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A Soft Heart & Strong Body: Chaturanga Dandasana
by Tarra Madore

Chaturanga dandasana is the Four-Limbed Staff pose. This pose is challenging to do and requires both a soft heart and strong body to do well. When performed properly, it is empowering and strengthening for the arms and abdominals. Chaturanga (for short), is a part of the sun salutation in many yoga traditions. It is also a key pose in most vinyasa classes. As a result, it is done repeatedly in classes across the nation, so it is extremely important to do it properly. 

When a pose is done over and over, good alignment is the key to making sure that it does not become injurious. Imagine you had a door in your home that opened into a plush carpeted room. If the door was slightly off its hinge, you probably wouldn’t notice it at first. You would continually open and close the door without noticing a significant change. In a few months you may notice an area of the carpet that looks more worn than the rest. The carpet will begin to wear away under the door because it is slightly off. You don’t notice it until it causes wear and tear. The same can happen in the human body. If your alignment is slightly off and you don’t notice it, over time repetitive motion will cause painful wear and tear.

Unfortunately, this is one of the poses I see done poorly most of the time. When done correctly, it will strengthen your rotator cuff muscles. When done incorrectly however, it will injure the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles by overstretching the tendons while expecting the muscles to fire.

The foundations for this pose are the hands and balls of the feet. There is a full bright quality of the inner body. From that fullness the outer body can hug into the inner body and strengthen the pose. Most often, the pose is done from plank pose, which resembles the top of a push up. One then lowers the body down so that hands and feet are pressing into the floor, and the rest of the body is about 2 inches off the floor. The challenge and important factor is to keep the heads of the arms bones lifted as high as the elbows in the pose. As you lower down, the heart stays melted and the shoulder blades stay firmly rooted onto the back, which will keep the heads of the arm bones lifted.

As you are learning this pose and building strength, it is wiser to place your knees down on the floor as you lower your body. This will build your strength and protect the rotator cuff muscles. The tendency is for the shoulders to hunch forward as you lower. It feels easier but destroys your shoulders. You may not feel it right away, but you will with repetition over time. With shoulders rounded forward you won’t build strength; instead you will create weakness. 

Try Chaturanga Dandasana Challenge

Lay on the floor face down. Tuck your toes under and take a few breaths to invigorate your body. Now walk your feet toward your head, press your heels back and lift your thighs off the floor. Place your hands next to you chest – thumbs about midline of your chest, forearms perpendicular to the floor. Turn your finger tips out – SLIGHTLY. Make sure they do not turn in. Your elbows will point back – they aren’t touching the body and they aren’t pointing out to the side (see photo). Press your hands into the floor and lift the heads of the arms bone up and back. Shoulder blades root to your back firmly. Thighs are still lifted, scoop your tailbone – lengthen it toward your feet and down toward the mat. Keep your thighs lifted when you scoop your tailbone. Scooping the tailbone lengthens your low back, allows the sides of the waist to lift, and tones your abdominal muscles. The abs should lift away from the floor. Keeping all that, inhale, expand the inner body, and lift your chest off the floor into Chaturanga Dandasnana. Hold the pose, keeping the breath steady for several breaths before lowering back down to the mat on an exhale. Note: to modify this pose for beginners, place a block under your lower abdomen and pelvis. Repeat the above steps and you may have more success in lifting up into Chaturanga. 

I admit it’s difficult and may not work right away, but the strengthening benefits of this pose are well worth the effort. Also, by mastering this pose, you’ll be sure not to create repetitive stress injuries that arise when common poses are done without proper alignment.


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About the Author

Tarra Piparo Madore is a yoga instructor and retired chiropractor who has studied at Palmer College of Chiropractic, Himalayan Institute and most recently with senior certified Anusara teachers Naime Jezzeny and Sue Elkind. She is Director of Inner Light Yoga Center in North Brunswick, NJ and is also Co-Publisher and Creative Director for New Jersey Namaste News magazine.









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