Chaturanga Dandasana, which means “four limbed staff pose,” is an incredibly common posture in Vinyasa (Flow or Power) yoga. We can breeze through it 15 times in a practice without ever taking the time to pause and break it down. From Plank pose, we lower down half way into Chaturanga Dandasana, come into Upward Facing Dog and return to Downward Facing Dog. This oft-repeated sequence rinses out the spine while building strength and flexibility in the shoulders, back, and core.
It is also the pose you need to “get” before you can practice many arm balances, such as Crow Pose, Side Crow, the Koundinyasanas, even handstand and headstand. I can’t help but also tap into my grrl power in this pose: it’s tougher for women because our lower centers of gravity pull our hips down, and it often takes more work to strengthen our shoulders, which can be more mobile and injury susceptible (see, there are benefits to being a stiff guy!). So it’s satisfying to work on my bulging, demon-fighting triceps.
Partly because humans don’t spend a ton of time walking around on our hands, we are not used to bearing weight on them. Throwing ourselves into a practice that repeats this sequence so often without necessarily breaking it down can make it easy to get injured. Here are some tips to make this difficult pose safer.
One of two misalignments tend to happen when we are trying to do Chaturanga Dandasana while compensating for strength that we are still working to build.
The first happens when the shoulders lead the charge to the floor at a sharp angle with the elbows, butt lifting high to the air, which puts all of your body weight on shoulder joints that were never intended to take that much heat. I like to call this the Divebomber.
The second, the Inchworm (think of the breakdancing move) is when the belly collapses first, putting pressure on the lower back, and the upper body falls to the floor in a floppy, inchwormy wave. In both cases, the core needs to engage to support the work of the shoulders, keeping the body level with the floor.
A major key for this pose is that you want your arms to create about a 90- degree angle when you come down. From Plank pose, shift forward so that your chest is in line with your fingernails, not your wrists, before you come down. Hinge from your elbows, keeping your shoulders pinned firmly onto the back. As soon as you go past 90 degrees and pike your bum up, you are divebombing, and endangering your shoulders. As you are working towards holding that 90-degree shape, come all the way down, landing your hips and chest at the same time. The shoulders should be so firmly connected on your back and away from your ears that they still don’t touch the floor even when you are all the way down on your belly. Check your hand placement: you know you kept your alignment if your hands are by your low ribs once you get to the floor, rather than right underneath your shoulders (in which case, you probably did a Divebomb; try again!).
If you can benefit from a visual, you can watch this two minute tutorial online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvvME5vxGfw. Good luck with this challenging pose!