What yoga flow class would be complete without Chaturanga Dandasana?
Contrary to popular belief, this Chaturanga Dandasana is not a transition. It’s a pose that can be held all on it’s own. Chaturanga Dandasana strengthens and tones your upper body, core, and legs. And as a yoga instructor, it’s the pose I always see practiced incorrectly.
Start with a Solid Plank.
Plank pose is the perfect preparatory pose for Chaturanga Dandasana—and it conveniently comes right before in a typical vinyasa flow. Plank pose teaches you to support your weight on your hands, strengthens your core and legs, and when done properly, it teaches you the correct alignment that you’ll need later for Chaturanga Dandasana.
Feel for stacking your shoulders on top of your wrists and slightly “doming” your shoulders by pressing the ground away and engaging your chest muscles. This is almost similar to Cat pose when it comes to the upper back.
- Simultaneously keep the shoulder blades drawn back away from the ears.
- Draw the navel in toward the spine.
- Keep the spine in one long line—the hips should be in line with the shoulders without sinking or lifting the hips too much.
- Legs are actively engaged in this pose.
- Practice Plank pose for ten breaths a day or more while you are gaining strength for Chaturanga Dandasana.
Once you’re ready to make the descent into Chaturanga, your first step is to use your toes to shift the shoulders past the wrists. Change the alignment first. This is a necessary step to set yourself up for proper alignment in Chaturanga Dandasana.
Try Making Shapes.
Chatur means four and anga means angle. This gives you a geometric idea of what the pose should look like. The body essentially creates a rectangle with four right angles. You have a 90-degree angle at the wrist, and another at the elbow. Two more 90-degree angles appear at the feet—one at the ankle joint and one where the toes meet the yoga mat.
Why are these angles important?
The angles created at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints are important to note. A 90-degree angle here causes the bones to stack in the safest and most sustainable shape for the joints.
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Prop It Up!
When learning how to properly execute Chaturanga Dandasana, give yourself some props. Props in this case will help you keep the correct shape and help you avoid all of the most popular Chaturanga pitfalls. And all you’ll need is two blocks and one strap.
- First set up your strap around your upper arms, so that your arms are right next to the ribs—not squeezing in under your body and not splayed out to your sides. The strap should not be too tight that it’s uncomfortable, but fastened securely. The strap serves two purposes; one is to keep the upper arms from splaying out to the sides which creates instability, and two is to stop the chest from dipping lower than the elbows. The strap will physically stop you from dropping too low.
- The two blocks should be set up below your ribs and your hips. Most people will set these up at mid-height, or possibly the lowest height if you are a little shorter. Pretend the blocks are hot lava—don’t drop your hips or belly onto them.
- Once you are all set up with the strap around the upper arms and blocks below the ribs and hips in Plank pose, you are ready to practice Chaturanga Dandasana.
- Using your toes, shift the shoulders past the wrists to create the space to make right angles. Lower the whole body down only to the height of the elbows—the strap will physically stop your chest from dropping too low.
- Hover your body just above the blocks without resting on them. Pause here for a few deep breaths, at first two breaths may feel like more than enough but over time you’ll be able to hold it for longer.
You could choose to continue flowing through Upward-Facing Dog and Downward-Facing Dog. Be mindful of the blocks in Upward-Facing Dog as they are in your way a bit.
Modify, Modify, Modify.
So what happens if your body just isn’t physically ready for Chaturanga Dandasana?
Chaturanga is an advanced pose—which means most beginners are not quite ready for it yet. Trying to muscle through it with poor alignment can cause injury to the rotator cuffs over time. Instead, modify the pose to build the strength you need.
- From Plank pose, shift the shoulders past the wrists and gently lower the knees to your mat. Keep the elbows framing your ribcage and your core braced as you slowly lower down to the mat. Slowly. Rushing through it won’t build strength, but using control and really feeling your muscles work as you lower yourself down absolutely will.
- Rather than practicing Upward-Facing Dog, use Cobra pose. In Cobra pose, feel for using your fingertips to draw your sternum forward as you lift your chest.
- Keep your shoulders drawn back.
- Lower down—again with control.
- Press up into Tabletop pose and then move back into Downward-Facing Dog. Over time you may find that you can press yourself straight up into Plank pose while keeping the whole body tight and in alignment. If you feel like you’re doing the wave a bit as you lift into Plank pose, lift to Tabletop pose instead.
Modifying does not mean that you are doing anything less. It means that you know your body and you love your body enough to put the ego aside while you learn proper form in order to build the necessary strength to do more advanced transitions.
Sanskrit: Chaturanga Dandasana
- Come into Plank pose. Make sure your hands are aligned beneath your shoulders, and distribute your body weight evenly between your hands and feet.
- Exhale and bend at the elbows. Slowly lower your body until it's parallel to the floor, a few inches above your mat, and your arms are at a 90-degree angle. Hold your elbows in close to your ribs.
- Engage your abdomen and thighs to maintain length in the spine. Do not let your shoulders come lower than your elbows.
- Lower your gaze so you are looking straight down, keeping your neck in line with your spine.
- To release, exhale and push up into Upward-Facing Dog. Beginners may lower down to the abdomen, preparing for Cobra pose.
- Strengthens the arms, wrists, and shoulders
- Prepares the body for arm balances
- Strengthens the core
- Wrist injuries and recent surgeries
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Slipped discs, along with other spinal issues
Proper alignment will also help you to sustain your practice for years to come. Many people begin a yoga practice in their 20’s and 30’s and continue practicing daily into their 70’s and 80’s and sometimes even well beyond. That’s 50 plus years of practice.
How many Chaturangas do you think you’ll do in your life? Knowing that—you have plenty of time to build up to this pose.