While it looks simple on the surface, anyone who’s practiced it knows Chaturanga Dandasana is one of yoga’s toughest poses. To do it in safe postural alignment, in the split-second flow on the way to Down Dog or Cobra can be even more challenging.
In a typical vinyasa yoga class, you practice Low Plank (more accurately known as Four-Limbed Staff pose) upwards of thirty times. In the Ashtanga primary series, it’s sixty! With that amount of repetition, and all the weight you bear on your arms in Chaturanga, it’s no wonder that shoulders and wrists can get worn, tired, or worse, injured.
The actions, alignment and even the entrance into this demanding pose are complex, so let’s break them down and see if we can’t learn how to safely practice Chaturanga Dandasana for a lifetime of healthy yoga.
Key Alignment Points
- Body forms one straight line from heels to the crown of the head
- Only hands and toes are on the ground (unless you take the modification of knees down)
- Palms are flat, with fingertips, base knuckles and heels of the hands pressed down firmly
- Elbows form a 90º angle and point back towards the feet
- Shoulders are no lower than elbows and never dip or round forward toward the ground
Entering Chaturanga From High Plank
- In High Plank draw your shoulder blades onto your back so your arm bones plug into the “sockets” and your chest descends down towards the floor.
- Lift your head into line with your spine —when it’s forward it’s more risky for your shoulder girdle.
- Move your navel in and up so your abdominal muscles are toned and your low back is supported.
- Now, rock forward and backwards a couple times, in a sawing movement. (Be cautious to keep from sagging or going up and down as you do this.)
- Carry the forward momentum of this sawing into your descent; you’ll move forward on a diagonal rather than dropping straight to the floor.
- Stop lowering when your shoulders are in line with your elbows, hovering a few inches above the floor.
- To come into Cobra pose, keep your head, chest and shoulders lifted while you drop your belly to the ground.
Putting all these pieces into play together takes concentration, body awareness and tremendous strength. If you feel like you need to build up strength or need a slightly easier version to work on key components without sacrificing safe alignment, try one of these modifications:
- Practice at a wall – do all the same actions standing with your hands chest high at a wall, rocking onto your tip-toes as you bend your elbows.
- Knees down – place knees on the floor in High Plank.
- Go only half way to the floor, or only so low as to maintain healthy alignment.
Other Yoga Poses to Build Strength
- Down Dog
- High Plank
- Forearm Plank
- Shoulders rounded forward
- Ribs resting on elbows
- Hands disengaged (read more here)
- Head dropped forward
- Hips sagging down
- Hips raised too high