This is a pose that I see so much misalignment in as an instructor. Chaturanga Dandasana is a crucial element of practice for anyone who enjoys Vinyasa yoga, for Ashtanga practitioners, if you’ve ever done a Sun Salutation, or for anyone wanting to eventually go into arm balances.
Misaligned Chaturanga can lead to shoulder strain and rotator cuff injuries as well as neck pain and low back pain. So it is important to do this asana properly.
An Authentically Aligned Chaturanga, Step-By-Step
- Make your body parallel to the mat. The shoulders should be stacked right on top of the wrists. The head is an extension of a long spine.
- Use the legs. I can’t stress this enough—USE YOUR LEGS! Engage the quadriceps by gluing the thigh muscles to their bones. Imagine there’s a wall behind your heels. Try to press the heels against that imaginary wall.
- To counteract the wall-pressing, extend the heart and chest forward. I like to imagine here that my heart is literally melting like liquid the consistency of honey, and then pooling forward into a great thick puddle of love in front of me (Yup, I’m fluffy like that).
- Engage the bandhas!
- Mula bandha: Lift your pelvic floor. Imagine there is a shelf between your legs. Lift that shelf toward the belly and the back.
- Uddiyana bandha: Scoop the belly button in and up in a J motion.
- Jalandara bandha: Keep the back of the neck long. Tuck in the chin slightly.
Note: If you are having trouble keeping the hips lifted here and the back is starting to banana, place the knees on the ground.
- On an exhale, bend the elbows. Keep everything engaged and active. The arms should come to a 90-degree angle. Hug the biceps in toward the body. Make sure the shoulder heads NEVER drop below the elbows—this is crucial to ensuring safety and symmetry in the shoulder joint. If you find that the shoulders are dipping down, place two blocks under the shoulder heads. Then gently kiss the blocks as you lower, without weight bearing on them.
- See if you can hold this pose for 1 breath, 3 breaths, 5 breaths, all while keeping the bandhas working and the shoulders moving away from the ears. Once you can hold this asana for a few breaths comfortably, see if you can push back up to Plank. Can you do Chaturanga pushups?
Strengthen Your Practice
This pose is crazy hard for yoga newbies, or for veterans who are used to misaligned Chaturangas. Stick with it! Eventually it gets easier.
Each time you lower correctly in Chaturanga Dandasana, you are getting stronger. Remember that as you practice. Aligning your mind to meet your body will help integrate the whole practice. Stay positive and remember how strong you are each and every time you take this pose.
Now tag anyone who can benefit from improving their alignment in Chaturanga! Happy shoulders and happy practice, yogis!