Saturday, November 30, 2013

Chaturanga: seriously, you can do it.

This article was originally posted on TheKnow on Oct 25, 2013, in an edited format.

Chaturanga dandasana is the asana of the week! Wild applause! Last week, downward-facing dog.

I see you cringing over there, in the blue shirt. Never fear, brave yogi, you're definitely in the majority. For the most part, the students I encounter seem to either A.) have their chaturangas totally nailed or B.) they're powering through each one mega-awkwardly because chaturanga makes zero sense to them whatsoever and fear of the thing is literally making them sweat. I see very little in-between.

It's definitely a tricky one - I think we've all been there. I actually had this sweet old lady instructor once at a fancy not-to-be-named gym yoga class who STOPPED THE WHOLE CLASS to come over to me and ask me what I was doing (um, chaturanga, natch) and fix me in front of everyone (what?!) and I STILL didn't really understand what was going on with chaturanga until I got to that section of my teacher training, three years later.

If you're banging out chaturangas left and right, then carry on, good Sir or Madam, and may hasta banda be with you. If you're in the second bucket, more of a 'what in the actual name of Ganesh is this pose supposed to be' bucket, then buckle up and get ready to join group A. Not only does chaturanga no longer make me want to cry, but now it's one of my all-time faves. Getting this one into a more solid place will change your whole vinyasa experience*, I swear it. Plus, triceps!

In Sanskrit (respect!): Chaturanga Dandasana
Pronunciation: chah-tuhr-UNG-gah dahn-DAH-sah-nah

Catur, meaning four
Anga, meaning limb
Danda, meaning staff
Asana, meaning pose, posture, seat

Chaturanga dandasana translates to four-legged staff pose, with the 'staff' portion referring to the spine. Sometime also called a low plank (versus a high plank - arms straight).

Typically follows: plank, ardha uttanasana (half-forward bend / flat back)

Why this pose?
Chaturanga dandasana is an essential piece of the vinyasa flow puzzle - you'll move through this pose many times in each and every class. It's a strenuous, cleansing pose and, if done improperly over and over, can start to be a bit wearing on the delicate little tendons around your shoulders, which isn't good. It's an important one to get right.

Breaking it down
Start in your high plank pose - shoulders over wrists, wide fingers, ribs knitted together, core zipped up tight - strong straight long line from head to heels. Big breath in here, filling all the way up.

This is where it starts to get weird. Listen carefully - as you exhale, keeping your arms tucked in at your sides, move your chest FORWARD and DOWN until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees ONLY. Seriously, do not bend past 90 degrees. That is a right angle. Like in a square.

Because you stopped at 90 degrees like a champ, your forearms are still totally perpendicular to the mat.

Your back is still 100% as straight and strong as it was in your plank, because you've got your ribs zipped up and your head in the game. Gaze to the ground 6-10 inches in front of your fingertips.

Your upper arms and elbows are superglued to your ribs. No chicken wings!

Because you moved forward, you are now kind of towards the tips of your toes, which sets you up perfectly to roll onto the tops of your feet in just a minute here.

Exhale entirely, and then press into your palms, fingertips and the tops of your feet to find your upward-facing dog as you inhale.

Exhale back, downward-facing dog.

This whole thing will feel weird for the first few times, guaranteed, but once you can get this form logged into your muscle memory you will be so gravy. Go do 50 chaturangas, or however many it takes to do this with your eyes closed. Literally, once you've got it, try doing it with your eyes closed. Take a second to wear the pose, feel it in your bones and breath and make that the focus, rather than what it looks like. And then maybe you will start jumping back into the pose like a boss, which is where you really start to fly.

Note: Jump into your bent elbows, please! No jumping into straight arms!
With love, your shoulders and elbows xoxo

Important reminder - I love writing about alignment, as a perfectionist and as a student. As a teacher, I beg you, please remember that every pose looks different on every body, and what the pose looks like on you matters ZERO to your practice and your overall experience. We really only cue alignment in an effort to help you target the right muscle groups and to keep you from getting hurt. If something feels painful in your body, DON'T DO IT, even if it looks right. Find the expression of the pose that works for you.

Go forth and chaturanga!

*I know I said that same thing about down dog. But having that lightbulb moment on pretty much any pose can really alter your whole thing, no?


  1. I'm Awkward One In The Blue Shirt (actually, currently purple & white, but not the point). This is going to be exceptionally helpful. Angles compute with me! 90 degrees is doable!

    1. me too! use of angles were the lightbulb moment for me. happy chaturangaing!

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