Anatomy of a Pose: Chaturanga Dandasana

By Andrea Taylor – September 1, 2015
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

Chaturanga Dandasana, at first glance, looks very similar to a push-up, and seems just as simple. While it appears to be easy, the nature of it leaves much room for error. This pose (and its transition to Upward-Facing Dog) is a signature move in Vinyasa yoga and sun salutations. If it’s consistently done incorrectly, it can cause injuries. In contrast, if proper form is executed, it can greatly strengthen your practice.

 

High Plank

1. Starting on the hands and knees, tuck the toes and lift onto the balls of the feet. Spread the fingers, and stack the shoulders directly over the wrists. 

2. Lift through the shoulders, and roll the upper arm bones outward, drawing the shoulder blades down the back. 

3. Firm the muscles of the legs and thighs and extend the tailbone down towards the heels. 

4. Use the breath to inflate the lower back, lengthening the lumbar spine. 

5. Hollow out the belly, drawing it up and in toward the spine. 

6. Keep your gaze straight down to the ground, lengthening through the crown of the head.

 

Chaturanga Dandasana

*chaturanga = four limbs · danda = staff · asana = pose

Four-Limbed Staff Pose

1. Use your exhalation to transition to Chaturanga Dandasana. 

2. From High Plank, begin to shift your weight slightly forward, keeping the elbows stacking over the wrists as you bend into the arms. 

3. Connect to the strength of the triceps, deltoids, and latissimi dorsi (lats), as you hug the upper arm bones into your side body, and broaden through the collarbones. 

4. Imagine staying flat as a plank of wood as you lower until there is a 90-degree bend in the elbows; avoid dipping the shoulders below the elbows, or pointing them down towards the ground.

DO

  • Utilize the strength of the shoulders, deltoids and lats to execute the movement
  • Keep a clean, strong line of energy from the heels through the crown of the head

DON'T

  • Point the shoulders down towards the ground
  • Allow the tailbone to curl upwards, creating a curve in the lower back
  • Let the hips sag or droop below the shoulders, or stick up above the shoulders

VARIATIONS

Lower the knees to the ground, to make the pose more accessible

 

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana​

Upward-Facing Dog

1. From Chaturanga Dandasana, use your inhalation to transition into Upward-Facing Dog. 

2. Begin to press into the palms, and rolling over your toes, press the tops of the feet into the ground, especially through the big toe. 

3. Firm up the muscles of the legs and thighs, lift through the back of the knees, and extend the tailbone down toward the heels. 

4. Begin to press the ground away from you as you broaden through the collarbones, lift through the heart, and draw the shoulder blades towards each other and down the back.

5. Press the tops of the feet and the palms firmly into the ground, making sure to keep the index finger knuckle connecting to the ground. 

DON’T

  • Straighten the arms first, or hang from the shoulders, collapsing into the lower back
  • Allow the legs to roll out to the sides, and the feet to 'go limp'
  • Throw the head back; shifting the gaze should be the last adjustment

VARIATIONS

Use a block beneath each palm to get more lift away from the ground

If downward facing dog is not accessible, low Cobra or full Cobra pose may be practiced instead.

ADVANCED

Slowly take the gaze high, only if there are no prior injuries or precautions with the neck, and breathing feels free and easy.

 

To practice 'Vinyasa' style yoga means to flow with the breath, moving into and out of postures with each inhalation and exhalation. To practice transitioning from one pose to the next, start in High Plank. Lengthen and steady your exhalation, as you slowly lower into Chaturanga Dandasana. Use your inhalation to initiate the movement from Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog, filling the chest and expanding with the breath. Traditionally, you would use the next exhalation to transition up and back into downward facing dog, drawing the lower belly up and in.

 
 

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