Vicki Smart on how to reap the benefits of this foundational pose and avoid common mistakes.
Whether you’re in your first Vinyasa yoga class, or your 1000th, you’ve probably heard Chaturanga Dandasana cued more than once.
Sometimes called Chaturanga, low plank or four limbed staff pose, this formidable posture is one that requires some refinement to find the right alignment.
Because it is such a staple, especially in a Vinyasa class, if it’s done poorly it can be detrimental to the shoulder joint. In an era of hunching, this is a part of the body we really need to take care of.
You’re not alone if you feel like you’re collapsing in the lower back when you’re in Chaturanga or if you’ve simply collapsed from the top of the plank to the ground.
It’s worth remembering that this pose isn’t just about the upper body. When we’re in plank, we tend to
focus on our arms, thinking that they’re the only limbs holds us up. The body is a complex mass of muscle though and supports our entire skeleton so when we engage the larger parts, the whole body will lighten up.
Here are a few of my favourite pointers to master this pose:
- Modify. Don’t be afraid to put your knees on the ground in your plank while build strength. Even if every other student is flying through with knees lifted, that doesn’t mean you need to. This is your practice, not Australia’s Next Top Yogi, so let that ego take a back seat.
- Hand placement. Make sure your hands are far back enough from your shoulder head for the length of your arms. Aim for forearms that are perpendicular to the ground. One size doesn’t fit all, so always ask if you’re just not sure. We’re always happy to help set you up in class!
- Find your centre. Remember that your abdominals are there to support and stabilise. When you’re in plank, image that a yoga block is resting on your lower back. Rather than letting it drop into the curve, think about lightly trying to press the block to the ceiling to engage your midsection. Think less gripping, more positioning. Sometimes my cat jumps on my back whilst I am practicing, so if you have a pet you can use them to help!
- Resist the collapse. Press the ground away firmly in your high plank. Gravity is not going to help you here, so you have to create the power yourself. Use your hands to push, find your centre, and then call upon your legs. Press back through the middle of your heel and draw your kneecaps up to engage your thighs. NOW BREATHE! The diaphragm is an underutilised muscle that will support your transition. It lives inside your ribcage, so whilst you may not ever see it, use slow, steady and full breaths to allow it to do its job of internal support.
You’re ready to put all of the above together and lower down!
From your fully stable and engaged high plank, use your toes to shift your entire body ever so slightly forward (if you just lower right down, you will probably end up scooping, which wont please your precious rotator cuff muscles). Once you’ve moved forward, point your sternum forward also. using the collaboration of arms, centre and legs lower to hover. Hig your elbows in rather than letting them wing out, particularly if you are used to push ups at the gym or Crossfit!
Welcome to Chaturanga! Now, either transition to Upward Facing Dog, lower all the way down to the mat for Cobra or push back up to Plank and go again.
Remember that BodyMindlife’s Essentials Programme is designed to break down these foundational postures and teach you how to transition safely. Week Two is all about the Salutations so if you’re still feeling a little wobbly in your Chaturanga, come and take a class during that week!