Chaturanga Dandasana: How to Stay Safe and Build Strength

By Jennifer Dixon MBA ERYT 500

As a huge yoga enthusiast that came to the practice from injury, one might say I’m a little “OCD” about the injury.  Afterall, I started the practice hurt, and I have done my fair share of not so awesome things that lead to injury…so, I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about one of the single most common poses in a “flow” class–that can be very dangerous if done incorrectly–but is basically never really focused on.

The Chaturanga or Four-Limbed Staff Pose

The Chaturanga is basically like the low plank or Push Up position in finding most “workout” type classes.  This is a challenging posture that builds tremendous strength in the upper body, including abs, arms, shoulders, back and even quads and glutes.  

The Chaturanga vs. The Pushup

Here are the two main differences between The Chaturanga and a Basic Push Up:

  1. Elbow Placement– In Chaturanga the elbows go straight back, hugging against your rib cage on the way down.  In Push-ups, your elbow goes out to the side–almost like duck wings trying to flap off.
  2. Hand Placement –In Chaturanga, your hands go straight down from your shoulders.  This keeps your body perfectly aligned throughout the movement. When your elbows go back on your way down, you’ll keep your forearms directly over the wrists (which is done by pushing forward on your toes), so the elbows act like a hinge to help get the upper body closer to the ground.  In a Push-Up, your hands can be wider or more narrow, depending on what muscle groups you want to focus on (narrow = triceps, wide = chest.)

The “trouble” with the Chaturanga

As an ex-hard-core HIIT workout fanatic, I have done more than my fair share of push up in the traditional sense. Therefore, when I started with my yoga practice, I just busted out my push ups like any good coach would appreciate.  I didn’t pay attention to form and started jumping back (far too soon I may add–but that’s a story for another post), and before I knew it, I had tendinitis within the 6 months of my practice –not in just one elbow-but BOTH! This happens a lot!  Folks come to a yoga studio and start trying to perform this posture that they have seen since the very first P.E. class, and low and behold, wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries start to happen.

I don’t ever want anyone to hurt (1) but I also want us all to practice together until we are 99 (2) I thought I would share:

3 Things I wish I knew about the Chaturanga BEFORE I got Tendonitis

(1.) With pushups, the goal is to go as low as you can (while maintaining the integrity of the pose –ie keeping your body in a straight line).  WIth the Chaturanga, you stop when your shoulders come to 90-degree angles to the elbows. Going below –unless you have incredible shoulder strength–can cause serious damage to the shoulder muscles, and causes tremendous strain on the elbows (leading to the Tendinitis I suffered from.)

(2.) KEEP YOUR BUTT DOWN!  Why is that all caps? Because it’s freaking hard to do (1) and because it’s so hard, people rarely can do it!  Let’s look at it from an anatomical standpoint–coming down into a chaturanga, or low plank position, with your butt sticking up higher than the rest of the body puts a WHOLE bunch of pressure where??  Yup, on upper body–especially those poor shoulders and elbows and wrists. When you keep your butt down, it engages the abs, glutes, and quads more, and forces some of the bigger muscles to stay engaged and active to protect the smaller upper body muscles.  There’s a caveat to this:  You don’t want your butt to sag either–you want to keep your back completely straight.

(3) Keep your hands back further than you think!  In our old “boot camp” days, we were told to put your fingers in line more with the shoulders.  This hand placement is so hard on the elbows when performing Chaturanga because it’s basically impossible for the body to come down and allow the elbows to stay on top of the wrists.  If you move your hands back to be more in line with your chest—dare I saw nipples in an online article?!?!–that allows the body to come forward more, keeping the elbows at a 90 degree angle to the shoulders, straight up from the wrists (not behind the wrists, which will help keep some of the pressure off that tiny elbow joint.)

The Chaturanga Dandasana is a super hard pose, but you can totally do it!  My suggestion is that you take your time when approaching this posture.

I have included a link to a tutorial I recently recorded that helps to break down the chaturanga a little better and offers a few drills for you to practice (which I will discuss further in another article.)  This video is a part of the Mommy Bounce Back Program, an online training course dedicated to all the mama’s out there that wanted to have access to quality yoga training that will help them get stronger, more flexible and manage stress a little better, all from the comfort of their own home.  Check out the video and let me know what you think!

Here’s a bonus: Something I recommend my teacher trainees do when practicing–especially poses (or Asanas) that they are working on; take pictures and videos while working on the pose. This is an excellent practice for every posture, because often, what you THINK you’re doing in your head is not necessarily what you’re doing…  I can’t wait to get your feedback! Don’t forget, you can email me anytime at jennifer@thriveyogaandwellness.com or you can check us out on facebook at @myplacetothrive.  


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