When I first started yoga, I grew tired very quickly trying to do chaturanga dandasana, aka four-limbed staff pose. My elbows would splay out, my chest would sink toward the ground, and my head would drop down. It was hard to admit it, but the more I did it this way, the sloppier it became. I didn’t know at the time, but a poorly executed chaturanga dandasana can lead to straining in the shoulder muscles and added stress in the low back.
Luckily, not too long after I started practicing yoga, I went to a class where we learned a modified chaturanga dandasana. This teacher had us drop down on the knees. I wasn’t thrilled about doing what I considered an “easy” version, but I knew the path I was on wasn’t helping my practice. I had to quickly check my ego at the door and try this modified way. From that point forward, I set my knees down for chaturanga dandasana for all of my vinyasas and sun salutations. Little by little, I built up strength. Eventually, after several months of daily practice, I no longer had to set my knees down. By taking the time to learn the basics correctly, I prevented myself from learning the pose the wrong way or worse, getting injured.
I’ve written this blog post to share how to modify your chaturanga dandasana, and have also added instructions for chaturanga dandasana push-ups if you’re looking to build strength in your upper body.
Modified chaturanga dandasana
Start in High plank:
1. Inhale: Shift forward. Shoulders move slightly past the wrists, and come further up onto toes.
2. Exhale: Set knees down and untuck the toes.
3. Inhale: Lengthen and shift forward.
4. Exhale: Keeping elbows close to the ribs, with as much control as possible, slowly lower the chest down until it’s on the mat.
Now you’re are ready to inhale for your upward facing dog!
Chaturanga dandasana Push-ups
Start from the third step above:
1. Exhale: Lower, but keep the chest off of the mat. Try to hover with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. If you cannot hover that low, stay higher up and hold it.
2. Inhale: Press the mat away from you and come back up.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 several times to build strength. Try to get to 5, 10, and even 20!
Note to the reader: I encourage you to film yourself, so that you can check in with your angles; Make sure your joints are stacked (elbows over wrists), your core is engaged, and your gaze is forward. Of course, we are all built differently with variations in our anatomy, so do what is safe for your body and be sure to check in with a teacher you trust.
Over the course of my asana journey, I have found that coming back to foundational poses has allowed me to be strong and mindful in other poses. A strong chaturanga dandasana has allowed me to explore handstands, arm balances, and tricky transitions. Sometimes in life, we need to take a step back, to be stronger moving forward.
By Allison Born,Inner Fire Luminary