By Jennifer Dixon MBA ERYT 500
Chaturanga Dandasana –sometimes it’s called Low-Plank pose, or Yoga Push up, or any number of other less than savory nicknames….why? Because this pose is HARD! The Chaturanga Dandasana –or 4 limbed staff pose, requires tremendous strength in the upper and lower body–all the muscles working together to do the work so the joints of the hands, shoulders, and elbows don’t have to. (after all, the muscles are SUPPOSED to do the work, right?)
The problem is, you probably never really thought about it, did you? When you pop into a yoga studio for a Vinyasa or Flow style class, you just run in with your mat, maybe a water and a towel, and you just do what the teacher says, looking around for guidance when it comes to something you’re not familiar with. If you’re like most people, you see the Chaturanga performed and you’re like, “Oh, that’s a push-up, I can do that!”
Little did you know, the yoga push up is way different than the push-ups you were forced to do in P.E. during school. That means, when the teacher says, Elbows in, you do that and you find out your elbows HURT! Or maybe you do so many of the chaturangas in a class your wrists or shoulders hurt. Let me explain why first, then we will talk about drills to build strength.
Why Chaturanga Dandasana Can Hurt
- If you perform the chaturanga without the core strength to hold your body in a plank-like position- the hips are either up higher than the shoulders (too much pressure in the shoulders) or sinking down lower than the shoulders (too much pressure in the low back.)
- If you perform the chaturanga without the legs and core working together to evenly distribute the weight throughout the body, then the smaller joints in the upper body have to pick up the slack—That equals pain in the wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
- If you perform the chaturanga with the elbows in (like you’re supposed to) but with the fingertips in line with the shoulders (as traditionally taught in P.E. and boot camp classes), that puts TREMENDOUS stress on the elbows, which can lead to all sorts of injuries (trust me, I’m speaking from experience.)
If you combine any of these with countless repetitions–Or, God Forbid–Dynamic movements like Jumping back–It’s the perfect recipe for an injury to your wrist, elbow, shoulder, toes, low back and so much more.
Let’s talk about the Chaturanga a little bit more
The basics of a Chaturanga
- Fingertips in line with your chest–your Nipples even. This way when you lower, your wrists and elbows stay in line with each other. The further behind your wrists that your elbows are, the more pressure on your elbows –which = pain.
- Hips and shoulders are in line–it’s a plank, right? That means if I were to put a piece of wood on your back, it would be relatively flat. So, tilt your pelvis forward, engage the glutes and the abs and keep the booty down. BUT–you don’t want the booty to sink BELOW the shoulders either, so engage the quads as well to keep everything in line.
- Shoulders stay either ABOVE the elbows (if you’re working towards the posture) or right in line WITH the elbows–don’t go below, that’s tremendously difficult (1) and can put a LOT of pressure on the wrists and elbows (2).
Now, you’re probably looking at this, and maybe you even stopped for a second to give it a whirl and thought, “I can do that!” Or, you thought, “there’s no freaking way!” I will address both thoughts.
For those of you that thought, “I can do that” How do you know?
The Single Best Tip to Test Your Chaturanga Dandasana
- Get your camera–your smartphone, or tablet–nothing fancy, just get something that can record your posture.
- Set it up (or practice this with a friend)–I recommend Landscape view to be sure you can get your whole body.
- RECORD YOURSELF!
Video proof is the single best way to ensure you are doing this posture correctly. It’s a fabulous tool to see where you need to work. Maybe your fingertips are in line with the chest (so maybe you need to start out with them further back, or maybe you need to push forward on your toes more. Maybe your booty is doing something way crazier than you thought it was and you see it and you’re like, “WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON BACK THERE!?!?!” The only way to truly know what your Chaturanga Dandasana looks like is to get a picture–preferably a video, so then you can see exactly what your body is doing.
For those of you that thought, “There’s no freaking way!” How do you know??
Three Drills to Build Strength for the Chaturanga Dandasana
(these are not the only drills-because there are MANY–and I will likely do more videos and blog posts about them!)
- Plank–hold the plank pose. You guys have seen it, the plank challenges–they usually come out around the beginning of the year, or mid-way through to help motivate us to keep trying…You can do it! Get into a plank pose (on your knees counts), just be sure to align those wrists under the shoulders for the plank. When you move into Chaturanga, you’ll push forward on your toes to get your body forward enough to have the fingertips in line with the chest. Really, you can never do too much plank pose–well, I mean hours and hours would be silly but seriously, you could work on a prank hold for 30-60 or even more seconds. Start slow. Maybe get a group of friends and challenge each other I did that once when I was on night shifts. Dino and I had a “plank off” he won the first time, I won the second time. 😉 Good times on the night shifts!!
- Chaturanga Push Up – so get all the way down to the ground. Get everything in the right place (ie fingertips in line with the chest, gaze is forward, elbows squeezing the side of the body, toes pressing into the ground so much the quads are engaged and lifting off the mat (or your knees can be down, lengthening through the tailbone)–all of the core muscles engaged…..then Push UP! Try to keep one long line of energy the whole time. Take a video of yourself to see if you can keep the back straight..see what your body is doing. It’ll help, promise! Do this several times, 5, 10, 30 times. Each time you press up, you’ll be building tremendous strength all over your body.
- (this sorta goes without saying, BUT…) Practice holding Low Plank, or hold Chaturanga. OH MY GOODNESS is this one hard! Nobody likes to do this because it is FREAKING HARD! This one is probably something you should wait to do until you’ve got the plank down with reasonable endurance, and you can do a Chaturanga Push up. If you think you’re up for the challenge, I’d start from the ground (because it’s the best way to know if your body is in good alignment when you’re first starting out.) Push yourself halfway up, till you feel your body and elbows touching. Look forward and squeeze all your muscles. Press the floor away so your wrists aren’t doing all the work (get those fingers involved too!) Hold this for 1 second, YAY! You did it! Next, work up to 5 seconds. When you can do this for multiple seconds, maybe work up to 30 or even 60 seconds (#goals!) you KNOW you have the strength to keep practicing this posture safely.
What do you think? I have included a link to a tutorial on how to make sure your arms stay shoulder’s width distance apart, and that you don’t go down too far in that Chaturanga. With the use of a yoga block, and a strap (or in this case, my husband’s belt), you can practice a few drills to have you well on the way to performing those drills talked about in today’s post!