Yesssss! Time to break down one of my ultimate favorite poses - Chaturanga Dandasana or Low Plank Pose (or "Four-Limbed Staff Pose" when translating from Sanskrit). This pose is so powerful and when done correctly, will help you build tremendous full-body strength. That said, it tops the charts, in my opinion, for being the pose most often incorrectly done. I am strict in policing correct posture in chaturanga, as consistent incorrect alignment almost always leads to shoulder pain and/or injuries. And since every yoga flow class includes chaturangas in its many sun salutations, vinyasa and strength movements, it is necessary to practice this pose cautiously.
So here we go:
- Start in plank pose -- read the previous post to brush up on your plank posture. Remember that Chaturanga is plank with bent elbows!
- Ensure that you are engaging the entire body. This is SUPER important!
- If you are still working up to the full pose but need a little extra support right now, put your knees on the ground, with toes tucked (see bottom left photo). This is crucial if you are working on upper body strength. Don't cheat the pose by hardly bending the arms and just lowering the hips (like in the middle bottom photo). This will force the shoulders to shrug and the belly to sag, which will not help you build strength.
- Broaden both front and back sides of the upper body. Do NOT let the shoulders roll inward toward the center of the chest. Keep the shoulders depressed -- pulling toward the heels and the sternum forward. Hug the low belly in, fire up the legs.
- Slightly shift forward, but keep the toes pressing down and the legs engaged. Don't get so high on the tippy toes that all the weight is in the upper body. Keep the gaze in front of the hands.
- Press the floor away with your hands as you begin to bend your elbows. Head stays in line with the shoulders/hips, and the cervical spine remains long. By pushing the hands into the floor, you'll begin to engage the back muscles (serratus anterior muscles and lats), and minimize the work in the neck muscles.
- Only lower the body until the shoulders are in line with the elbows. If you allow the shoulders to dip lower (as in the bottom right photo), you are putting too much pressure on the shoulder girdle. What ends up happening then, is your shoulders roll internally, your elbows might even dig into your ribs to help hold you up, and your butt rises far too high. This is too much work for the upper body and leads to shoulder instability, which results in discomfort or possible shoulder impingements/injuries.
- Chaturanga is a tricep-push up, so do not let the elbows flare out as this will turn the pose into a military push-up. Speaking of the elbows, keep them about a half-inch or inch away from your side body, so you aren't tempted to use them as props under your ribs. When lowered to the full pose, the arms will create a 90-degree angle.
- Breathe! Hold the pose for at least 3 ujjayi breaths Longer is possible.