Chaturanga Dandasana or 4 Limbed Staff Pose — the yoga pose that yogis love to hate. Most people have done it either incorrectly and/or half-heartedly for years.Why? Because it’s darn hard! There’s no denying the physical and mental challenge of hovering inches above your mat in a low plank position without losing your cool. While chaturanga can be a great way to tone your arms and core, your alignment needs to be spot on. But, chances are, you aren’t performing the pose as safely and soundly as you’d think.
Pain in the Asana
Chaturanga is among the primary poses that yogis do over and over again in yoga classes, especially flow-based classes. But when we repeatedly perform a pose incorrectly, we risk overtaxing our joints. Misaligned chaturanga can lead to shoulder strain and rotator cuff injuries as well as neck pain and low back pain. So it is important to do this asana properly.
Doing a pose incorrectly over and over again = potential for repetitive motion injuries, such as rotator cuff, shoulder and wrist injuries.
Because chaturanga is a challenging pose, there’s a tendency to rush through it without thinking about our alignment because we just want to get it over with. But not paying attention might be the biggest problem. Chaturanga relies on the coordination of so many muscles to get it right. Chief among them are the main chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor) and the main muscle that joins the front of the shoulder to the upper arm (anterior deltoid). It also uses several muscles that flex the trunk or hips (including rectus abdominis, obliquus abdominis, iliopsoas, and rectus femoris).
Here’s what most of us are doing wrong:
- Hands are too close to the shoulders, causing the elbow to bend at a sharper than 90 degree angle.
- Bodies collapse all the way to the ground & saggy back.
- “Lazy” chaturangas that barely bend at the elbow for a short breath before transitioning into upward dog.
- Elbows that fall outward, instead of hugging against the body.
A Safe Approach to Chaturanga
- Start in plank pose
- Hands directly under elbows
- Elbows directly under shoulders
- Abdominals and low ribs pulled in keep the core strongly engaged
- Thighs push up
- Heels push back
- Hug all your muscles into the midline of the body
- Roll forward on your toes and shift your whole body forward. Even more than you think you should. (This ensures you will lower down with your arms in a 90° angle.)
- Broaden across your collarbones (as Tiffany Cruikshank says, imagine your collarbones smiling!)
- Lengthen your tailbone and reach your heels towards the back of the room and keep your neck long.
- Bend your elbows and hug them in towards your ribs as you lower down towards the ground. Your hands should be by your lower ribs — not directly under your shoulders.
- Through the entirety of the pose, be sure to engage your core and keep the tops of your shoulders pulled back away from your ears and pointing straight forward, not drooping down. (Remember, you can drop your knees to the floor, which will take some of the weight off the shoulder muscles.)
A healthy chaturanga will help bring you one step closer to a long and healthy yoga practice. When in doubt, ask your instructor for additional guidance or to help you modify for any injuries or discomfort.