How to Do Chaturanga in Yoga
Chaturanga Dandasana (chah-tuur-ANGH-uh dahn-DAHS-uh-nuh) is a major component of Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga. Rarely referred to by its English name, Four-Limbed Staff Pose, this pose is most commonly called "Chaturanga." The full name comes from four Sanskrit words:
- "Chatur" — meaning "four"
- "Anga" — meaning "limb"
- "Danda" — meaning "staff"
- "Asana" — meaning "pose"
The "staff" of the pose refers to the spine — the main support system of the body. When performed correctly, the body resembles a rod or staff, with the spine in one straight line. An essential element of Sun Salutations, Chaturanga is a powerful strength-builder and arm balance.
Benefits of Chaturanga
Chaturanga strengthens and tones the wrists, arms, abdominal muscles, and lower back. It prepares the body for more challenging arm balances. Similar to a traditional push-up, it also strengthens the muscles surrounding the spine, which helps to improve posture.
As part of the Sun Salutation sequence, Chaturanga is often practiced many times during Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga classes. It takes patience and discipline to learn how to practice the pose correctly and avoid injury. When this is accomplished, the pose is a powerful full-body toner.
Yoga is not a practice of domination; it's a process of learning to flow with the dance of prana, of energy. I invite you to open to a new concept of strength in asana. Think of strength as not only muscular, but also as a resource inside yourself, an inner reservoir of power in your heart. When the muscles of your outer body are working in optimal balance with one another, you will have amazing access to this inner strength… It is possible to experience a balanced, dynamic, and joyful state of mind and body in Chaturanga Dandasana.
Do not practice Chaturanga if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, or a shoulder, elbow, or wrist injury. Women who are pregnant should not practice the full version of the pose — instead, lower only a few inches, or practice Plank Pose only.
Chaturanga requires a great deal of strength to be performed correctly and it is very easy to injure yourself if you move into it too soon. If you do not yet have the strength to do the pose in proper alignment, practice Half Chaturanga or Plank Pose until you can support your full body weight correctly.
Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin in Plank Pose. Keeping your elbows directly over your wrists, slowly lower your body to hover a few inches above the floor. Keep your back flat.
- Lift through your chest, keeping your shoulders in line with your elbows. Do not let your chest drop or sag toward the floor.
Fully engage your abdominal and leg muscles.
- If the full pose is too challenging right now, come to your knees first. Then, lower your torso to hover an inch above the floor. This is Half Chaturanga.
- Do not let your elbows splay to the sides. Keep them hugged along your ribcage, pointed toward your heels.
- Press the base of your knuckles into the floor. Your upper and lower arms should be perpendicular, bent 90 degrees at the elbows. Do not let your shoulders drop lower than the height of your elbows.
- Hold for 10-30 seconds, and then lower your body all the way to the mat and rest. More experienced students can press back into Plank Pose. Those practicing Sun Salutations can press forward into Upward-Facing Dog.
Modifications & Variations
Chaturanga is an excellent core and arm strengthener when practiced correctly. However, it takes time to gain enough strength to hold the pose for more than a breath or two. Take it slowly and be careful not to strain your arms, wrists, elbows, or shoulders. Since it’s such a challenging pose, even experienced students will be unlikely to require a more advanced version. Try these simple changes to find the variation that is suitable for you:
- Practice Half Chaturanga until you have built up enough strength to fully support your body with your arms. If Half Chaturanga is difficult, practice Ashtanga Namaskara (Knees-Chest-Chin Pose) until you have built up enough strength for Half Chaturanga.
- As a challenge for stronger students, place a bolster or folded blanket on the floor beneath your body in Plank Pose. Lower your body so it hovers just slightly above the prop while in Chaturanga.
- More advanced students can come into the pose by starting in Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog (with one leg lifted in the air), moving into Three-Legged Plank Pose, and then finally into Three-Legged Chaturanga. Keep the same leg lifted the entire time, as you move forward into Three-Legged Upward-Facing Dog, and back into Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog.
At first glance, Chaturanga looks similar to a fitness-based push-up. But there are important differences between the two. It’s crucial to ensure you are performing the pose with correct alignment; otherwise, it’s very easy to injure your shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Keep the following information in mind when practicing Chaturanga and you’ll be on your way to building pain-free strength and stamina:
- Do not attempt learning Chaturanga on your own. It’s best to learn the pose from a qualified and knowledgeable instructor who can provide you with guidance on the alignment before practicing it solo.
- If your arms and shoulders start to feel fatigued, you will lose the integrity of the pose. Back off for a while and practice Half Chaturanga or Ashtanga Namaskara (Knees-Chest-Chin Pose) for the rest of the class.
- Do not let your shoulders drop below the height of your elbows. It’s better for your shoulders to be too high in the pose than too low.
- Keep your elbows stacked directly above your wrists. Doing so may require coming forward a bit more on the balls of your feet, shifting your torso toward the top edge of your mat.
- Your upper arms and forearms should create a perfect 90-degree angle.
- To get a feel for the correct arm position, practice it while standing and facing a wall. Bend your elbows so your forearms are parallel to the floor. Flex your wrists, pointing your fingertips toward the ceiling. Tuck your tailbone to lengthen your low back.
- You can also practice the arm alignment by standing and facing a wall. Bend your elbows and press your palms against the wall. You can use a mirror to double check your alignment.
- In Half Chaturanga, keep the same alignment of your arms and torso as you would in the full pose — simply bring your knees to the floor.
- Do not try to use brute strength to muscle your way into the pose — this will overuse the front muscles of your body (chest, abdomen, biceps, shoulder heads). Instead, think of your body as one compact force. Utilize the back muscles of your body (back torso, shoulder blades, triceps, hamstrings, and calves) with equal effort as the front.
- Keep your elbows tucked alongside your body, reaching toward your heels — do not let them splay out to the sides.
- Remember, Chaturanga is not a push-up and requires inner strength as much as pure muscle strength.
Align with True Power
Practicing Chaturanga correctly requires an understanding of the true heart of yoga. Although the pose demands strength, you can’t simply conquer it through sheer force and muscular effort. Instead, it takes patience and a willingness to accept your current circumstances, in order to build the strength necessary for the full expression of the pose. Let go of the desire for outcomes and focus on the present moment, instead. The essence of Chaturanga is demonstrated in your ability to flow with all of life’s challenges, both on and off the mat. Once you can flow, you will find true power in the pose.