The holidays are far behind us, and spring seems a million miles away. We’ve officially entered the annual span lovingly known as: The Midwinter Funk. So February seems like an appropriate month to focus on Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). Chaturanga builds strength, heat in the body, and demands your concentration. It’s also commonly referred to as a “drive-by pose” by Vinyasa junkies because of its quick, transitional nature. Just as February is something of a “drive-by month,” taking the next 28 days to break down Chaturanga and really understand its components will be well worth your time.
There’s a lot, mechanically, going on in Chaturanga, and yes, doing it correctly is challenging. If the upper body is weak, you may find that you sink your legs and hips to the ground and then lower your chest instead of lowering evenly and stopping halfway. Even if the upper body is strong, you may lack the flexibility to draw your shoulder blades together and lower the chest while hugging the elbows close to your torso. The right balance of strength and flexibility is essential to practicing this asana safely. In some classes, you may fly through Chaturanga 15 times or more, and injuries to the wrists and lower back are all too common.
While lowering yourself to the mat in Chaturanga, flex your thighs and draw your abdominals up and in toward your spine: the more physical work you do in your lower body and core, the lighter the workload on your shoulders, arms, and wrists. Keep your drshti (gaze) forward rather than down. Keep your elbows drawing in toward each other and directly over your wrists as you lower halfway. Always exhale as you lower from Plank Pose. Lead with your chest.
If you’re working on building upper body strength, try lowering all the way to the mat instead of halfway, and having your legs, core, and chest touch the floor at the same time. Practice this way until you’re able to lower halfway and hold yourself without collapsing the thighs and hips. If you’re looking to increase flexibility in the shoulder joints, practice Ashtanga Namaskara (Knees, Chest, Chin Pose) until you’re able to keep your elbows from splaying out to the sides.