Alright folks we’ve already covered a few of the more basic postures here, here and here, and this week I want to dive into a more complex posture so I’m bringing you this Chaturanga Dandasana Tutorial. Also known as 4 limbed staff pose. So the idea is for the body to be strong and solid like a staff, with just 4 limbs touching the floor – the feet and the hands. It’s a real full body workout where you have to engage the entire core, legs, ankles, and use the strength in the arms to lower down without collapsing through the body. It’s actually quite advanced when you look at it, yet it’s incorporated very frequently in many classes and not only have I seen people get injured by practicing with improper form, but I myself have suffered this injury. So I really wanna break it down and offer you some alternatives.
Getting into the Pose:
Start in Plank (check out a detailed tutorial here to make sure you’re starting out with proper alignment). You want to start out by bringing the breath into the space between the shoulder blades, activating the quads, and pressing the heels strongly back.
From Plank, inhale and begin to slowly push off of the toes and shift the weight forward so that the shoulders come just forward of the wrists. The tendency is to grip and scrunch up the fingers, but instead focus on pressing the palms more strongly down and spreading the fingers. Feel all for corners root down into the ground so that the weight doesn’t only rest in the heel of the palm.
As you exhale, rather than thinking of lowering down, imagine drawing the elbows straight back behind you as you pull the the sternum forward. The tendency is to collapse through the shoulders, so instead, maintain strength and openness in the space between the shoulder blades. Do not drop the shoulders lower than the level of the elbows and ensure that the elbow email drawn in towards the sides of the body.
Ashtanga Pranam is a variation on Chaturanga that allows you to build some arm strength without having to hold the entire body up. This is a great option for all people! In fact I didn’t start practicing Chaturanga for at least the first 3 years of my practice because frankly I wasn’t ready for it. So I practiced this instead. I still come back to it when I feel fatigued , so please give it a shot! Because I think it’s so important, I want to break it down for you. You can start in full plank or half plank.
On the beginning of your exhale you will drop the knees if they’re not already down and then tip the tailbone back, aiming the points of the hips down.
As you complete your exhale begin to lower the chest and the chin down to the ground with the gaze forward. The trick is to keep the elbows pulled in so that as you lower the inner arms graze the ribcage. You should still feel the very strong engagement in the triceps even in this version, so focus on finding that feeling. Think “knees, chest, chin” as you move down.
Childs Pose is another option. I know that especially in a vinyasa class, we tend to want to complete every last vinyasa, but sometimes we get tired and don;t have the energy for all of them, or even any! So why push it? I really think it’s important to recognize that you are in control, and to honor the current state of your body. There should be no judgement, internal or external, so it is always better to just press back to child’s pose instead of pushing too hard and getting injured by attempting Chaturanga or Ashtanga Pranam when you’re not ready or not up for it.
Tips, Tricks, and Modifications:
#1 is if you experience any pain in the low back or shoulders, please know that it’s not normal, it might be common, but it’s not normal, so you’ll need to modify.
If you feel discomfort in the low back, I suggest taking Ashtanga Pranam or just skipping it all together and taking a rest in child’s pose. Remember that this practice should be healing and strengthening for the body – not damaging.
If you encounter pain in the shoulders, check your form and make sure the shoulders aren’t dropping below the elbows – this puts excess pressure in the rotator cuff and puts you at risk for injury. I’ve experienced this myself and, believe me, it’s not fun! So, wrap a yoga strap around the biceps so that it stops your chest from dropping too low until you build the muscle memory to know where to stop. This also will help to keep the elbows along the sides of the body, rather than splaying outwards.