Most of us have been on the receiving end of verbal or non-verbal corrections on our Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbs Pose). I found it a difficult pose to master, and I admit, I’ve been one of those teachers who has stopped an entire class for a mini-Chaturagna workshop. If done incorrectly, you can cause damage to the muscles, tendons and ligaments in your shoulders.
So what’s the gripe with Chaturanga? Essentially, if you are moving through a vinyasa or Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) before you have enough strength to hold Chaturanga for any period of time, it is very tempting to a.) skip it and flow straight to Cobra or Upward-Facing Dog (the Chata-up-dog) or b.) do a plank-type hold instead and then drop the hips to up-dog (not the best or safest way to come into a backbend). It seems unthinkable to many of us who are drawn to a style of yoga that includes Chaturanga Dandasana in sequences, that we might do it on our knees. Instead, I’ll stick my chin out, leave my bum high and flow straight into up-dog, all the while hoping the teacher is looking elsewhere – we know what you’re doing ( we used to do it too!).
The the challenge is not to be in the Chaturanga position (standing up it is pretty easy), but to maintain the alignment of Tadasana against the pull of gravity. So what can you do to improve your Chaturanga? First, start with the basics…how to do it safely and correctly:
1.) Elbows hug the sides of your body as you lower down from plank (in a slight forward movement), heads of your shoulders roll back (shoulders down, away from your ears).
2.) Front of thighs are lifted, hips flat, and the tailbone reaches towards your heels.
3.) Spread shoulder blades apart (there is a tendency for the shoulder blades to roll in towards each other if there isn’t the strength in the triceps or serratus anterior to hold the pose), shoulders are at the same height as your elbows.
4.) Forearm is vertical, fingers and palm of hand are active, push down into your palms while using your elbows to lower yourself.
5.) The body is in the same alignment as for Standing Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
Think you’ve got it? Now work on improving your Chaturanga:
1.) Understand that it is not just a transition between Plank and Upward-Facing Dog. I find that a lot of people less familiar with the asanas don’t realize that Chaturanga Dandasana is a separate pose.
2.) Don’t be thinking about up-dog while you are moving into Chaturanga. Be present with your Chaturanga, and pause here for a breath in vinyasa or sun salutations.
3.) USE YOUR KNEES! There is no shame in practicing this pose from your knees instead of your toes. Also, try it against a wall, holding your Mountain Pose (Tadasana) alignment, elbows bent, hugged into the sides of your body. This will help you get a feel for what you are working towards.
4.) Be mindful of your base of support (what parts of your body are touching the mat in this pose?), use these parts of your body to push up from (even as you lower yourself into the pose), and know how to activate your core to support the pull of gravity on the hips and belly.
5.) Practice Chaturanga with the yamas and niyamas in mind: Satya – self-honesty (am I really pausing in Chaturanga? Would I be better off on my knees here?), Ahimsa – non-violence (don’t hurt yourself trying to do something that isn’t available to your body), Svadhyaya – self-study (why don’t I want to use my knees?) and Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender (trust your practice will bring you to Chaturanga Dandasana when the time is right).
If you are interested in the muscles activated by this pose, there is a great illustration at http://yogaanatomy.net/chaturanga-dandasana/.