when I could. Notice I said, “When I could.” All too often there seemed to be some “very good” reason that I “couldn’t” exercise.
On the days I chose not to work out, my reasoning went a little something like this:
“Hmmm… what will this workout consist of? Oooh, I don’t like that—that move makes my legs hurt. Oh, and that makes me sad. And I really can’t stand that.”
There were way too many days when I decided that I was just not interested in that level of discomfort. No one was there to hold me accountable or encourage me to go to those challenging or uncomfortable places so, many times, I just bailed. It’s no wonder I didn’t see much progress or gain much strength.
I was extremely comfortable, though.
One of my yoga instructors, Daniel, is very good at leading us into areas that challenge us and create just the right amount of healthy discomfort for our bodies. One way he does this is by asking us to hold poses we would much rather just pass through—like plank pose. Passing through plank pose over and over again during a typical vinyasa flow is just par for the course. But stopping and hanging out in plank pose—well, that’s a different story.
When he stops us there, he’ll say something like, “Pay attention to what begins to fail first. Where are you shaking? Where do you feel uncomfortable? That’s where you need to get stronger.” And then he keeps us there about one breath longer than we think we can stand it.
If I were at home on my own, would I choose to do this? Maybe once or twice. Maybe at the start of a new resolution or something. But without someone leading me and encouraging me, and without the accountability of the other people in the room who are also holding plank, I would more than likely avoid that discomfort. However, the more times I patiently endure holding plank pose—even one breath longer than I think I can stand it— the stronger I become.
There’s a great spiritual lesson here, friends. Indulge me for a moment while I share.
Up until a few days back, the last two weeks had been really challenging and uncomfortable for me. I was low for no apparent reason. God’s voice seemed very distant, silent even. Darkness, sadness, anxiety, and self-doubt surrounded me. I had brain fog, writer’s block, and anxiety dreams that kept me up and stole my sleep. Just when I thought the heaviness was dissipating, it surrounded me again. The longer this persisted, the more my weak areas were being revealed—areas I have recently gained a lot of freedom and strength in, which really surprised me. I was so much stronger, wasn’t I? I’d moved past this, hadn’t I? It was troubling.
Something I did through it all was to maintain my habit of seeking God and pouring my heart out before Him. Even though I FELT like He was distant, I just kept clinging to the truth that He is NEVER distant from those whom He loves and who love Him.
One morning as I was reading in The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A' Kempis, I came across this passage which seemed like it was written just for me and for just that time:
“My child, patience and humility in adversities are more pleasing to me than much comfort and devotion in prosperities… You are courageous enough so long as nothing adverse comes your way. You can give good counsel and can encourage others with your words; but when any tribulation suddenly comes to your door, you fail in counsel and in strength. Observe then your great frailty, of which you too often have experience in insignificant matters.”
Read that over again and let it sink in.
Now, focus on this phrase: “Observe then your great frailty…”
As soon as I read that I had an “Ah-ha!” moment. Daniel’s instructions from class for us to notice what begins to fail as we hold plank was the immediate connection I made. And then it occurred to me: God had me holding plank spiritually. What I needed to do during this low season was to notice what was beginning to fail.
I was to observe the weaknesses that were being exposed; I was to patiently endure as I held plank, spiritually speaking; I was to trust that God, my faithful instructor, knew what I could take, and would only leave me there one breath longer than I thought I would be able to stand it. If I would endure, I would become stronger as a result.
I began to list all the apparent weak spots, some of which included getting easily frustrated in disproportionate ways over small things and speaking carelessly out of that frustration.
I continued to read:
“It can be for your good when these things happen to you…Bear it patiently if you cannot joyfully. Restrain yourself, and let no inordinate word pass out of your mouth, whereby Christ’s little ones may be offended.”
Man, He was really getting in my business. I made note of what could be behind those reactions, and I confessed them and asked forgiveness.
“The storm which is now raised shall quickly be allayed, and inward grief shall be sweetened by returning grace. Be patient of soul, and gird yourself to greater endurance.”
I like that word, “gird” even though it’s not one we use very much. It can mean to surround yourself with something, much like you would a belt, but it also refers to readying yourself for any kind of confrontation, to arm yourself in advance of a confrontation.
So how do we gird ourselves for times when we are being harassed and attacked by the enemy? For starters, we wrap ourselves in the Truth found in God’s word. We show up every day to meet with Him, and continue to show up even when we don’t want to. We continue to trust Him, and believe what He says is true about us even when we don’t feel like it’s true.
I am no stranger to spiritual harassment, and I believe that’s what I have been experiencing these past two weeks. God did not cause it, but God is using this time to help me grow stronger. If I will take note of where I’m not girded—where I’m not strengthened and prepared—if I will patiently endure this season, then I will know better how to let the Holy Spirit work within me to make me stronger.
But let me be totally honest here: Holding plank doesn’t FEEL good. While I can see how it will be for my good, and I believe God when He says He uses these times to strengthen me, quite honestly, I can’t stand how I feel. And when these seasons hit, some days discouragement is just about too much for me to take. I begin to wonder, “Why is this happening? Where did I go wrong? We were making such good progress, Lord. Why? Is it something I’ve done?”
I think I was entering this kind of mindset the day God allowed me to see this passage, so He had this word for me as well:
“All is not lost, although you do feel yourself very often afflicted or grievously tempted. You are human, not God; you are flesh, not an angel. How can you continue always in the same state of virtue, when an angel in heaven has fallen, as also the first man in paradise? I am he who will strengthen with health those who mourn, and do raise up unto divine glory those that know their own infirmity.”
I believe I’m on the other side of this workout now. I’ve put my knees down, and relief has come. Now I’m going to continue the work of strengthening these weak spots.
Maybe you are experiencing something similar. If so, I encourage you to hang in there. Patiently endure. Take note of your weaknesses. And let God use even the low times…the dark times…the times that seem hopeless…to reveal to you where you are weak. Don't be afraid of the discomfort. It's all a necessary part of getting stronger. And never forget that you are not alone.
"I am he who will strengthen..."