You can think of plough pose (yoga plow pose) as a forward bending yoga pose for the hips and spine.
You can also think of it as an inversion since the hips are above the head.
In plough pose (or "plow pose", also called Halasana in sanskrit) you lay on your back with your toes touching the floor behind your head. Your arms are clasped behind your body with your shoulder blades squeezed together to help lift your ribcage up off of the floor..
Squeezing or "retracting" the shoulder blades is important in this basic yoga pose (and in shoulder stand) because it lifts your lower cervical vertebrae and upper thoracic vertebrae off of the floor. So rather than resting with your body weight on these vertebrae, you rest on the shoulders instead.
Prior to getting your legs up over your head it may be a good idea to first practice retracting your shoulder blades.
While sitting upright with your head pulled back and up with the chin pulled in towards your sternum a little bit, first lift your shoulder blades and then move them towards each other.
The lifting part is important because it helps your collar bones (which attach to your shoulder blades) clear the top of your ribcage. Think of it as "moving your shoulders towards your ears."
Moving your shoulder blades together causes your shoulders to move back so if you have difficulty moving your shoulder blades together, you can focus instead on moving your shoulders up and back. Then once your get that action, focus on feeling your shoulder blades moving towards each other.
Once you've gotten the hang of moving your shoulder blades together, then practice grabbing your hands behind your back.
While sitting upright (or standing) grab your hands behind your back with elbows bent. Then move your shoulder blades together and reach your arms down. As you reach your arms down, work at straightening your elbows. Relax and switch the interlace of your fingers and then repeat.
Do this a few times, and then if you are comfortable with this first part, then focus on lifting your arms behind you, but keep the feeling of "length" in your arms.
Note that to make it easier to move your shoulder blades towards each other, lift them slightly.
You can do the above actions in sync with your breath. As you inhale:
As you exhale
With the shoulders out of the way the next challenge is getting the legs up in plough pose. For this you can practice rolling back and forwards on your back.
See if you can roll slowly and in a controlled manner. Then start the roll starting from a laying down position with your legs up. See shoulder stand for more on rolling.
While laying on your back with your hands beside you, lift your legs and "roll" your pelvis off of the floor. Use your hands to help push your pelvis and legs up and over. The further you reach your pelvis up and your legs back, the easier it is to balance on your shoulders.
Keep your weight over your shoulders as you slowly lower your legs behind your head. See if you can touch your toes to the floor behind your head.
If your flexibility is limited you won't be able to get your toes to the floor in plough pose.
When you can get your toes to the floor, press them down into the floor and use that force to push your legs and pelvis upwards. You may also find that doing this takes some of the weight off of your neck.
With your toes supported on the floor or on some other object, grab your hands behind your back (or grab a towel or the sides of your yoga mat) and wiggle your shoulder blades towards each other. You may have to move your shoulders towards your ears to retract your shoulder blades. Use your shoulders to lift your ribcage and neck off of the floor.
Straighten your arms behind your back and straighten your knees above your head.
To stretch the back of your neck slowly, slowly work at lifting your pelvis higher while reaching your feet away from your head. Lengthen your spine at the same time, as much as your can.
To stretch your hamstrings, try moving your feet towards your head. To direct the stretch more into the back of your spine try moving your feet away from your head.
To avoid a sudden jarring of your neck when leaving plough pose, move your hips forwards (away from your head), bend your knees, and slowly take your toes off of the floor. Try to get your weight over your shoulders before you lift your toes off of the floor. Or lift one leg up, move it forwards until it balances your other leg, and then lift that leg. Then slowly roll out.
Another option is to brace your neck prior to lifting your legs. To brace your neck slowly press your head into the floor so that the back of your neck feels strong. Then slowly and smoothly lift your feet up.
As you lift your feet see if you can rock your weight onto your shoulders so that you can relax your neck if you choose to.
If you have trouble getting your hips up in plough pose, an option is use a wall as in this description for shoulder stand.
Friction and pressure are two simple techniques that I use to help my students get stronger and more flexible. These simple techniques also offer a roadway into not only learning how to activate your muscles, but getting a feel for them and your body. Three challenging yoga poses that I use these techniques in are chaturanga, front splits and side splits. While they might not help you get all the way down into the splits, they'll help you feel stronger, and more integrated as you work towards them. And because I've got to pay for my daughters schooling this week, I'm offering a discount on the frictional muscle control videos. (First 100 people only can save over 30%).
Active stretching teaches you muscle control to not only improve flexibility but also body awareness. You'll learn how to adjust postures for better feel as well as more control through a broader range of motion.
Standing exercises for low back pain plus anatomy that can affect the low back and how to use that anatomical understanding.
Experience your body (and understand it) with sensational yoga poses.
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These yoga poses for abs work on the abdominal muscles (and hips) in both standing positions and seated positions.
Sensational yoga poses, lessons to help you enjoy the experience of your body.
Here are the Ashtanga Standing Pose Vinyassas, with inhale movements highlighted in red.
These seated yoga poses have been organized into a rough routine and include lotus, virasana, janu sirsasana and marichyasana variations as well as more basic seated poses like bound angle, pigeon and seated forward bend.
In this preparation for compass pose use your arms to pull your leg towards you for a seated hamstring stretch. To modify, use a strap.
Single joint hip flexors include iliacus, pectineus, obturators, gemelli and gluteus minimus. Use them to help improve your forward bends.
Sensational Yoga ebooks and videos are designed to help you experience your body while focusing on specific poses, actions or parts of the body.
Extreme stability teaches you how to work from the ground up when creating stability, whether you are doing poses on your hands or your feet (or some combination of both).
The working towards wheel pose ebook teaches you basic body first so that you can feel and control your spine, hips and shoulders, so that working towards difficult poses (in this case wheel pose) is easier.
The Muscle control for better flexibility ebook teaches you simple muscle activation techniques that can make it easier to improve your flexibility. Techniques focus on forward and back bending the hips but can be applied to other movements also.
Building up on the material for part 1, Yoga for Beginners 2 teaches you how to make your body stable for a slightly different experience of your hips and shoulders.
Video: This set of simple hip control exercises help you to stabilize the hip joint and control it. You may find these exercises help you improve hamstring and hip flexor strength and flexibility.
One approach to learning yoga is to simply practice yoga poses. The approach in Yoga For Beginners 1 is to help you to learn to feel your body while doing yoga poses.
Some of the exercises in Balance Basics includes learning to balance on the fronts of your feet as well as on one foot using weight shifting exercises. It also includes exercises for crow pose. I've included videos based on the balanace exercises in the book on this page.